That’s the headline out of last night’s New Hampshire debate. With Romney the heavy favorite to win NH, the real story is the battle for second place. A few other things from last night’s event:
With three days left until the New Hampshire primary, time was quickly running short for some of the Republican candidates to make their case. Jon M. Huntsman Jr., who has been lagging in the polls and has staked his candidacy on the outcome here, passed on nearly every invitation to criticize the others.
Boy, that’s what I don’t get about Huntsman. A couple of months ago I caught him on a cable news interview. He passed up every opportunity to criticize his opponents, even though such criticism would have been completely warranted (this was when Gingrich’s sleazy lobbying relationships were big news). I thought, “This is not a man who is serious about winning.” Again, criticism of his opponents would have been completely legitimate, but he just wouldn’t go there. Why not? It was strange. What’s his game? Michael Brendan Dougherty convinced me that Huntsman would make a good president, but Huntsman has convinced me that Huntsman is on another planet. Matt Welch:
You know why Huntsman won’t win? He puts himself above the fray when the fray isn’t a fray. Basic spending philosophy differences are not “insidery gobbledygook.”
We heard last night from Rick Perry, who went back to Texas to reassess his candidacy for five minutes, then bizarrely decided to stay in. Here is what he will be remembered for last night:
As he sought to make a mark, Mr. Perry went as far as to say that American troops should return to Iraq, calling the recent withdrawal “a huge error for us.”
Rick Perry, in 2012, wants to re-invade Iraq. Er, wow. I wonder if he could even carry Bosque County with that position.
Ron Paul concentrated his fire on the non-Romneys. There is method here:
Paul national campaign chairman Jesse Benton rejected the idea that they are laying off Romney, saying, “Mitt Romney’s not fishing from the same pond as us. We’re fighting to consolidate ourselves as the lone Romney alternative, the anti-Romney. Now, people that support Romney will support Ron in the general election. They’ll get behind the Republican, we have every confidence. The battle right now is to be the anti-Romney…We’re the only candidate with the fundraising base and we’re the only candidate with a national organization and right now, I think we’re starting to show that we’re the only candidate with the election results to be able to do that.”
I think that’s smart — especially given that neither Gingrich nor Santorum had a good debate last night. Paul knows that Romney’s support is shallow, and that he stands to gain greatly by voters seeing him as the only alternative. To be clear, I see no scenario under which Romney fails to get the GOP nomination. But a primary contest that elevates Paul will provide for some great discussion about national questions — especially on foreign policy — that wouldn’t come up if Santorum or Gingrich were Romney’s chief rival.