“My sense is that this will never get down to a one-on-one race,” said the almost certain keynoter at the GOP’s Tampa Bay convention. (HT: Mike Allen)
Of course Christie has endorsed Romney, but he is also known as a straight-talker who would not allow an endorsement to damage that reputation via puffery, and calling a close-race effectively over would be just that. Christie is simply stating the obvious –the primary race does not appear to have any other plausible conclusion except a Romney nomination.
Indeed sorting through the post-CNBC debate assessments (which, again, had been on display in real time on Twitter and a feed of 100 influencers simply doesn’t lie) are suffused with an unspoken certainty that Romney will be the nominee.
This doesn’t mean the campaign is over because the former Massachusetts governor could always stumble. Newt will continue to display his intellectual credentials, Perry will make light of his stumble and use it on the trail, and Cain’s fade will be gradual, while Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum continue to give excellent accounts of conservative principles and prescriptions. Jon Huntsman will find his China experience in increasing demand as the campaign turns towards foreign policy.
But civility among the candidates will define the race. Romney’s experienced spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom hit exactly the right sort of notes in the post debate questioning, which is to be very conciliatory towards the other candidates but also confident that the primary voting will confirm the universal assessments of the debates to date.
Expect the intra-party attacks on Romney to moderate in the weeks ahead if not completely disappear except from the fringe. The feared Armageddon of the airwaves in Iowa fueled by SuperPacs would be carnage without a purpose if no candidate can get a serious run at Romney underway.
Romney is now overwhelmingly likely to be the nominee in a race the vast majority of Republicans understand must be won if the country’s spiral is to be halted even as Reagan halted the Carter-induced swoon. (The In-Trade market puts Romney at a 70% probability of the nomination this morning.) Slashing attacks on Romney will not only hurt the likely nominee but could deeply injure the individual making them as the conservative movement and the Republican Party come to realize that the general campaign is already underway.
The debates will go on and that is a good thing IF the GOP finally insists on allowing some serious questioning to come from journalists who at least are aware that Iran’s assault on the world, Syria’s massacre of its citizens, loose weapons in Libya and the Sarkozy-Obama slams on Netanyahu are crucial topics, as are Solyndra, Fast & Furious and the refusal of the president to lead on any entitlement reform whatsoever. Ceding the questions to a near uniform group of Manhattan-Beltway media elites with all the prejudices and knowledge gaps of that class is the biggest failure of the campaign to date. While there is still time to do so, Chairman Reince Priebus and the candidates’ campaigns should oblige the remaining debate organizers to knock off the absurd time limits and arrange for at least a few questions from serious-minded conservatives ware of the president’s disastrous record and willing to ask the candidates the sort of general election questions that should have dominated these debates from the start.
After beginning today’s program with columnist to the world Mark Steyn I will walk through the battleground state map with Michael Barone a year out from the voting.