Mitt Romney had an excellent exchange with Chris Wallace this morning on the network conservatives watch, the sort of confident showing that brings voters over, even as John McCain was deep in the immigration swamp on Meet The Press and the Manchester Union Leader led with the Romney-McCain immigration clash from last night’s debate, which is not the way McCain hoped it would play. Coming off of the easy win yesterday in Wyoming –the land of Dick Cheney and Alan Simpson Republicans– Romney will have another target on his back tonight for all the other Republicans for a reason: Romney’s got the national campaign, and the field knows he has to be shattered, not merely wounded, before February 5. A second place in Iowa, a first in Wyoming, and a second in New Hampshire doesn’t shatter Romney, whereas a win in New Hampshire after the tag team assault supercharges his campaign. The opponents are trying to goad Romney into a campaign ending gaffe, but his discipline showed last night.Romney looked like a candidate with a view beyond Tuesday, aware that McCain cannot survive the long campaign in the “Republican only” primaries because of the reasons noted below and the same holds true for Huckabee who is struggling to get to third in New Hampshire despite his “big win” in Iowa.
Romney’s real contest remains with Rudy who is busy building his Florida bank of absentees, hoping that the pack drags down Romney so that a win in Florida propels Rudy on February 5, where winner-take-all rules in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut help the mayor. The temptation for Romney to strike out in an angry fashion ala McCain must be enormous, but it also must be resisted. Firm but affable, in command of the facts and committed to the Reagan-Bush coalition, not aiming to end it, is the ticket. Meanwhile, Rich Lowry’s morning-after musings about McCain are very likely shared across the U.S.:
McCain and the Debate [Rich Lowry]
The more I thought about it last night, the less well his performance sat with me. I think he won as a political matter and now would be surprised if he doesn’t win handily in New Hampshire. But he was nasty toward Romney, letting his hatred-and I used that word advisedly-show. Of course, he tried to cover it with an occasional forced grin, but it was clear where he was coming from. I find this aspect of McCain’s character very unattractive, and it’s not a great quality to have in a president. The other thing extraordinary about his performance is that he could condescend to Romney about the Massachusetts governor’s alleged phoniness at the same time he was being dishonest (as he apparently is routinely) about his own dodgy and unworkable immigration position. But he specializes in bristling self-righteousness and last night’s debate was a great example of it.
One more thought on Wyoming: These are the sort of voters that decide Republican nominations –activists (they were caucus attenders) from a bedrock red state. The campaigns couldn’t put a lot of time into Wyoming because of logistics, so these voters rendered their decisions based on national media and organization. And Romney won easily in the land of Cheney and Simpson. The MSM is in love with the McCain surge so it hasn’t spent much time on the significance of the Wyoming vote, but is an important clue to how the states where only Republicans vote regard Romney and McCain.