Romney the GOP misfit

Mitt Romney, the misfit of the 2012 Republican Party, made history Tuesday by becoming the first GOP candidate to win both the New Hampshire primary and the Iowa caucuses. The former Massachusetts governor is poised, with numerous Republicans still working to plot a fatal ambush, to make history again next week by securing a trifecta and winning South Carolina. 

Romney, a moderate flip-flopper whose record is to the left of not only the GOP but of every presidential candidate in the race, has been lifted to victory thus far by a balkanized Republican Party. The limp field, which every popular GOP heavyweight refused to join, has left party stalwarts swinging from disbelief to despair. The Tea Party is increasingly unpopular and suddenly quiet. The revolution of Rep. Ron Paul (Texas), the withering candidacy of Texas Gov. Rick Perry and a competition between former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) to stop Romney by winning over social conservatives has continued to divide the vote.

The fight for South Carolina promises a bitter air war and ultimately the traditional bloodletting the Palmetto State is known for. But should Romney make it out of there with a weak plurality that he can call a win, it would be nearly impossible for anyone to stop him in Florida 10 days later, or at any other point on his path to the nomination. Not only has the eventual GOP nominee won South Carolina since 1980; for just as long no candidate has captured South Carolina without winning either Iowa or New Hampshire. This means besides Romney, Santorum — who essentially tied with Romney in Iowa — appears the only Republican with a chance of doing so. 

Unfortunately for Santorum, New Hampshire did nothing to help him stop Gingrich, as they received nearly the exact same number of votes. Gingrich’s super-PAC ads depicting Romney as a ruthless job killer during his years at Bain Capital have hurt Santorum’s plans to position himself as the conservative populist in the race. Santorum said he doesn’t see Romney’s Bain experience as a liability, and he too believes in the private sector. 

Perry, however, could not muster Santorum’s resistance to beating up on the free-enterprise system. Suddenly his oft-repeated mantra about the nobility of businessmen who “risk their capital” has morphed into Occupy Wall Street brochure language. Of investors like Romney, Perry said, “They’re vultures who are sitting out there on the tree limb waiting for the company to get sick. And then they swoop in, they eat the carcass, they leave with that and they leave the skeleton.”

Comments like that have so enraged some conservatives that even Rush Limbaugh and the Club for Growth have blasted Gingrich’s attack. And the influential Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) isn’t happy about Gingrich and Perry jumping on the Bainwagon. Though DeMint supported Romney in 2008 and has so far remained silent, he issued a quasi-endorsement Tuesday by telling radio host Mark Levin: “Some of the others who might have had an advantage here have really crossed paths, crossed ways with some Republicans as they have criticized free-enterprise concepts.”

Meanwhile, social conservatives opposed to Romney are well-aware that they have 10 days left to try and stop him. They are huddling this weekend in Texas to try and unite behind one alternative candidate, yet there is no evidence of any consensus on who that should be. Team Romney plans to be at the table at the Texas confab, to make sure that the path of least resistance in South Carolina continues to belong to Romney.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.