Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Live-blogging the 2012 New Hampshire primary: Does it really mean anything at all?


6:42 pm - Okay, we did it with Iowa last week, now let's do it with New Hampshire. How 'bout some live-blogging, baby?! (I'll do frequent updates throughout the evening (and into the early-morning hours), reporting on the results but also breaking off into tangents about the race generally, and Richard will add some additional commentary.)

6:45 pm - BREAKING NEWS: The Reaction declares Willard "Mitt" Romney the winner of the 2012 New Hampshire Republican primary. Take that, Wolf Blitzer!

6:47 pm - The polls don't close until 8 pm, but the outcome is in absolutely zero doubt. Romney will win easily in his "backyard," neighboring Massachusetts being his "home," and that will be that. So let's move on to South Carolina, where a much more meaningful vote is scheduled for Saturday, January 21. Okay? No? No. I suppose we do need to work our way through tonight's results, to derive some sort of meaning them (or to impose meaning on them, rather). Here are the key questions: How much of the vote will Romney win (and by how much will he win)? How will the non- and anti-Romneys finish (and is there any possibility of any one of them picking up some momentum heading towards South Carolina)?

6:56 pm - Just going to have some dinner. Be back shortly. Stay tuned. And feel free to add your comments if you so desire.

7:47 pm - Alright, here we go... But first, let me tell you what I'm drinking tonight. I'm just polishing off a nice Creemore Springs pilsner from one of the best Ontario craft breweries. We'll go darker and deeper as the night goes on.

7:49 pm - The polls over the last few days show Romney with about a 20-point lead in New Hampshire. Again, there's no question he's going to win. But what will the numbers be? I tend to think that the inevitability of his win could dampen his support somewhat. He's been polling in the range of 35 to 41. Let's say he ends up with 37 percent of the vote. And then let's say Paul finishes second at 19, then Huntsman at 17, Santorum at 12, Gingrich at 10, and Perry way back at 1.

What would all that mean? Actually, I'd say that wouldn't be all that impressive for Romney, who should at this point, and with divided opposition, be able to win well over 40 percent of the vote. Paul will likely stay in the race until the very end, but even a second-place finish here wouldn't give him much of a bump. This is Huntsman's big shot at respectability, and he's put a lot of energy into New Hampshire, but the Republican Party is no place for him these days and he'll fall off badly in South Carolina. Gingrich is done. His role now is to try to knock off Romney in South Carolina. So it falls to Santorum to be the leading anti-Romney. Even a fourth-place finish here wouldn't be all that bad considering where he was just a couple of weeks ago. But he'll have his work cut out for him to build support over the next 10 days. It's possible that he'd emerge as a viable alternative to Romney were Gingrich to drop out, but there's just no way he has the staying power to mount a serious challenge over the long term. He might finish second in South Carolina but then fall off again in Florida.

But it's all about expectations, as you know, and about "narrative." And the problem for Romney tonight is that he has nothing to gain and much to lose. And if he underperforms, particularly with all the battering he's been taking over his destructive work at Bain Capital, he could emerge even from a decisive victory as a still-very-weak frontrunner, even if his ultimate victory is all but assured given his money, his organization, and his support from Republican elites.

RKB: Does anyone doubt that Huntsman is playing for the next time, that this is all about 2016? What else could he be doing? I can't imagine he really sees a path to win the nomination now. Maybe if Romney failed to meet expectations in New Hampshire there might be some room for another "electable candidate," but that's not going to happen. Romney will do well enough in New Hampshire to pretty much lock this thing up. And after he wins South Carolina, it really will be over. No surprises tonight. 

8:01 pm - Yes, CNN (and I assume everyone else) declares for Romney. Done.

8:02 pm - Exit polls, according to Wolf, show Romney at 36, Paul at 23, Huntsman at 18, Gingrich and Santorum at 10. A result closer to 35 than 40 would be even worse for Romney, obviously. Possible strong showing for Paul, though I suspect he'll fall short of the exit polls. (Results here.)

