Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina...
It's been an interesting few weeks, to be sure!
When last I posted, Romney had just won Iowa, if only by eight votes. It was effectively a tie, but, well, someone has to be declared the winner, and that winner was Romney. Duly noted: one up for the Whirr/Clack Mechanism.
As for New Hampshire, well, Romney did as well there as may be expected. He won a comfortable 39% of the vote, with Ron Paul trailing him at 23%. To put this into some perspective: in 2008, McCain won New Hampshire with 37%, and Romney came in second with 31%. So: Romney did better there this time around, and even though there may be some doubts as to the substance of that improvement, he thoroughly whooped his main adversaries, with both Gingrich and Santorum limping along at the back of the field with a modest 9% each. Two up for Romney.
And then, of course, we had South Carolina. Wild mood swings all round, it seemed. When last I posted (on January 4th), Gingrich was leading in the polls in the state by 16%. Now, those polls weren't minty fresh even then, and they most certainly hadn't taken the New Hampshire results in their stride. Polls released a while later reversed the situation; suddenly, Romney had dashed to the fore and was leading by some 10%.
Ah, the pundits said. It might all be over soon; Romney will wrap up the nomination by winning all three early states. History will be written, and the Mechanism will ride in triumph through the streets of Florida. His whirr will be wondrous; his clack convincing.
Alas, though, it was not to be. Just two days before South Carolinians headed off to their ballot boxes, a weird thing happened: Romney lost Iowa. It wasn't by much, to be sure: in the official tally, his eight vote advantage was turned into a 34 vote deficit. But, well, someone had to win, and it turned out the winner was Rick Santorum, after all.
And when January 21st came along, it appeared South Carolina had changed its mind again, too. They'd reverted to the Not-Romney, and as far as they were concerned, the Not-Romney was called Newt Gingrich. Gingrich won the state with 40%, a solid 12% lead over Romney.
And so, it turned out, Romney hadn't triumphed at all. He hadn't won the first three states; he only managed to win the smallest one (New Hampshire). He might well go off and ride into Florida with his moneybags a-jingling and an army of staffers at his back, but he is no Caesar yet.
So what happens now?
Well, in the end, the answer may well be sought by looking at the situation from a negative point of view.
Let's face it: Romney is not well-loved by many Republicans. They don't trust him. They don't know him. He just isn't one of them. And there is, in truth, not all that much Romney can do about this. He can't, because those Republicans are essentially right. Romney's a Mormon; he is a multimillionaire who earned his money in ways that most people do not understand but mistrust instinctively; his track record as a politician is moderate as best and downright opportunistic at worst.
As such, Romney is a very big duck waiting for his Porky.
The thing is, though, Romney's Porkies aren't all that convincing, and there aren't all that many of them left. Bachmann is out, so is Cain. Huntsman's joined them, as has Rick Perry. The list of Porkies therefore boils down to Gingrich, Santorum and Ron Paul. Of these, Paul can't be considered a Porky at all; he's decidedly anti-Pork, in fact. Paul follows his own agenda, and that agenda does not include hunting ducks.
So it's just Gingrich and Santorum. Of these two, Santorum immediately disqualifies himself. Frankly, one really can't imagine him as Porky; at best, he might pose as Porky's young nephew. He's a relatively innocuous piglet who goes around shooting anything with wings and missing without fail. To misquote Jed Bartlet: he's a peashooter in a Magnum world.
And that leaves Gingrich, whose appearance alone elevates him to a great Porky figure. Could he be? Could he really take down Romney? After South Carolina, there's at least a chance. A good chance, surely.
Well, in many ways, the Porky description fits Gingrich perfectly. The thing is, though - as anyone who knows his Loony Tunes will tell you - Porky isn't the best duck hunter in the world. In fact, he's pretty dismal. I mean, he wears a jacket; he's got a bow tie. He might sport a hunting cap. But he doesn't get his Daffy, does he?
And so Romney will, in all likelihood, survive. He won't survive because of any redeeming qualities of his own; he'll simply get by because, well, his opponents are Porkies.
In other words, to put it negatively: Romney is still the hands-down favourite to win the nomination. Not because he deserves it, but because his opponents deserve it less. Not because he's good, but because the others are worse.
A few final words on the Republican nomination process. In Part Three of this series, I pointed out that the Republicans had taken a good look at the Democratic nomination battle between Obama and Clinton in 2008, and decided to create something similar for themselves. They changed the rules, hoping for a protracted struggle between the candidates.
Well, given the current results, they may well get it. I'm not at all sure they should be happy, though. The thing is, the 2008 struggle was a positive one: Democrats were divided about who they liked more. Obama was good, but Clinton was better - or was that the other way around? Gosh, let's see...
2012, however, may well be the other side of the coin. It may well be negative, not positive. It may well be a question of who's worst, not who's better. And that's not a struggle you want to drag out, I'd think.