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The Florida Snowball

February 2, 2012

Mitt Romney won Florida pretty big, taking its 50 winner-take-all delegates.  Notwithstanding, Newt Gingrich’s campaign is saying he’s in it all the way to the convention.  But the Gingrich campaign is also indicating that he will skip Nevada and Michigan – two of the seven states between Florida and Super Tuesday. And Gingrich isn’t even on the ballot in Virginia, one of the bigger Super Tuesday states.  So there’s every reason to expect Romney’s win to snowball from Florida to Super Tuesday to the nomination.

To win a national nomination, a candidate has to run a national campaign.  There’s a pretty tight limit on how many states a candidate can forego and still be a national candidate – just ask Rudy Giuliani, who thought he could skip the preliminaries, storm Florida, and come out the  winner.

Romney is the front runner more clearly than at any previous point in the campaign.  To take down a front runner this far into a campaign, another candidate has to bring himself a lot of attention.  Gingrich is very capable of doing that, but the way he goes about it is by carrying on, figuratively if not literally.  At this point, Gingrich’s tantrums are having the opposite effect of what he intends – he’s making Romney look like the grown-up in the room.

There’s a vein of conventional wisdom that says that tough primary campaigns hurt the ultimate nominee in the general election. I’m predisposed against that notion, because it comes close to saying that vigorous debate, which is good for the democratic function of the country, is ultimately bad for the winner of the debate – which, if so, which would inhibit the debate, at least where everyone in the debate actually hopes to emerge as the winner.

But aside from my predisposition on the question, I don’t see empirical evidence for this conventional wisdom.  Remember how concerned some liberal pundits were when Hillary Clinton stayed in the primaries after they felt Barack Obama had won?  She tagged him with everything she had, including the red phone ringing at three in the morning.  It didn’t stop Obama in the primaries, and it didn’t stop him in the general election.  It didn’t even hurt him in governing the country – Obama just put Clinton in charge of the red phone, a classic tactic out of Management 101.

There’s a directly contrary vein of conventional wisdom that says that a tough primary campaign helps the ultimate nominee by testing the candidate, honing the candidate’s skills, developing the candidate’s defenses and so on. I think that’s exactly what is happening with Romney now. I have always thought that President Obama’s main asset in the general election this year – certainly not the economy, not even killing bin Laden or ending the Iraq war – will be his steadiness; he is the grown-up in the room.  What Gingrich is doing now is helping Romney make his case as a legitimate competitor to Obama’s steadiness.

Democrats and liberal pundits are practically drooling over the idea that Gingrich will mess with Romney for another six months.  We need to be careful what we wish for.

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