Monday, January 9, 2012

When the dust settles in New Hampshire, the 2012 Republican nomination for president will be written in granite and the name will be Willard Mitt Romney, according to the Calbuzz Advisory Board of Leading Authorities on Practically Everything, the greatest assemblage of political minds since Thorstein Veblen dined alone.

Despite New Hampshire’s reputation for sticking conventional wisdom (and the results of the Iowa caucuses) in the eye, pols from the Northeast have a habit of doing well in New Hampshire, from Henry Cabot Lodge and John F. Kennedy, to Ed Muskie, George H.W. Bush, Michael Dukakis, Paul Tsongas and John Kerry.

Of course, as you can see, they don’t always pick the nominee or the next president. And while Romney took some flack over the weekend in back-to-back debates and while he continues to argue that Barack Obama wants to turn America into a European-style social democracy [insert groan here], he smartly avoided the biggest trap set for him in Manchester:

Despite repeated goading from Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, he did not lunge further to the right than he’s already gone, thereby leaving open the possibility of further waffling back toward the middle in the general election.

We agree with the Republican member of the Calbuzz Consultanate who said:

Holding steady, Mitt will graciously bounce them all. Santorum won’t break 20, but even if he does, who cares (besides a hyperventilating media)? He won’t be the nominee, unless the party decides to hang itself in the garage. Newt is reaffirming that he’s the uncle who turns nasty after a couple drinks at the family BBQ. Time to call a cab and send him home.

As for the hyperventilating media – we kept wondering where they were when we watched the ABC debate with George Stephanopoulos and Dianne Sawyer, whose feckless, dishpan questions and attention to Crankypants Ron Paul were infuriating. At least NBC’s David Gregory got the candidates to mix it up and challenge one another.

What was clear, as it has been in almost every other debate, is that Romney is the only candidate in the GOP field with the bearing and chops to be a major party candidate. Which is exactly why every member of the Calbuzz Consultanate who we called on this week, picked Romney to 1) win New Hampshire and 2) capture the GOP nomination.

Whether their precise percentages will prove on the mark, we won’t know until Tuesday night, but here’s their collective pick: Romney 40%; Paul 19%; Santorum 16%; Huntsman 14%; Gingrich 9%, Perry 2%.

In fairness, some of them commented before the debates and Jon Hunstman’s effective take-down of Romney, when he said the front-runner’s critique of Huntsman’s service as President Obama’s ambassador to China is the kind of divisiveness that’s wrong with America.

But we really don’t see what’s going to stop Romney from wrapping up the nomination sooner rather than later (although we’d love to see it drag on until California Republicans could have a crack at the field). Even the anti-Romney “documentary” about to air in South Carolina is unlikely to take him out (see below).

One of our Republican panelists offered a sliver of hope to the Anyone But Mitt (ABM) crowd:

New Hampshire could change that dynamic only if Santorum blows away Gingrich and runs a strong second, creating a national conservative leadership consensus to pressure Gingrich and Perry to drop out. But the erosion of the blue collar manufacturing base since the days of Pat Buchanan [the NH ’96 GOP winner]and some Santorum stumbles make that improbable.

Here are the comments of our Calbuzz panel:

Republicans

– The Romney campaign has been virtually flawless so far (along with its related Super PAC, which disemboweled Gingrich in Iowa). The dynamics favor a Romney sweep of the early primaries, unless there is some incredible rallying behind Santorum before South Carolina. Gingrich is too proud to quit and his Super PAC is doing a big anti-Bain Capital buy in South Carolina. Perry has $4 million and is taking one last shot in South Carolina, just as Fred Thompson did in 2008, enabling John McCain to carry that state over Mitt Romney. So there will be a three-way split of the non-Romney, non-Paul vote in South Carolina.

– Santorum’s Big Mo from Iowa looks like it’s met the New Hampshire political meat grinder. Those flinty New Englanders are once again flipping the bird to the Midwestern Bible thumpers. Huntsman may come in third and Santorum in fourth. California Reeps should be relieved because God help us if Santorum is the nominee.

– Romney will win NH but it will be hard to meet the astronomical expectations. The bright lights now shining on Santorum will cause him to wilt. Remember, this is a guy that lost his own re-election campaign by 20 points. South Carolina will see the largest food fight since Belushi started one at Faber College. What does this mean? While it might not be pretty, Romney will emerge as the adult, the leader and will move strongly toward the nomination.

– The GOP nomination contest is OVER . . . Momentum carries the day in SC for Romney and then Florida and by Feb 1 “It’s a wrap.” So much for the easy part. Romney has a major challenge on his hands on how he fills from February until the convention — when the president has all the arrows in his quiver.

– Romney is on his way to crushing win in NH. No sign of weakness or erosion. Huntsman might get second. Caveat — debates in next several hours could matter. Onto South Carolina where Mitt wins and effectively secures the nomination. For all the hand-wringing about how weak a frontrunner he is, he’s about to wrap up the nomination with ease. The press narrative will be that the rest of the field was weak, which is very true. But no one else manned up. Chicago will be very bummed this ended so quickly.

– [Will Mitt come away with a crushing victory? ] No the spin will be that he should have won by more. [Will Santorum break into the 20s?] Yes [Does it matter?] Yes. [Is there anything positive in Newt’s new role as “truth teller” about Romney?] Yes — positive for everyone other than Romney.

Democrats

– Despite the Suffolk tracking polls showing Ron Paul hanging in second place, Huntsman’s debate performance today and his organization in the state should squeeze him into second place, but he won’t break 20%. Romney will break 40%. Everyone else in high single or low double digits. Santorum has lost his mo since Friday and Newt, per usual, continues his murder suicide mission.

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