US election industry in crisis as Mitt Romney romps home
Like McCain in 2008, Romney looks locked in. Will he give Michele Bachmann the Sarah Palin role?
HE STUCK his foot in his mouth a couple of times in the final days, but on Tuesday the millionaire Mormon Mitt Romney cantered past the winning post in the New Hampshire primary with around 40 per cent of the votes cast. Libertarian Ron Paul ran second with 23 per cent. Another millionaire Mormon, Jon Huntsman, got 17 per cent. Floundering abjectly in the mire of defeat were Newt Gingrich (ten per cent) and the headline snatcher in Iowa a week ago, Rick Santorum (nine per cent.)
It was a big win for Romney who showed he could break 25 per cent. He wiped out the opposition and took a big stride towards the nomination. All the same, as New Hampshire primaries go, it was a very dull affair, at least for those of us who remember such excitements as the trickle of Ed Muskie's tears – or was it merely snow – turning his 1972 front-runner campaign into a mighty river of defeat.
The much touted grudge debates last weekend between Romney and Gingrich were pallid. Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire Las Vegas casino mogul and fanatic supporter of Benjamin Netanyahu, poneyed up $5 million for a Friends-of-Newt operation, which did produce a brilliant campaign ad against Romney, the Job-Slayer. No traction for Gingrich came of it, though maybe further outpourings from Adelson and friends could pump life back into his campaign down south.
Romney's big foot-in-mouth moment came when he remarked in a campaign trail speech that "I like firing people". He was actually talking about the freedom to fire your health insurance company, a luxury supposedly enjoyed by Americans until Obama passed his health bill, but he'll be whacked over the head with the line for a while.
Now Romney heads down south to a likely victory in South Carolina and probably in Florida. Such triumphs will plunge the election industry into profound crisis. At this stage in the game, precisely one week after the presidential year opened with the Iowa caucuses on January 3, no one - except perhaps the candidate himself - wants to have the race locked up. The news business, led by the TV networks, wants cliffhangers. Campaign managers, dirty tricksters, and kindred consultants want volley after volley of campaign ads rolling dollars into their pockets. There are armies of "strategists" to be fed their campaign stipends.
At this stage in the game back in 1992, Bill Clinton was fighting for his life after his affair with Gennifer Flowers gradually seeped into public consciousness. In 2008, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton slugged it out, round after round and well into the summer.
Will scandal breathe life into the campaign? Does the limber Romney have any dark personal secret still panting in the closet? Could he emulate the shameful John Edwards and be faithless while his wife Ann endures MS, just as Edwards's wife Elizabeth fought cancer even as John carried on his romance with Rielle Hunter? It seems very unlikely, and even if some affair from Romney's pre-marriage days doing his two-year stint as a Mormon missionary in Paris surfaces it probably wouldn't do him any harm.
The same problem of being the locked-in nominee confronted John McCain in 2008. He won New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and then the super-Tuesday primaries, just as Romney is likely to do. Desperate to give his campaign a lift, McCain used the opportunity of the Republican convention to pluck Sarah Palin from her grizzly-skin rug in the governor's mansion in Alaska. Last week, Tea Party queen Michele Bachmann, perhaps hoping for the Palin role, was notably restrained in her comments on Romney.
Ron Paul will fight on, and give the campaign season at least the semblance of life. In New Hampshire he won strong support from low-income Republicans and the young. It's conceivable he could bolt onto the Libertarian third party ticket. It would certainly juice up the political year. High-level Republicans are reportedly threatening Paul that if he does bolt, they'll make sure that his son Rand is not re-elected Senator in Kentucky in 2016.
Meanwhile Obama is running the sort of campaign incumbent presidents usually wage, seeking to display mastery on the international stage, preferably by waging war or threatening to do so. With this in mind, Obama has been steadily driving Iran into a corner with boycotts and sanctions. It seems likely that what Obama is manoeuvring towards is for a desperate Tehran, its back to the wall with a collapsing currency, to make the first bellicose move.
It's nothing new. President Roosevelt pushed a desperate Japan into war with his embargoes and economic sanctions. For the attack on Pearl Harbor, substitute the Iranians mining the straits of Hormuz.