So, 2 states down, 48 to go. That will no doubt be a disappointment to James Fenton of the Evening Standard, whose recent article of January 6 (“While Republicans flounder, the mood is turning ugly”) called for Republicans to unite ‘sooner rather than later…to call the fight off before the party hurts itself.’ What a misguided sentiment, calling apparently for a coronation rather than a competition. Thankfully the founders of the United States preferred democracy to Fenton’s suggested model and that is exactly what is going to play out across all 50 states in the coming months.
Last night’s New Hampshire Primary saw the unsurprising victory of local candidate Mitt Romney, winning with 39% of the vote, 1 % short of the magic number required before Sir Christopher Meyer promised to eat one of famous red socks. Romney’s ability to win in New Hampshire was never really in doubt; what was going to be telling was the gap between first and second and who it was that would win silver in New Hampshire. After Iowa, there was speculation that Rick Santorum would continue to surprise. Not so much. With just 9% of the vote, the former senator from Pennsylvania must be disappointed that the momentum he so required has thus far failed to materialise in a development that could prove fatal as the race heads south to the Carolinas and to Florida.
Santorum is, however, far from being the biggest loser of the night, although that honour is perhaps shared. John Huntsman bet the farm on winning New Hampshire and didn’t, coming in a distant third with 17%. Likewise Newt Gingrich needed to impress and didn’t, also taking just 9%. One wonders how Gingrich’s renowned ego will handle the fact that 91% of Republicans voted for someone else? How he must lament not running in 1996.
It was no great surprise that Rick Perry failed to improve on his shockingly low Iowa result of just 1%, which remained constant. Of course it could have been worse, his vote could have collapsed altogether. Perry is gambling on a huge showing in South Carolina, where, if truth be told, his campaign was always going to begin, but surely, even in their worst nightmares, his campaign staff can’t have imagined gaining just 1% in the opening two elections?
And finally, before I am accused of ignoring him altogether, we come to Ron Paul; Third in Iowa, second in New Hampshire. That is quite an achievement and as usual it is being quite overlooked. Why is this? I think frankly that the media recognises that he cannot possibly win. Paul is that classic character that appears in the American political arena every now and then; someone who is more interested in speaking his mind than in necessarily winning an election. As was said of Barry Goldwater, he is more interested in being right than in being president. Now, before anyone jumps up and down, I’m not comparing the politics of the two men, merely their refreshing capacity to declare boldly their opinions and to stand by them, something that is all too rare in political life.
Clearly Ron Paul’s message is striking a cord with a solid core of Republican voters and the Party should take heed. It is my view that they will ignore it in the hope that it will go away, or come home to the roost when it realises that the alternative is guaranteeing four more years of Barack Obama in the White House. This is a dangerous gambit that risks either an independent run by Ron Paul (which he has discounted, but never say never in politics) or the disillusionment of 20% of Republican voters who could simply stay at home in November. A Republican victory against the incumbent was going to be a challenge and they cannot simply dismiss a fifth of their potential electorate if they wish to win.
The reaction to Paul is predicated on the basis that if Romney is to face a serious Republican candidate it is not going to be Ron Paul, but rather SOMEONE ELSE. I stress this, because at present it is impossible to determine who, if anyone, this will be. The results from last night indicate a major problem for the Republican Party: 61% of New Hampshire Republican Primary goers voted for someone other than Mitt Romney. If one discounts the Paul vote as one of protest, that still leaves 38% of Republicans backing candidates other than Romney, virtually the same number as support him. What does this demonstrate? Simply that the anti-Romney vote is currently being distributed around too many candidates. It is a sad thing for any candidate to have to consider dropping out after only two votes, but the alternative is to limp on to further ignominy. Democracy is a great concept, but ego threatens to lead to an unintended coronation. Santorum appears to be a spent force; as is Huntsman. Both they and Perry must surpass expectations in South Carolina and Florida if they are to have any chance of halting Romney. If these three fail to do so they should contemplate the painful option of dropping out and endorsing whoever remains, perhaps Newt Gingrich, as an alternative to Romany. To do otherwise is to continue to split the anti-Romney vote and thereby guarantee the nomination of a mediocre candidate who fails to engender excitement among his own party and who will fail to be an adequate challenger for the presidency in November.