So, is Newt’s SC victory a sign of real support by conservatives (and thus a really sad reflection of the state of conservatism right now given who/what Gingrich is and represents) or a reflection of their simple unwillingness to support Romney’s claim to the nomination? If the former, I’m depressed. If the latter, then why the heck didn’t party leaders realize this a lot earlier (premature cognitive closure? motivated misperception? miscalculation?) and coax someone else into the race before it was too late to avoid the train wreck ahead: tepid support for a nominee who is dulling the limited government fervor of the moment or the Newtpocalyse.
I don’t think it is the former problem of a changing (dumbing of) conservatism. I just think many conservatives have deeply internalized the long-running conservative-libertarian argument against Romney (and for some, this is buttressed by a deep suspicion of his Mormon faith) and are flailing about wildly for ABR. (This also explains conservative flirtations with so many suitors during the campaign season). However, in the course of doing so, they’ve landed upon a candidate incompatible with the conservative approach and philosophy – and absolutely incompatible with the libertarian-leaning Republican view. I wonder if some Republicans now wish they had jumped into the seemingly done deal race.
Finally, before we make too much of South Carolina (with many pundits saying it is Romney’s 2008 McCain in NH moment of doom), we should remember that there are a lot of places still to vote in the Republican primary where voters aren’t exactly Gingrich-friendly and a lot of time left for Romney to make the easy case that Gingrich is a nightmare for conservatives and conservatism.
Myself, I can’t decide if I’d rather have the worst outcomes (Gingrich, Santorum) sunk in favor of the least worst likely outcome (Romney) or for the next-to-impossible but most desirable outcome (Romney and Gingrich split a bunch of primaries with Paul picking up delegates where he can followed by a convention fight where someone like Daniels or Christie emerge as the nominee in a bitterly divided convention). Since I’m not the marginal voter – and neither are you – my preferences of course don’t matter one bit. And every Gingrich or Santorum vote will likely lead only to a strengthening of the positions within the Republican Party that I don’t much care for. So is the most prudent course a libertarian could hope for among the real possibilities a quick Romney victory with Paul hanging around the longest and gathering votes/delegates to wield as a sword?