With Mitt Romney so far ahead in the polls, the conventional wisdom is that the race for second place is really what matters in New Hampshire. But if conservatives aren’t careful, that’s how the entire race for the Republican presidential nomination will shape up.
From the beginning, the thinking has been that this will be a race between Romney and a conservative anti-Romney. So with rare, ineffectual exceptions — Tim Pawlenty’s abortive attack on “Obamneycare,” Rick Perry’s ham-fisted effort to bring up the illegal immigrants who did work at Romney’s house — the conservative candidates have attacked each other than Romney. The entire contest has focused on becoming the anti-Romney more than beating Romney himself.
So you have Perry campaigning in South Carolina, hoping that Romney will defeat Rick Santorum in a landslide so that he can claim to be the viable alternative again. You have Newt Gingrich seeming to bow out of a rumored non-agression pact with Santorum and engaging in an argument over who is more responsible for 1994. You have Ron Paul going negative against Gingrich and Santorum, with Gingrich and Santorum responding in kind.
That’s how you end up with a candidate who can’t seem to reliably get much more than 25 percent of the vote outside of New Hampshire looking like an unstoppable juggernaut. The fight to be the anti-Romney has driven down the numbers of each conservative aspirant, with Santorum likely to be the next target. Can Republicans break this cycle?
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