There are no East Carolinas in the National Football League, as a wise man (John Madden? Pat Summerall?) famously put it, but the field in the Republican presidential primaries this year is studded with cupcakes.
Mitt Romney, who if he were a football team might have been an East Carolina himself in this presidential year, is dispatching a gallery of rivals, none of whom has ever looked particularly presidential. Can anyone actually say out loud, without a wince, “President Gingrich“? Or “President Paul” (who sounds more like a pope than a president), or “President Santorum”? Nice guys, maybe, but we know where nice guys finish.
Newt Gingrich, who has a hard time sounding like a nice guy, is down to a new strategy unique in presidential politics. He’ll try to win by losing, and without any money. He told a post-primary press conference in Las Vegas, the Lourdes of pilgrims eager to lay the rent or mortgage money on imaginative long shots, that he intends to “find a series of victories which by the end of the Texas primary will leave us at parity.” But Texas won’t hold its winner-take-all primary until April (the date is uncertain because of a redistricting case), and by then even its 155 delegates may be but an afterthought. Primacy, not parity, is the point of politics. Ties, like kisses from your sister, don’t count.
Besides, Texas doesn’t like losers, and Newt has acquired the sickly sweet fragrance of a corpse waiting for someone to call the undertaker. He dispensed with the usual concession speech the night of the Nevada caucuses, the traditional gesture of faking humility, and called a press conference instead. Only a small gaggle of reporters showed up for it, mostly bloggers in the expectation of an announcement that Newt was throwing in a sweaty towel. Not at all, he said. He was going all the way to Texas and on to the convention, even if he had to pay his own bus fare.
For all the bravura and bravado, it’s difficult to see how Newt will get to Tampa without winning a few primaries. He’s not even on the ballot this week in Missouri, which is merely a beauty contest and is not binding on the selection of delegates. Mr. Romney is favored in Colorado and Minnesota, and then it’s on to Michigan and Arizona at the end of the month. Those look like Romney states, too. The race should be all over before March 6, and a Super Tuesday that wouldn’t be so super after all.
The notion that the three remaining Romney pursuers can raise enough money to keep their campaigns on life support all the way to Tampa is gossamer. Rep. Michele Bachmann, who withdrew after finishing sixth in Iowa, thinks the nominee will emerge long before the pursuers find the courage to quit. Vowing to go all the way to Tampa is nice; actually getting there is another thing. “The practicality is money,” she says, and they’re not likely to have any.
The smart money is on Mitt Romney once more, but it’s nervous money. No one expects him to arrive in Tampa with full-throated Republican enthusiasm at his back. (That comes later.) But even nervous money can speak in shouts. For every dollar Newt scraped together to spend in Florida, the Romney campaign spent five easy dollars; for every negative Gingrich commercial on the Florida airwaves, the Romney campaign put up 60. Mr. Romney spent more than $15 million, and nearly all of it was spent on high-decibel denunciation of Newt and the rest of a field that most Republicans agree is a well-meaning collection of sad sacks.
“So Mr. Romney has pasted one on Newt Gingrich,” the Economist magazine observed. “Remember that this is still NewtGingrich, a man drummed out of office more than a decade ago, whose campaign has been left for dead twice, who cruised around Greece while his team floundered, whose negatives are higher than Emperor Palpatine’s, who’s on a third marriage, who supported a health-insurance mandate, and greenhouse-gas action alongside Nancy Pelosi, who made $1.6 million for helping the loathed Freddie Mac, and on and on. So Mr. Romney had $15 million lying around to defeat this man in a single state? Well, congratulations, Mr. Romney, as far as it goes.”
The good news is that soon “it goes” against Barack Obama, who has a blind eye and a tin ear waiting to be exploited. He’s contemptuous of the God ‘n’ guns crowd. He’s constantly lecturing the Israelis. This week he’s at war with the Catholics.
He’s no East Carolina, but he might be a cupcake.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.