Pundits had been predicting it would happen but you can’t obscure the real impact: former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won big in the Nevada caucauses yesterday — further consolidating his candidacy, after a gaffe-peppered week adding to the positive image of someone who’s on a political roll, while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s candidacy continues to shrink in terms of support and imagery.
The New York Time’s report captures the new dynamic. First the win:
Mitt Romney handily won the Nevada caucuses on Saturday, solidifying his status as the front-runner and increasing his momentum as he seeks to use the month of February to ease doubts within the Republican Party about his candidacy and begin confronting President Obama.
Prediction: talk about the anti-Romney will collapse as support will start to fall in line and will be totally in line once conservative radio and cable talk show hosts unabashedly support Romney and put past criticisms aside. Put your money on it.
Mr. Romney ran well ahead of his three opponents on a night that delivered his second decisive first-place finish in four days, following his victory in the Florida primary on Tuesday.
Indeed, if it had been close — given expectations for a big Romney win — the Sunday morning talk shows would have a different narrative than you will hear today. Romney was clearly elated as he savored his big victory. The Times goes on:
He appeared elated as he took the stage at his election headquarters at the Red Rock Casino hotel here, kissing his wife, Ann, who reminded the crowd that Nevada would be important in the general election, and hugging his sons before delivering a speech geared toward the fall.
“This is not the first time you’ve given me your vote of confidence, and this time I’m going to take it to the White House,” he said as the crowd chanted his name. And he delivered a harsh critique of Mr. Obama: “This week he’s been trying to take a bow for 8.3 percent unemployment. Not so fast, Mr. President.”
Nevada offers only a sliver of the delegates needed to win the Republican nomination, making it more of a symbolic triumph than a practical one. But it gave Mr. Romney an important opportunity to make a more assertive case that the party is finally coming together behind him.
It also gave him an advantage in his attempt to dispatch his chief Republican rival, Newt Gingrich, through the contests this week in Colorado, Minnesota and Maine.
And although new and old media love a horse (or elephant) race, barring some huge political development, Romney will be the nominee. (See below for several more signs of what’s happening).
The Romney victory further deflated the once-vital challenge posed by Mr. Gingrich, girding for a rough few weeks of political weather during which Mr. Romney is expected to do well. But Mr. Gingrich, who remained defiant on Saturday, hopes to revive his chances with stronger showings in the 11 states that vote on March 6, “Super Tuesday.”
Far from competing with Mr. Romney here in Nevada on Saturday, results showed that Mr. Gingrich was vying to place a distant second to Mr. Romney against Representative Ron Paul of Texas.
Mr. Gingrich was once again in the position of vowing to carry on in the face of questions about his viability. He took his second straight defeat to Mr. Romney as an opportunity to hold a press briefing to outline his strategy for continuing on to the Republican convention in Tampa this summer.
The election night imagery was striking: Mr. Romney was surrounded by cheering supporters holding signs that said “Nevada Believes.” Mr. Gingrich used his first television appearance of the night to speak to a ballroom of reporters, without applause or signs, standing before a simple backdrop as he outlined his strategy.
“I am a candidate for president of the United States,” Mr. Gingrich said emphatically. “I will be a candidate of the president of the United States. I will go to Tampa.”
No one doubts Gingrich will be in Tampa…..
The question is whether by the time he gets to Tampa he’ll still be a viable candidate or someone jumping up and down for attention that has veered away from him given political realities.
Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino executive keeping Newt Gingrich’s presidential hopes alive, has relayed assurances to Mitt Romney that he will provide even more generous support to his candidacy if he becomes the Republican nominee, several associates said in interviews here.
The signals from Mr. Adelson, whose politics are shaped in large part by his support for Israel, reflect what the associates said was his deep investment in defeating President Obama and his willingness to play a more prominent role in the Republican Party and conservative causes.
The assurances have been conveyed in response to a highly delicate campaign by Mr. Romney and his top Jewish financial supporters to dissuade Mr. Adelson from adding to the $10 million that he and his wife have given to a pro-Gingrich “super PAC,” Winning Our Future, that has been tearing into Mr. Romney through television advertising.
Several people who have spoken with Mr. Adelson over the past two weeks said he would most likely continue to help the group as long as Mr. Gingrich remained in the race. But, they said, he is concerned that additional deep-pocketed donors have not joined him. And, they said, his affection for and loyalty to Mr. Gingrich, who met with him here on Friday, have not blinded him to the reality that the nominating contest is tilting in Mr. Romney’s favor.
“Sheldon is committed to keeping him in the race as long as he wants to stay in,” said Fred Zeidman, a top fund-raiser for Mr. Romney and a longtime friend of Mr. Adelson. “But any time that Newt decides to get out of the race, he would devote his energy and money to the overriding issue, which is beating Barack Obama.”
Underscoring Mr. Adelson’s devotion to that larger cause, he was among the conservative political financiers on hand last weekend for the twice-yearly gathering of the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch near Palm Springs, Calif., where the Kochs and their like-minded colleagues discussed their efforts to ensure Mr. Obama’s defeat.
Mr. Adelson, who has long been a behind-the-scenes financier to Republican candidates, is said to be comfortable with a more visible role in the 2012 election.
Romney’s Nevada win makes him the first GOP candidate in this cycle to score back-to-back wins. The former Massachusetts governor appeared to win in the Iowa caucuses but the contest was later awarded to Santorum when the vote was certified. Romney scored a big win in New Hampshire but was then stunned in South Carolina by Gingrich. Romney scored a 14-point victory over Gingrich and the rest of the field in Tuesday’s Florida primary and entered Saturday’s contest with a sizable lead in polls.
