Sunday, January 08, 2012

Is Mitt Romney cruising toward victory?

As far as the Republican nomination contest is concerned, he might be. At the very least, according to the latest polls, he seems to be headed toward a crushing victory in the New Hampshire primary. South Carolina may be more complicated, but even there his prospects are looking better, especially if Gingrich, Santorum, Paul, and perhaps Perry continue to fragment the anti-Romney vote.

Meanwhile, the Republican candidate's debate in New Hampshire last night featured a significant, and surprising, dog-that-didn't-bark. There was every reason to expect that a number of the leading Anyone-But-Romney candidates, led by the irascible and resentful Newt Gingrich, would come together for an all-out assault on the front-runner. But it didn't happen. Jonathan Chait wonders why not (below).

=> For a useful round-up of other post-debate reactions, see here.

—Jeff Weintraub

New York Magazine
Sunday, January 8, 2012 | 12:34 a.m.
Mitt Romney's Miraculous Free Ride Continues
By Jonathan Chait

The unchallenged march of the formerly pro-choice, self-described “progressive” father of national health insurance to the Republican nomination is one of the most bizarre political spectacles of my life. I am running out of explanations for it, including explanations that require party-wide conspiracies or science fiction. (Perhaps Romney has a force field that turns to mush the brain of anybody who threatens him.) The latest inexplicable event was Saturday night’s debate in New Hampshire.

The background here is that Newt Gingrich, after Mitt Romney crushed him beneath an avalanche of negative ads, spent the week in a state of fury and vowing revenge. The further background is that the one constant of Gingrich’s career is a penchant for rhetorical flourish. Generally he deploys this against Democrats (corrupt traitors who resemble child murderers) but occasionally he aims it against fellow partisans (like Paul Ryan, whose plan he described as “right-wing social engineering.”) All this had primed the campaign press to watch the enraged Gingrich unload on Romney. What would he call him – a progressive? A socialist? A congenitally dishonest, satanic agent of Obamunism?

Instead Gingrich, along with the other Republican rivals – or, at least, Republican former rivals who haven’t yet dropped out – didn’t turn any of the questions into attacks on Romney. Toward the end, Gingrich was asked to contrast his philosophy on the economy with Romney. He professed general agreement, and added, almost as an aside, that Romney was “a little more cautious” than him.

A little more cautious? What a moment Gingrich picks to err on the side of understatement for the first time in his political career! Is it the brain-melting force field? A secret backroom deal? No rational explanation can suffice.

Rick Perry, having already been the subject of campaign postmortems and left for dead, didn’t get the chance to go after Romney. Instead he has homed in on the primal essence of his selling point to the Republican electorate: he is the candidate of maximal violence restoring privileges to the dominant socioeconomic group. Perry endorsed a re-invasion of Iraq, claimed that if not forced to debate he would be firing weapons, and railed against the “war on religion” imagined by many Fox News viewers. He performed quite effectively, either because he’s improved or, more likely, because he wasn’t allowed to approach the speaking time threshold after which he exhausts his already-limited brain function.

Romney, in the absence of intra-party challenges, framed himself almost entirely in opposition to Obama. He previewed a new line of attack in response to positive economic data, comparing Obama to the rooster who takes credit for the sunrise. This seems like a shockingly weak line – if you concede that it’s morning, you’ve lost the argument.

Romney also repeated his claim that Bain Capital had created 100,000 jobs. His campaign had released the figure earlier, and Glenn Kessler discovered it was totally bogus. Romney’s campaign merely added together the new jobs created by a handful of companies Bain had purchased, without bothering to subtract the jobs lost at other firms. [JW: For more on this, see here.] Not only did Romney use the figure again, and not only did he misstate how it was compiled, he admitted that the method he used was bogus:

Romney: In the business I had we invested in, over 100 different businesses, and net/net, taking out the ones where we lost jobs and the ones where we added? Those business have now added over 100,000 jobs. I have a record of learning how to create jobs.

Stephanopolous: There have been questions about that calculation of the 100,000 jobs, so if you could explain a little more, I’ve read some analysts who look at it and say that you’re counting the jobs that were created, but not the jobs that were taken away. Is that accurate?

Romney: No, it’s not accurate, it includes the net of both, I’m a good enough numbers guy to make sure I got both sides of that.

The number he used did not “get both sides of that.” Oh well -- there’s nobody around to call him on that, and there won’t be for quite a while.