What Conservatives have Won Big Time in New Hampshire

One of the most important indicators when studying primaries and elections is whether the candidates have exceeded, met, or underperformed according to expectations.

Romney’s victory in New Hampshire was a given and his performance therefore met, yet did not  exceed, expectations for a non-victory would’ve shocked the entire political world. His victory, although considerable, has not changed the script of how people assumed it would be from the start of this primary season.

Romney’s performance is contrary that of the New Hampshire primary in 2008 where expectations similarly originally expected for the then not-so-established Mitt Romney from the neighboring Massachusetts to win the primary. McCain, Romney’s opponent, had received several strong endorsements including that of Independent/Democrat Joe Lieberman, The Boston Globe, and The New Hampshire Union Leader which swayed lots of Independents over to the McCain camp. Romney’s support slipped shortly before the primary, and he ended up coming in second behind the more established McCain. McCain’s victory was thus extremely significant since he exceeded expectations, and he ultimately ended up beating Romney as the Republican presidential candidate.

The script for the upcoming South Carolina election was very much that it’s up in the air. As a Southern and strongly Conservative state, it was assumed that the candidate who assumes the position of Not-Romney will probably be victorious. Since three candidates are still vying for that title thus splitting up the conservative vote, and because Romney won New Hampshire with a considerable margin, the dynamics have changed for South Carolina and it is now expected to go for Romney. The media and all political pundits have declared it so, and even Jim Demint, the Conservative Senator from South Carolina, had announced that he would be surprised if anyone but Romney wins the state next Saturday.

Romney is currently leading the pack in South Carolina with an RCP average of 29% while the two conservative contenders who can possibly create a change in the dynamics, Santorum and Gingrich, are both currently polling at the 20% range. Although the scene may appear bleak to conservatives, a Romney victory is not yet guaranteed.

The current high expectations for Romney in South Carolina will color anything less than a full-fledged Romney victory in a very negative light. These raised expectations are extremely beneficial for conservatives for with the new dynamics, if a conservative ends up beating Romney in South Carolina, their victory will carry far more weight than previously expected. It will be seen as a serious defeat of Romney and an incredible strength of the conservative, and will result in a greatly weakened Romney going forward.

In a sense, it can be compared to the Democratic primaries of 2008. Obama had all the momentum on his side prior to the primary in Pennsylvania after beating Hillary in a majority of the previous primaries. After Hillary’s surprise victory in Pennsylvania, though, Obama’s momentum had come to a halt and many questioned whether he would be able to regain the lead. Ultimately, since it was the end of April and a majority of the states had already held their primaries, there wasn’t enough leeway for Hillary to overcome the overwhelming majority of delegates Obama had already picked up prior to Pennsylvania and Obama became the nominee.

A South Carolina upset can similarly halt Romney in his tracks, and since it is only the third state, an unexpected Romney defeat can have a powerful enough effect to sway the ultimate outcome of the Republican primaries. If Romney isn’t dealt a significant blow early enough in the primary, it seems quite unlikely that the Republican nominee will be anyone but Romney.

Despite Romney’s lead in South Carolina, here are several factors to keep in mind, which can lead to contrary results.

Romney has sailed to victory Tuesday night in the purple New Hampshire, a state which identifies with his moderate positions, with 39% of the votes. If he hadn’t topped 40% in New Hampshire there is no way he can get too much more than 30% of the votes in the southern red state of South Carolina whose views are aligned further to the right than Romney’s. Thus, if a conservative can garner 40% or more of the South Carolinian vote, he will virtually be guaranteed to beat Romney.

In order for that to occur, the conservatives must unite under one candidate Unification will result in a combination of the twenty percent of support each of them are recipient of, and will total to a whopping forty percent.

Although it may appear as an impossible suggestion since supporters of each candidate desire for the other side to join them, it can occur in either of two scenarios.  The dream scenario would be if one of the candidates back out and endorse his rival conservative.  It is also possible though for both candidates to remain in the race, with one candidate imploding badly enough for a majority of his supporters to choose on their own to unite around the other viable who will be able to serve as the “Anyone but Romney” candidate. The race will thus downsize to a two-man race and will enable the conservative to win over Romney in South Carolina, gain momentum, and hopefully emerge victorious first from the primaries and ultimately from the general election.

The (multi) million dollar question is, of course, who, if anyone, should be the one to back out of the race in order to stop Romney?

