Hamilton, Madison, and Jay

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Saturday, January 5, 2008

You don't see him crying the way Hillary did

Mitt Romney walked into the debate last night with a bulls-eye on his back, and only Lord knows why. Well, actually, that's not entirely true. He is a true Washington outsider, and he's heavily favored to be the Republican nominee -- just a couple of reasons why the other candidates decided to gang up on him and left the Huckster alone:

For months, there has been an open secret among insiders working in or covering the 2008 Republican campaign: The rival candidates despise Mitt Romney.

After Saturday night in New Hampshire, it's no longer a secret. The contempt was obvious, and relentless. And it was harnessed for clear strategic purposes at the debate. Everyone — even candidates who don’t seem to be in the center of the New Hampshire action — felt it was in their interest to pile on the former Massachusetts governor.

Romney may have been knocked from front-runner status in Iowa, but this night he was at the center — of a rhetorical firing squad. Four of Romney’s Republican opponents joined together to put him through a grueling evening, taking turns offering derisive quips and questions about his authenticity and throwing him on the defensive at a critical moment for his campaign.

A mantra of flip-flopping, which has haunted Romney for months, was the central theme. “Which one?” taunted Mike Huckabee when Romney told him to stop mischaracterizing his positions.

The Huckster's one to talk. Um, which tax didn't you like, governor? And what about the in-state tuition for illegals? Oh, and your record on law and order -- the 1000+ clemencies granted? And, of course, there's the immortal flip-flop on Gitmo; originally standing by the president in opposing it's closure, only to flip this year and use the Democrat mantra of reasons calling for it's closing? Which one for you, Governor Huckabee?

John McCain said Romney could spend his entire fortune on negative ads but they still wouldn't be true, and chortled that Romney's shifting positions prove he is this year's "candidate of change."

Hey Johnny, how's that base building going? Found any Republicans that can stomach being in the same room with you, or listening to you speak? Is that why you're courting the Independents in New Hampshire? Because you know that the GOP base won't support you? It's not like you got a stellar record, either Senator McCain. You did create campaign finance reform, which trampled our free speech rights during an election, which subsequently led to the creation of the same 527's you ripped on in 2004. And there's the Gang of 14 which thoroughly irked the base to no end. I guess you were for amnesty before you were against it, especially given the fact that that particular issue is your death knell.

The political calculation was clear: All the candidates see an opportunity to knock Romney out of the race. But it was equally obvious the relish they brought to the task: Romney is personally unpopular among his rivals — regarded simultaneously as an attack dog, a pretty boy and an opportunist.

Aides and advisers to the rest of the field reveled after the forum, delighted to see the subject of their loathing get his.

In person and via e-mail, they collectively said the same thing: about time.

Romney responded to the onslaught with a prickly demeanor that seemed unlikely to help his prospects of a comeback next Tuesday. His own aides said there was a compliment buried in the barrage of criticism: He was the focus of the debate and so had the most opportunity to make his points and frame the evening.

Said spokesman Kevin Madden: “I think the attacks were indicative of candidates who are without the firepower to fight the governor on ideas and issues and instead let their emotions get the best of them.” But the blows were so steady and so bruising that Romney was unable to really delve into his newly-fashioned message that he is the true Washington outsider in the race who can deliver change until over an hour into the forum.

I hope these geniuses realize what they did last night by focusing on him, rather than the issues. They showed viewers who they were concerned about. It showed the other candidate's fear of a man who could easily take the nomination, and prove to be a bruising candidate to whomever the Democrats think is their best man.

What we didn't see last night, or even today, was the Hillary whine of "they're picking on me." He took the verbal beating in stride even though he did seem to be a tad testy. I hope they all enjoyed their licks while they could take them. Romney's not leaving until he's handed his hat, if he's handed his hat. That'll be up to primary voters, not the Huckster, not the senior senator from Arizona, and not the former mayor of New York. I hope they're ready for the double down Romney's about to pull.

Publius II

ADDENDUM: I am not sure if people picked up on Senator McCain's foolish swipe at Governor Romney -- him being the "candidate of change." Does Senator McCain realize that he basically just stumped for Senator Obama? Senator Obama is running as that sort of a candidate. The low-blow swipe is not resonating well with the GOP base, and it is very likely it may backfire on him.

John McCain knows he needs the Independent vote, as Thomas pointed out above. This sort of attack does not work well with Independents who are sick of seeing this old style, bare-knuckle game of politics played out before their eyes. It is more than evident that John McCain's temper will end up being his downfall again. He was nasty, irascible, and seemingly vindictive. A lesson here for readers: When John McCain deems you an enemy, watch your back because the underhanded, snide slaps will come fast and furious.

John McCain's strategy of going on the attack last night will surely backfire on him. It is not as though he had a lot of support within his own base, and we are assuming that after last night he may have burned the last bridge he had with the base. Many people, ourselves included, considered letting bygones be bygones should he be the nominee, and vote for him in an effort to head off the Democrats. Mark our words, voters will second-guess that option now, should he somehow become the nominee. And after last night we can agree that he probably just lost New Hampshire. Mitt Romney can feasibly put New Hampshire in his column right next to his win in Wyoming.

Very dumb move, Senator McCain. You should have been focusing attention on what you would do differently rather than turning the debate into a Romney gang bang.

Marcie

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