The caucuses were open only to the state’s more than 470,000 registered Republicans. Nevada’s 28 delegates will be awarded proportionately based on the statewide vote.
Polls leading up to the vote had shown Gingrich trailing far behind Romney. At one point in the wake of a poor showing in the Florida primary, Gingrich advisers said he would concede the state and look down the road to more friendly states that vote in the March 6 Super Tuesday contests. But ultimately he chose to campaign in Nevada and didn’t appear to make up much ground on Romney.
As the votes were being counted, a leading Romney backer in Nevada was calling for Gingrich to drop out of the race instead of continuing to divide the party.
Nevada Rep. Joe Heck, who has been closely allied with Romney since his 2008 presidential bid, said the results of the caucuses should be a wake up call for Gingrich.
“I hope he takes the message that it’s time to withdraw gracefully and not continue to divide the party,” Heck told reporters in Las Vegas, shortly before the first round of caucus results were announced.
While Romney’s campaign and his network of supporters have voiced concerns about Gingrich’s threat to remain in the race for the long haul, there has not yet been a chorus of Republican leaders publicly asking him to drop out.
Look for that chorus to start very soon.
And here’s what the chorus (which will start soon) will be singing:
Romney won all of the age demos except 17-29YOs, which he lost by only two points to Ron Paul. He won every education demo, and he won every income demo except under-$30K, which Paul won by just one point. Paul won independents by 17 points, but Romney won Republicans with a 61/20 win over Newt Gingrich. Romney also won all three ideological categories, including “very conservative,” by majorities; Gingrich only got 24% of the very conservative vote. He got 74% of the vote for those whose most important candidate quality was the ability to beat Obama, 55% of those who are looking for the right experience, and 56% of those looking for strong moral character. On that last category, Gingrich got 1%.
This one’s a wipeout, and I’d guess that Gingrich gets no more than 19% when the votes are totaled, again assuming the exit poll is accurate.
It sounds coldly calculating for a candidate to root for high unemployment, but the central rationale of Romney’s candidacy is that America needs a CEO to fix its ailing economy. The malaise about the 1992 economy helped Bill Clinton beat George H.W. Bush, and Romney will have a tougher time unseating an incumbent if the jobless picture is seen as improving.
After three strong months of job growth, Romney is reduced to making a more convoluted argument: yes, things are getting better even though Obama made them worse, but I will make them even better than he would. Of course, there are no guarantees that unemployment will continue on a downward path, but the president is the obvious beneficiary if the rate dips below 8 percent.
In a strange way, Romney may be hurt if Gingrich is fading as a serious threat for the nomination. When Newt was coming on strong after South Carolina, the conservative media and the old Bob Dole establishment ganged up on him, which had the effect of boosting Romney. Now that the Mitt limousine is back on cruise control, some conservatives are grappling with what they didn’t like about him in the first place.
Writing in Time, RedState founder Erick Erickson, a Gingrich backer, says: “Conservatives who hitched a ride with Romney did not expect him to run in 2012 like John McCain, let alone as the heir to Bush’s Big Government conservatism. The internecine fights we are witnessing are about a conservative movement starting to separate itself again from the Republican Party.”
Most on the right will fall into line this fall if Romney is taking on Obama, a prospect that each victory in states like Nevada makes a bit more likely. The question is whether they can muster the same degree of enthusiasm for a candidate whose conservative credentials—and political skills—remain suspect.
My own prediction: GOP conservatives will rapidly put their reservations about Romney on the back burner, take a deep breath, hold their noses and get behind him to do battle with the candidate of the opposing party — which what they always do. And –quite clearly – what the Republican establishment correctly counts they will do.
But no matter how the election turns out, historians won’t call nomination of the party’s candidate as a huge victory for the Tea Party movement.
Which is what could help Romney in the general election.
And Gingrich? His candidacy now is based on a fatal assumption: that if conservatives seek an anti-Romney they would want him.
But whether he knows it or not, Gingrich is becoming a caricature of petulance: no concession in Nevada, no call to Romney, no awareness that his inability to raise money at levels of a political rival or to match a competing campaign organization is not necessarily unfair. That’s politics, and Gingrich knows it. I don’t understand why he thinks now losing to Romney in 2012 is solely due to Romney’s innate deviousness in a way McCain beating Romney in 2008 was not — given that Romney was about the same in both 2008 and 2012. Gingrich seems oblivious to the fact that McCain’s style and history gave him advantages over Romney’s money and hardball in ways Gingrich’s own proven liabilities apparently do not.
Gingrich should carefully play a tape of his post–Nevada caucus performance, and then he would quickly grasp that it was little more than a litany of excuses, whining, and accusations — characterized by stream-of-conscious confessionals and rambling repetitions. And, I think, will hurt him more than anything yet in the campaign.
Verdict? Gingrich is going to have to stop the accusations now, turn attention away from himself, stop complaining about the mechanics of the race, stick with critiquing Obama, and at least seem a good sport when he loses. Romney is wise to focus on Obama, ignore his rivals, and get prepped every day by staff who press him on his wealth, in efforts to inoculate him from self-inflicted, offhand remarks about the poor, money, class, etc. Gingrich’s stabs about a supposedly out-of-touch aristocrat are kid’s play compared to what will come from Obama’s $1 billion dollar Chicago hit team.