As we all await tonight’s debate in New Hampshire, it becomes clear that those of us who understand the necessity to unseat Barack Obama have a lot to worry about. Mitt Romney is still leading the pack, and is ahead even in the South Carolina polls. But the momentum of Rick Santorum’s challenge and the no-holds-barred attacks on Romney coming from Newt Gingrich (Gingrich regularly refers to Romney as the “Massachusetts moderate”) are taking their tolls.
Even the liberal columnist Joe Klein writes respectfully of Santorum, a candidate whose brand of social conservatism he strongly disagrees with. The man “lives his faith,” Klein writes, and he thinks that Santorum “will pose a significant working-class challenge to Romney’s corporate conservatism.”
Santorum will not win the nomination, and neither will Newt Gingrich. But the problem is that with many Republicans and especially self-proclaimed conservatives not being enthusiastic about Romney, as Klein writes, he “may not inspire sufficient numbers of Republicans to come out and vote.” The result, then, will be a second term for Barack Obama.
Then one must consider Newt Gingrich’s new motivation for his campaign — revenge against the Romney Super PAC for running the negative ads that resulted in the complete collapse of Newt’s efforts in Iowa. The man who only a few weeks ago predicted with confidence that he would get the nomination is now down in all the polls. Rather than maintain his prior promise of running no negative ads, Gingrich is promising to blast Romney with everything he has, to show the Republican electorate that Romney is not a conservative and will lose to the president if he gets the nomination.
If one is looking ahead to the November 2012 election campaign, all the anti-Romney attacks will work only to do precisely what Klein predicts — cause a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the Republican Party conservative base and quite likely lead them to not get to the polling booth on voting day.
Then there are the Ron Paulistas — the young and the kooky who continue to give Paul credibility and backing, despite the various exposes of Paul’s past that have come out in the previous weeks. If his backers convince Paul to run as a third-party candidate, that alone will almost assure Romney’s defeat if he is the Republican nominee. Paul will not care; in his eyes, Romney is an imperialist hawk and a big-government liberal, and what he is concerned with is only increasing his own power in conservative circles. The only thing standing in the way of a Paul third-party run is his son Rand, who is a Republican senator and would find his own standing hurt if his father runs and seeks his support.
Some, like Lord Conrad Black, have written about the chance that the Republican Convention in Tampa, Florida, will be the one in which the delegates turn to someone else, a yet unknown candidate who will come out of the wings to assume the nomination. That would be the case if Romney does not have a sufficient majority to command respect, and delegates take their pledged votes from him to cast them instead for the newcomer — say Jeb Bush, Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels, Marco Rubio — or whomever it might be.
I personally think Lord Black’s scenario is unlikely to take place, and would if anything even further hurt the Republican Party’s chance to regain the White House.
What will hurt its chance and will cheer the heart of the Obama team are the Republican and conservative cat fights, which might serve to tear down what should be a united effort to save our country and bring to Washington a new administration. As they turn their barbs against each other in the forthcoming debate tonight, tomorrow morning on Meet the Press, and in the future, they should pause to think of how their words will come to haunt them in the post-Labor Day campaign for the presidency.