Romney on the ropes, Gingrich on the rise, Paul on the defensive, Huntsman on the periphery

Mitt Romney is the weakest front-runner in modern political history and is far more vulnerable than most pundits think. Newt Gingrich will get a major boost from the Union Leader endorsement, which will put pressure on Romney and Ron Paul in Iowa and New Hampshire. The great mystery of the campaign is that no matter how many Republicans rise and fall as the alternative to Romney, Jon Huntsman has not had his moment.

In my view, Huntsman is the most qualified Republican to be president. In the White House view, Huntsman would be the strongest candidate. So, Shakespeare might write, wherefore art thou, Jon Huntsman?

What Huntsman could have done, and could still do today, is make himself the true conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. For whatever reason, he has chosen not to. As a result, he has been on the periphery of the main event in the GOP campaign, which is Mitt Romney versus whoever emerges as his chief opponent.

Huntsman complains he has not received enough attention in the debates. But the way for Huntsman to get attention is to repeat, on issue after issue, in debate after debate, that he is the candidate of conservative authenticity while Romney is the candidate of political expedience.

There is a linear consistency throughout Huntsman's career, from his service as White House aide to Ronald Reagan to his conservative and widely acclaimed service as governor of Utah.

Huntsman could say he is proud of his record and his governorship while Romney must run against his moderate record and liberal governorship.

Huntsman should counterpoint against Romney on every major issue on which Romney has flipped and flopped (which is just about every issue). He should use these debates to force the media to pay attention to him, by directly challenging the authenticity of Romney on one issue after another. Within each debate, he should take Romney on. From one debate to the next, he should take Romney on.

My guess is that Gingrich has his fall, like the other Anybody But Romney candidates. We shall see. Here is the new totem pole:

Mitt Romney is in serious trouble. A strong majority of Republicans do not like him or trust him.

Gingrich gets a big boost from the Union Leader. He pressures Romney for the top spot, and he pressures Ron Paul, who could fall below 10 percent again if Gingrich becomes the one true alternative to Romney. If I were Ron Paul, I would be challenging Gingrich the same way Huntsman should be challenging Romney.

Huntsman remains in Never Never Land. He must forcefully challenge Romney, head to head, in every coming debate. After the next two debates, either Huntsman takes off by challenging Romney in the debates, or he closes New Hampshire, and his campaign, behind Romney, Gingrich and Paul.

I hope Huntsman rises to the occasion. If he does not, he will be a very good man who missed a very huge opportunity by standing on the sidelines of the only event that matters, which is: who will be the final alternative to Romney.

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