If you live too many long years out here in Hollywood certain phrases just come to mind. Cut! Print it! That’s a wrap! Strike the New Hampshire set! And at that point they sweep up the fake snow (it can be used again) and roll up the green-screens and send the props back to the warehouses – and everyone heads home for a stiff drink. Yes, sometimes there is a wrap party – been to a few of those at Musso and Frank up on the Boulevard. But either way, drinking is always involved. The feeling is relief – not triumph or defeat. There’s still postproduction with all the editing and probably some looping, and the sound engineers will add the floor creaking or the paper rustling, and then there’s adding the thumping and pulsing score that gooses everything up, and then color-timing and all that technical stuff – and you still won’t know what you’ve got. Even after the studio does all their absurdly expensive marketing you may still have a turkey. You just have to wait and see. That series of highly dramatic New Hampshire scenes may turn out to be pure crap.
And so it is with the Republicans and the New Hampshire primary just wrapping up. If politics is, as they say, Hollywood for ugly people, that’s a wrap, and they can strike the New Hampshire set – and then wait and see how this all works out later. But the basics were this:
Mitt Romney swept to victory in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, turning back a ferocious assault from his rivals, who sought to slow his march to the Republican presidential nomination and disqualify him in the eyes of conservatives.
“Tonight we celebrate. Tomorrow we go back to work,” said Mr. Romney, who was so comfortable with the margin of his triumph that he strode onto a stage at Southern New Hampshire University to deliver a victory speech less than 30 minutes after the final polls closed.
A week after winning the Iowa caucuses by just eight votes, Mr. Romney claimed a broader margin of victory here with a coalition of independent, moderate and conservative voters, but he benefited handsomely from a fractured Republican field. He delivered a pointed message to his Republican challengers, urging them not to play into President Obama’s hands by trying to destroy his candidacy as the race moves onto the more challenging terrain of South Carolina.
“In the last few days, we have seen some desperate Republicans join forces with him,” Mr. Romney said. “This is such a mistake for our party and for our nation. This country already has a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy.”
That’s from the New York Times account, and none of this was a surprise. Romney was supposed to win. But it’s not over. Ron Paul, who finished second, congratulated Romney and then pledged to press forward with his quixotic campaign – “We have had a victory for the cause of liberty tonight.” And Jon Huntsman, who had staked his candidacy entirely on a roll of the dice in New Hampshire, vowed to stay in the race, even though he had kind of rolled snake-eyes – “Ladies and gentlemen, I think we’re in the hunt. I’d say third place is a ticket to ride, ladies and gentlemen. Hello, South Carolina.”
We’ll see how long his sunny optimism lasts. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich came in fourth and fifth, each less than ten percent of the vote – but they both said they looked forward to the next battle, the South Carolina primary in less than two weeks. Rick Perry got less than one percent of the vote and no one was quoting him – but he’ll probably stick around a bit longer. He has the money to do that.
And this is about the money. Each campaign has a finance director – just like each production out here in Hollywood has a line director, someone with the spreadsheets who keeps track of what’s been spent, what’s left to spend, and what can and cannot now be done. There’s creativity and then there’s the hard reality of the dollars actually available. But the exit polling showed most New Hampshire voters simply decided Romney was the best bet to defeat Obama. No one was getting any points for creativity. And Romney gave a victory speech that chided those in his party who were getting a bit too creative – without naming names – and said it was time to stop such nonsense, as Obama was evil and there was work to do and so one and so forth – “Tonight, we are asking the good people of South Carolina to join the citizens of New Hampshire and make 2012 the year he runs out of time.” The Times item characterized that as an attempt to appear commanding and strong. That’s what any male lead should appear to be.
And now Romney’s lead is commanding – and the rest of the field is in disarray, to say the least.
But this isn’t going to be easy, as the Times’ Jim Rutenberg explains here:
Mitt Romney has now defied a generation of political gravity, doing what no non-incumbent Republican has done since 1976, winning the one-two states of Iowa and New Hampshire in his quest for the party’s presidential nomination. But on Wednesday, Mr. Romney’s plane will deliver him to the tougher proving ground of South Carolina for a crucial test.