RKB:  Woo-hoo. CNN projects that Romney wins. Never saw that one coming. Carville just said that Huntsmann has implied he would drop out if he didn't do well in New Hampshire. It looks like a distant third for Hunstmann, and Paul is still hanging in. Santorum isn't going anywhere, currently at 10%. CNN exit polls has Romney at 36, Paul at 23 and Huntsman at 18. If that holds, this thing is over, and not just NH.

8:11 pm - I'm not disagreeing with Richard. The race is pretty much over. It's Romney. Conservatives find him "acceptable." Hardly a huge endorsement, but they're obviously willing to living with him. The question is whether the lack of enthusiasm on the right, and really within the new right-wing GOP mainstream (with Dear Leader Rush as one of the key spokesmen), will hurt Romney in the general election. Even if most on the right come around, hold their noses, and vote for Romney as anyone-but-Obama, that general lack of enthusiasm could translate into somewhat lower turnout among conservatives, particularly with the spotlight on Romney's relatively progressive past (at least in terms of social policy) that will come with him being the nominee.

But I think there's more going on here. Romney currently has just 35 percent of the vote (with 17 percent of precincts reporting) in a state that is perfect for him: close to home, socially liberal or libertarian, economically conservative, where he's been campaigning since before the '08 primaries, where he has an extensive ground campaign and huge name recognition, where, as a clear frontrunner, he should be able to win over 40 percent easily, if not over 50 percent. Am I overstating the expectations? Look, even with 35 percent he'll be able to declare a decisive victory and head on as the clear frontrunner to South Carolina. But I think we're still seeing just how weak he is, not to mention just how weak and divided the opposition is. Put a credible conservative in here and you'd get a much closer race and anything but a decisive victory for Romney.

RKB: Paul in second place is more than Romney could have hoped for. It effectively marginalizes the other real contenders because Paul can't win. Wow. Perfect for Mitt.

8:22 pm - Indeed. Romney certainly has luck on his side. Or a horseshoe up his ass. Or something.

CNN declares Paul second and Huntsman third. So no surprises whatsoever.

RKB: Huntsman people are now saying that Huntsman is not getting out. In fact, it appears that no one is getting out, which is good news for Romney. His opposition remains fractured.

8:25 pm - What position do you think he'd get in a Romney administration? Secretary of state?

8:26 pm - "Tonight we made history." -- Romney. Yup, he's already giving his victory speech. Let's see if this is any better than his disaster of a speech in Iowa. Oh, already attacking Obama. Surprise, surprise. It makes him appear to be the nominee already, as if he's already running against the president. "We still believe in that shining city on a hill." More meaningless bullshit. Romney is a plutocrat and a panderer to the right. And so he resorts to attacking Obama with lies and distortions.

"President Obama wants to put free enterprise on trial." And, he adds, he's been joined by some Republicans (looking at you, Newt). This, of course, is ridiculous. The president has proven to be nothing but a free enterpriser, rescuing Wall Street and industry and refusing to do anything serious about the havoc the American capitalist system is wreaking on most Americans. And I assume by defending free enterprise he's defending the right of unregulated capitalists to make millions destroying jobs and ruining lives. 

Yes, yes, Obama is a European-style socialist. Has Romney ever been to Europe? Seriously, in what world can this be taken at all seriously? Right -- in the world of Republican insanity.

"He passed Obamacare, I'll repeal it." No mention that Obamacare is based almost entirely on Romneycare.

Obama's "appeasement" strategy around the world... no need for American military superiority. Right, like how Obama refuses to use drones to take out terrorists, or how he refused to approve that mission to take out Osama bin Laden, or how he's pulled out of Afghanistan. Funny, eh? There appears to be no connection whatsoever between Romney's rhetoric and reality.

"We still believe in the America that is the land of opportunity and a beacon of freedom." There's a line with absolutely no substance to it.

What a massive pile of bullshit.