Of course neither can be demanded to pull out of the race since everyone has the right to stay in for as long as they wish. Both of them have garnered far more than zero percent in Iowa and New Hampshire and even Perry who had faced a stunning loss in Iowa, had come in with less than 1% in New Hampshire, and is polling extremely low in South Carolina, has the right to continue campaigning.  Besides, a Perry retreat, although it would narrow the field a bit more, would probably not be enough to propel one of the others ahead of Romney.

There is one candidate though who is more likely to pull out, and to understand why, we’ve got to go back to our original explanation of expectations vs. performance in addition to some other details.

At an overall glance, it seems as though Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum were recipients of equally not-too-great results last night in New Hampshire.

Santorum received 9.3 percent of the vote which landed him in fifth place and right behind Newt who received 9.4 percent – a little over two hundred votes more than Santorum. Neither of them received any delegates and both performed slightly worse than Huckabee in 2008, who had come in third with 11% of the votes and had been the recipient of one delegate. Their performances last night, though, are seen in very different lights since the expectations for their performances had been vastly different.

Expectations for Newt were sky high. In Iowa he had been crowned as the frontrunner and even in New Hampshire he was doing considerably well. Newt Gingrich had been the recipient of The New Hampshire Union Leader’s endorsement, the very same influential newspaper who had endorsed McCain and many other candidates who had then gone on to win the New Hampshire primary. End of November and December polls showed a surging Newt in New Hampshire who received the support of close to and often over twenty percent  of those polled. Some speculated that Newt will eventually top Romney, while all expected him to land in the second seat.

Despite the massive anti-Bain and anti-Romney bombardment Newt engaged in as retaliation, he was unable to keep Romney from rising and himself from dropping. Newt ended up barely clinging to the fourth spot and his inability to meet expectations has painted him once again as a candidate in decline.

Newt’s lackluster New Hampshire results came at the heels of his embarrassing performance in Iowa, where he came in fourth despite having been the frontrunner with a considerable percentage only weeks before the caucuses. Newt blamed the overwhelming number of negative ads Romney had run against him as the cause for his drastic drop. Immediately after Iowa, Newt retaliated and bombarded New Hampshire with negative ads against Romney and his job in Bain. His efforts, though, proved to be inadequate in stopping Romney’s momentum. At the contrary, the attacks over Romney’s pink slips had backfired and resulted in Newt having come under heavy fire from many prominent conservatives including Rush.

Newt’s decision to remain in the campaign, first after his loss in Iowa and then after his weak performance in New Hampshire, despite it being almost impossible for him to win South Carolina with Santorum in the race indicate that his goal has changed. His expansion of attacks against Bain via the airing of a 28 minute anti-Romney commercial in South Carolina despite the considerable damage it has already caused to his campaign further hints at Newt’s revised end-point.

Why else would a candidate who still hopes to win an election increase an action which has proven in the past to cause greater damage to his own campaign than his opponent’s? It is clear that Newt is aware of his slimmer than slim chances in South Carolina specifically and in the rest of the primary. Since the presidential nomination appears out of Newt’s reach, he has undertaken a new goal; to stop Romney from being the nominee. Newt’s first attempt to accomplish this is has proven unsuccessful and too remain in the race and continue this path despite his attacks being ineffective, may result in a fuming Newt after Romney wins South Carolina, Florida, and eventually the Republican nomination.

Instead of continuing with plan number one, there is another path for Newt to take which will seriously impede the Romney campaign. Newt can endorse another candidate, which will unite the conservative vote and enable for that candidate to overcome Romney in South Carolina. Newt can continue with his attacks against Romney if he so desires, which will keep Romney on the offensive without pulling down the conservative candidate. Since Perry had imploded and is polling in the Huntsman range, Santorum would be logical choice, and for several reasons in addition to polling.

Santorum had exceeded expectations in both Iowa and New Hampshire. He had gone from the very bottom of the polls to a tied victory with Romney in Iowa. In New Hampshire he came pretty much tied with Newt at over 9% despite having polled at 1 -2% in November and 3-4% in December. Since Santorum’s performance had twice topped what was expected, his national support is in an upward climb and his coffers have begun to sport a bulge. Even if Santorum comes in second, behind Romney, it will be seen as an impressive act and he will have the opportunity to attempt another overtake in Florida.

