In every presidential cycle, there has been a middle of the pack candidate that has emerged as the antithesis of the favorite of the party establishment. In December of 1991, Bill Clinton was not even mentioned as a leading candidate. In 2008, Barack Obama leapfrogged over John Edwards to begin the longest (and most interesting) nomination battle in the last forty years.
Yesterday’s tie between Romney and Santorum is the movement I have been waiting for. This year, the antithesis candidate is not inside the Democratic party; it is in the Republican party. The two cases mentioned above was a debate over which candidate would be the most progressive (liberal). In 2012, in the Republican party, the candidate to rock the boat of the establishment seems to be which candidate will provide a conservative vision of the role of government versus the liberal mantra of change of President Obama.
John McCain’s endorsement has come at the worst possible time for Romney. With a message from the Republican primary electorate that his conservative credentials are questionable at best, the only thing that Romney can hang his proverbial hat (and his presidential campaign on) is that he is the only candidate that can beat Obama in November. Coming out of Iowa with a statistical tie with Santorum, who is emerging as the conservative alternative, the endorsement by McCain is problematic because of two reasons:
1) McCain’s endorsement does not help Romney win over conservatives (in fact, it may solidify their uneasiness with Romney).
2) Last time I checked… McCain did rather poorly versus Obama.
It is this last point that is the kicker. Romney as the establishment candidate has hit his ceiling. McCain’s endorsement was supposed to catapult Romney to the nomination after his commanding win in Iowa.
Instead, the endorsement will set the stage for a battle within the Republican party similar to the Obama – Clinton primary marathon of 2008. If Santorum can leverage his near win, by raising money and building a staff in five or six key states, we may see a real fight for the soul of the Republican party.