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Conservatives Give Romney Advantage By Cannibalizing Each Other

The first Republican New Hampshire debate allowed Romney to resume posing as the already anointed one.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 1/9/2012, 6:55 AM

The Talmud has a phrase saying that the worthy person has his work performed by others. If this phrase was accurate for American politics, former Governor Mitt Romney would rank among the most worthy persons on earth.

In last night's debate in New Hampshire, Romney found that he could stand aloof from the fighting and return to his previous tactics of concentrating his fire on Barack Obama -  as if he was already the chosen candidate.

The four other candidates, who continue to vie for the role of the conservative alternative to Romney, concentrated their efforts on each other in this primary within a primary.

The irony is that none of the 4 have any chance of defeating Romney in New Hampshire, where he benefits from having been the governor of neighboring Massachusetts. Romney also constantly envisioned New Hampshire as his firewall after a possible Iowa defeat (in the end result he won by the most slender of margins) and therefore holds a seemingly insurmountable lead.

The one candidate for whom New Hampshire is make or break is John Huntsman. Huntsman treated New Hampshire in the same way that Rick Santorum treated Iowa. Huntsman gave Iowa a pass so he could crisscross New Hampshire in depth in the belief that a moderate Republican state that had previously displayed sympathy for party mavericks would reward his efforts. Should Huntsman fail to manage at least a third place finish, he is essentially eliminated and Romney will have consolidated the moderate and centrist Republican vote.

Generals are good at fighting the last war and politicians are equally good in fighting the last election. The conservative Republican candidates should seemingly be concentrating on South Carolina. Romney is now leading in South Carolina, the epitome of a southern conservative state. If he wins there and then proceeds to win Florida, the February interlude between primaries will do his opponents little good even there is only  one conservative candidate left standing.

It made sense for Rick Santorum to campaign in New Hampshire in the hope of maintaining his momentum from Iowa. As a man running on a shoestring, the New Hampshire debates were too much free publicity to pass up.

The other three hopefuls are probably thinking back to Rudy Giuliani's mistake the 2008 primary season, when he skipped both Iowa and New Hampshire to concentrate on Florida. This suffocated his campaign as he was far from the needed publicity and he never recovered.

Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, in trying to avoid Giuliani's flawed strategy, may have erred in the opposite direction.