RKB: Just listening to Romney's speech. Is anyone going to believe that Romney gives a damn about middle-class Americans? What a phony bastard. He is one cringe-making politician. I almost can't wait for Romney to secure the nomination so the Dems can focus on him and hang him by his own pathetic cliches. He is so embarrassing. So full of shit. What an ass. 

9:04 pm - "President Paul!... President Paul!... President Paul!" So chant Paul's supporters, who prove once against just what utterly delusional nutjobs they are. (Okay, they're not all nutjobs. Just a lot of them.)

9:05 pm - Am I completely anti-Paul? No. I respect and for the most part agree with his views on civil liberties, American militarism and foreign wars (including the military-industrial complex), the war on drugs, etc. It's quite admirable that he's willing give voice to some harsh truths that most Americans would rather not hear, to speak out against some of the most dominant and most destructive forces in American life (and politics). But he's quite mad, raving against the Fed (and paper money), as if gold is the answer, as if somehow America could really withdraw from the global financial system. And don't be fooled. He's an extremist right-wing libertarian who would gut government and subject everyone to the forces of the unregulated market. He says he wants to protect liberty, but there's a dark side to that, is there not? What "liberty" would there really be for most people in Ron Paul's utopia? (And on capitalism and the economy, he's certainly siding with Romney.)

Fine, fine, it's good to have him in the race, good that he's doing fairly well, good that someone is talking about civil liberties and the follies of American militarism, but let's not give him a free pass just because he happens to be more sensible on these issues that pretty much every other Republican and even many (if not most) Democrats.

"We will restore freedom to this country." Yeah, good luck with that.

9:19 pm - How about an update? With 46 percent reporting, it's:

-- Romney: 34,702 (37%)
-- Paul: 21,956 (24%)
-- Huntsman: 16,124 (17%)
-- Gingrich: 9,324 (10%)
-- Santorum: 9,227 (10%)
-- Perry: 679 (1%)

Paul is doing a bit better than I expected, but he's being helped by independent / Democratic support in an open primary. A lot of his support, in other words, is non-Republican.

Santorum is doing worse than I expected. Will he be able to regain his footing, and recapture the attention he got after Iowa, when the focus shifts to South Carolina?

Gingrich is doing about as I expected. Will he carry through with his threats to go after Romney in South Carolina? Can he recover at all in a state where he's fairly strong? Will he and Santorum continue to divide the conservative vote?

Remember when Perry mattered?

9:26 pm - Romney's now up to 38 percent, with 49 percent reporting. 

9:29 pm - Now down to 37 again, with 50 reporting.

Huntsman at the podium: "Ladies and gentlemen, I think we're in the hunt." Uh, no you're not. "I say, third place is a ticket to ride, ladies and gentlemen." I just lost a ton of respect for him. Does he really believe this? He was all-in on New Hampshire, a state receptive to his old-school brand of conservatism. Of course he's done well -- by his lowly standards. If he stays in the race, he'll do well in Vermont and Maine as well. That doesn't mean he has a shot at winning the nomination, just that he's a moderate (relatively speaking) who can do well in liberal/moderate parts of the country.

Afghanistan is not America's future. Iraq is not America's future. He's talking economy, and the challenges America faces, particularly in the Pacific. Look, I can't say I agree with him on most issues, but I do respect him and his positions. I did once upon a time call him "Huntsman the Formidable." In a saner time, the GOP would hand him the nomination. But Republicans are too crazy and too stupid and too extreme to know what's good for them.

Term limits for Congress? Really, we're back to that after all these years? What is this, 1995?

End the war in Afghanistan? Wait, is Ron Paul still speaking?

His speech is a bit disjointed, all over the place, a bit like Romney's last week but without all the anti-Obama nonsense and hyper-nationalist bullshit. Though Huntsman did just pull out the "greatest nation on earth" line. Uh-huh. Sure. Whatever. This is when much of the rest of the world laughs at American arrogance even from its more thoughtful public figures.

"We have the greatest and most courageous armed forces this nation has ever seen." Um, what about those who fought in World War II? Wait... so we'll have another Greatest Generation now, helping to rebuild the country? I wouldn't bet on that.

