The big news in New Hampshire was that there was no big news in New Hampshire. The New Hampshire surprise is that there were no surprises. Everybody did what they were expected to do in the state.
The “Not Romney” crowd was hoping Romney would come in significantly below the 40 percent he expected. He didn’t.
The “Stop Paul” establishment Republicans were hoping for an upset in which Huntsman, who bet it all in New Hampshire, would pass up Ron Paul in a late surge and come in second. Huntsman didn’t – while there was, indeed, a mini-surge for Huntsman, there was also a surge for Paul.
All-in-all, the entire New Hampshire exercise was a big snore. That’s very good news for Mitt Romney, and very bad news for the conservatives trying to stop him. There is plenty of evidence of growing dread among the ultra-conservative leadership of the Republican Party that Romney cannot be stopped, and even more evidence that increasingly, most Republican primary voters are just fine with a Romney nomination.
In other words, the Tea Party may end up being reduced to a Tea Happy Hour, in which the kegs floated early and everybody went home well before curfew.
One microscopically-interesting factoid in the results is the growing worry among establishment Republicans that Ron Paul and his supporters will be freshly-energized by Paul’s distant second place finish, which will only serve to push back the inevitable future date in the primary calendar by which Ron Paul goes away.
Also interesting is that nobody quit after last night’s results. Jon Huntsman should have, but didn’t. Last week after the Iowa Caucuses, Rick Perry shouldn’t have, but sort of did (but he took it back early the next morning while jogging…apparently all manner of interesting crap happens to Rick Perry while jogging).
Here’s the run-down:
Romney: got everything he needed in New Hampshire; it’s hard to argue with a clear win in which he got almost twice the votes of the second place finisher. Exit polling indicates he enjoyed significant support from all segments of the Republican establishment, including those which the more conservative candidates have been betting would never go for Romney.
Paul: got what he deserved, plus more, a likely recipient of all the support he would normally get, plus protest votes from among others who would otherwise have supported one of the collapsed not-Romneys. He has a lot to crow about as he leaves New Hampshire, but has nowhere to go after this. He’ll never have so few votes in a future state to be anything less than a hot bridesmaid, and he’ll never have so many votes in a future state to be even the frumpiest of brides.
Huntsman: he bet it all in New Hampshire for over a year, and all he has to show is a distant third place finish and a lousy t-shirt. While he enjoyed more support than other candidates, he’s the biggest loser, if only because all his money and organization was in New Hampshire.
Gingrich: wait, am I going out of order? Apparently not – while the election returns are still trickling in, it appears Gingrich squeaked in ahead of Santorum. A tiny moral victory for Gingrich, who needs moral victories. One thing Gingrich doesn’t need is money – a casino-owning angel has dumped a pile of it into Gingrich’s super PAC, and the lion’s share will be spent in South Carolina viciously attacking Romney for being predatory. Setting aside the irony of a casino owner accusing somebody of being predatory, Gingrich hopes the attacks chip away at Romney’s support, but even if it works, it’s less clear if it will be to Gingrich’s benefit. The Newtster, however, remains one of the two not-Romneys still relevant. The other, of course, is…
Santorum: here’s the most interesting not-Romney at the moment. Santorum got about half of his 15 minutes of fame in Iowa, and I expect him to play out his second half in South Carolina. He was never really expected to do well in New Hampshire, because Republicans there are shockingly sane, which ain’t Santorum’s crowd. He didn’t modify his message to accomodate the New Hampshire country club crowd, because it would have alienated his natural constituencies in upcoming South Carolina – a smart move on his part. Look for Santorum to quickly regain footing in South Carolina and perhaps emerge as the only viable not-Romney left in the field.
Perry: I don’t mean this ugly or anything, but honestly, who cares? Few outside the Texas media are even following Perry’s campaign any longer, except for a few stray embeds hoping for gaffe entertainment. He chose not to compete in New Hampshire, and as a result, he got fewer votes than most reporters and many observers have twitter followers. Skipping New Hampshire was the best strategy available to him, which mostly means that there aren’t any decent strategies left available to him. Unless Romney makes a fatal mistake (unlikely, since Romney has been running for President since the Earth cooled), Perry will drop out after South Carolina when the money runs out.