Santorum has no incentive to get out of the race. He has exceeded expectations in the first two states and will be remembered with respect and admiration for his Iowa surprise further down the line even if he comes in second or third in South Carolina and Florida. Newt Gingrich, on the other hand, has been branded as the former frontrunner whose support had vanished and the longer he stays in and serves as a spoiler, the harsher people’s opinion will be of him down the line. And that Newt the historian wishes to be remembered fondly in history is a given.

Although a newly released Insider Advantage poll of South Carolina from this morning has Newt Gingrich at 21%, just two points behind Romney and 7 points ahead of Santorum, the current poll isn’t such great news and is actually a massive slide from the previous Insider Advantage poll from 12/18 where Newt polled far ahead of the rest having come in at 31%. The current Insider Advantage poll thus reflects a whopping 10 point drop for the former frontrunner while indicating a 4 point jump for Romney (from 19 to 23) and a surging 10 point gain for Santorum (from 4 to 14).

Newt tweeted the poll and his entire camp is touting the poll as proof that he can beat Romney, not realizing that he is once again setting himself up to extremely high expectations. A Newt victory in South Carolina will be seen as having finally met expectations. Anything below first spot though, won’t reflect too well for someone who had led the pack a month earlier with double digits and had failed to live up to expectations for the third time. A Santorum victory will cause a momentum many times stronger than his Iowa surprise had, and will propel him ahead across the country. Santorum coming in as a strong second or third will also reflect positively on him since he was never touted as the frontrunner and definite winner.

Another feather in the hat for Santorum is his being the only candidate who refused to attack Bain Capital for having engaged in free market principles such as firing unproductive employees. Newt, Perry, and Huntsman have attacked Romney for having lain off employees in companies Bain has managed, ignoring minor details such as that laying off unproductive workers benefits the business and that shrinking the staff of a failing business is often necessary in order for it to turn around and be able to generate a profit once again. Isn’t it better for a business and the economy for it to operate with fewer employees rather than it keeping the entire staff only to go bankrupt and close shop?  Besides, how do these candidates who attack firing employees plan to shrink the size of government and close entire agencies, as they promise they will, without handing out pink slips?

The accusation that Bain’s actions were wrong because they had received a federal bailout is similarly flawed, and in two accounts. Firstly, although the government shouldn’t be bailing out companies, companies that have been bailed out should use the money to make a profit, as Bain did, even if it includes the firing of employees. They shouldn’t waste the bailout money by keeping employees employed for as long as the money lasts and not attempting any positive reform, only to shut the doors when the money runs out. Secondly, it turned out that the bailout accusations were false and that Bain Capital hasn’t even received a government bailout.

Newt’s general criticism of a business who profits from flipping other businesses appeared foolish and contradictory when voters discovered that he conveniently forgot to share the fact that he invested in and served on the advisory board of Fortsman Little, a competitor of Bain in the leveraged-buyout industry.

Santorum’s strong defense of the free market was and is a stark contrast to the others and especially from Newt who had adapted the role of Attacker in Chief. This resulted in many renowned conservatives who have never previously admonished Newt or shown true support for Santorum, to suddenly do so. Newt had come under nuclear fire from Rush Limbaugh and many other prominent conservatives for his left-wing socialist style against Romney, while Santorum was praised for standing up for basic conservative principles.

If Rick Santorum can continue to build his momentum by citing his pro-free market principles and unite the conservative base in South Carolina, he will beat Romney in South Carolina. A defeated Romney will continue forward, albeit with a greatly weakened image and no surety for victory.

No longer will he be able to walk away with a victory simply because the crowded primary resulted in the conservative vote having been split in three. He will have to tout a record and a plan to convince voters that he’s the right guy and unlike Santorum, Romney’s record is filled with inconsistencies and discrepancies. While Romney will be busy explaining his anti/pro conservative record and Paul will explain his anti/pro earmarks amongst many other inconsistent statements, Santorum will be able to tout a consistent and steady record.

Santorum has received above average ratings as a staunch conservative despite his having run in the blue-purple state of Pennsylvania. Whether on social issues such as pro-life and traditional marriage, economic issues such as his sponsorship of BBA, anti-tax increases and a line veto, or foreign policy issues, such as facing reality and calling evil by its name, Rick had always been consistent with is positions for he chose them because he felt they were right. Shifting along with the wind or prior to an upcoming reelection were never serious options for a person who believed in the correctness of his positions.


Abie Rubin blogs at The Thinking Voter and can be followed on twitter.