On to South Carolina... (He's running either for a top spot on Romney's administration, assuming he doesn't destroy Romney in the process, or for 2016, when the GOP may be more receptive to him.)

9:41 pm - Did you know that CNN's election coverage tonight is being brought to us by... fossil fuels? Yes, by propaganda from the oil and gas industry, by "clean" coal, by global warming and the destruction of our world as we know it, by the mass murder of potentially hundreds of millions. Good times.

9:46 pm - I was going to follow up the pilsner with a smoked stout from Iceland, but I'm not sure I can do that. Just too heavy. Maybe some bourbon. With a toast to Obama for winning the Democratic primary. In case you were wondering.

Waiting on Newt and Rick... Just going to take a break. Be back in a bit.

10:21 pm - Quick reflections on Santorum and Gingrich: 

Santorum: Decent speech, if rather more muted than last week's in Iowa. He said what had to be said. On the one hand, he hasn't done well, battling it out for a distant fourth with Newt. On the other hand, he'd done really well, moving up to 10 percent support after being in the low single digits not so long ago. He was never going to do all that well in New Hampshire, but he actually downplayed his presence in the state. Last week he bragged about how much time he'd spent there. Tonight he treated the state like an afterthought. But he's on to South Carolina, where his social conservatism should allow him to do significantly better.

Gingrich: Give him credit, he talks ideas (even if they're unpalatable right-wing ones). His speech was sober and, from a conservative perspective, sensible. He presented himself on the one hand as a uniter of all Americans and on the other as a Republican with a record of getting things done even when faced with intractable Democratic opposition. He talked about his indebtedness to Reagan and Thatcher, and even, succumbing to his usual egomaniacal self-aggrandizement, took credit for the economic success and job creation of the Clinton years. His selling point is that he's the best candidate to debate and defeat Obama. But what of his recent attacks on Romney's unethical capitalism? In the speech, he defended capitalism as the be-all and end-all but didn't draw that distinction between "true" capitalism and the job-destroying venture capitalism of Bain Capital. And as much as he's been talking of an all-out assault on Romney in South Carolina, I just don't see it coming.

Basically, if anyone is to beat Romney, either Gingrich or Santorum has to withdraw and endorse the other, uniting the conservative vote against Romney and Paul. As of right now, with everyone's attention turning to South Carolina and with optimism still high, that doesn't look like it's going to happen. Which means that Romney's path to the nomination remains clear. How fortunate he is not to face any truly serious and credible conservative opposition.

10:33 pm - Not much new to report. With 74 percent reporting, it's Romney at 38, Paul at 23, Huntsman at 17, and Gingrich and Santorum at 10. 

12:12 am - Just watched Stewart and Colbert... Alright, let's wrap this up. Romney is now at 39 percent, with 92 percent reporting, followed by Paul at 23 and Huntsman at 17. Gingrich appears to have finished fourth, at 10, with Santorum declining to 9. All this as votes came in from the more populous, Romney-oriented parts of the state.

So what are to make of this? I still think Romney continues to be an extremely weak candidate, though there's no denying his clear victory here. There's no doubt he's the favorite to win South Carolina and that this win will help build the aura of inevitability that seems to be engulfing his campaign. The question is whether anyone will emerge to challenge him not just in South Carolina but in Florida. Everyone was talking big tonight, but at some point either Santorum or Gingrich is going to have to get out of the race is conservatives are to have a shot at taking down Romney. As it is, it looks more and more like Republicans are resigning themselves to a Romney candidacy that will have a hard time arousing much enthusiasm on the right. The overwhelming desire to beat Obama will likely bring most conservatives into the fold, but Romney is still a tough sell, and he'll have to balance securing conservative support with moving back to the left to try to win independents and the new generation of "Reagan Democrats."

12:19 am: Stay tuned for extensive coverage of the Republican race as we now turn our attention to South Carolina. Keep coming back. You'll find a lot to like, or a lot to infuriate you.

12:22 am: Good night, everyone. We'll be back at it in the morning.

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