And he has rivals waiting for him:
With little left to lose, Newt Gingrich and Gov. Rick Perry of Texas are already assailing him as a heartless job killer in South Carolina, a state hit far harder by the economic downturn than Iowa and New Hampshire were.
But just fending off that attack may not be enough. He is also heading smack into an issue that has followed him through his national political career: his Mormon faith and the suspicion many evangelical Christians have of it.
“It’s going to be difficult for Romney as a Mormon with the evangelical community,” said the Rev. Franklin Graham, son of the Rev. Billy Graham. “For most Christians, Mormonism is an issue and he has a hurdle here that he’s going to have to jump over and navigate around if he can.”
Rutenberg adds a great deal of detail on how nasty this is going to be. New Hampshire is a wrap, but the movie is still in what we out here call principle photography. Other scenes are still being shot, on another set:
Mr. Perry made a point of appealing to evangelical voters with a giant prayer rally in Texas shortly before he announced his presidential campaign and has shown crosses in his advertisements; Mr. Gingrich, who is on his third marriage and third religion, has visited with pastors to ensure them of his new but deep Roman Catholicism and his apologies to God. And now Rick Santorum is planning to campaign hard in the northern part of South Carolina because “that’s where much of the evangelical vote is,” said former Representative J. Gresham Barrett of South Carolina, a supporter and adviser.
And there’s this for Romney:
A onetime Tea Party favorite, Gov. Nikki R. Haley of South Carolina, has endorsed him, a move that has puzzled and angered many in her base. Her endorsement may hurt her as much as it helps Mr. Romney, but it also highlights how small-government conservatives as well as evangelicals continue to have their doubts about Mr. Romney.
This is a mess, compounded by this:
Campaign advisers to former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, stung by unexpectedly fierce attacks from Republican rivals on his career as a corporate buyout specialist, are scrambling to avoid a prolonged and nasty battle over his business record before it does lasting damage to the front-runner. Although the advisers had always expected that Democrats would malign Mr. Romney’s work of buying and selling companies, they were largely unprepared for an assault that came so early in the campaign and from within the ranks of their own party, those involved in the campaign discussions said.
Even as Mr. Romney coasted to victory in New Hampshire, they worry that the critique could prove more potent as the race shifts to South Carolina, where shuttered mills dot the landscape, unemployment is higher and suspicion of financial elites is not limited to left-leaning voters.
Some advisers to Romney argue that the most forceful way to rebut the mounting criticism is to prominently tell the stories of winners as well as the losers in the world of private equity: municipal pension funds that invested in his firm, Bain Capital, and rank-and-file workers hired by the companies that Mr. Romney helped turn around.
But they’re not sure anyone will believe any of that:
The attacks on Mr. Romney are especially unsettling to his campaign manager, Matt Rhoades, who worries that a narrative depicting Romney as a heartless corporate raider will drag down his favorability rating and be sustained by the Obama campaign, said two people told of the internal discussions. (Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior strategist for Mr. Romney, played down such concerns. “I wouldn’t read too much into the rumors,” he said.)
While his campaign advisers generally agree that Mr. Romney must explain his work at Bain, they are wary of engaging in an exhaustive public examination of the nearly 100 deals he was involved in, anxious that it could bog him down in the inevitably messy details of fixing troubled companies, whether they are job cuts or big financial payouts.
This is just trouble:
The broadsides against his time at Bain may be particularly resonant because they reinforce a longstanding perception of Mr. Romney, a multimillionaire with three homes, as someone far removed from the concerns of everyday voters.
Who knows how this movie will turn out?
And as for Romney’s victory speech, David Bernstein has the video and this to say:
His speech tonight was certainly not excruciating, but I’d call it pretty forgettable. It was fine. But it was, start to finish, Obama-bashing. Some of it was well done. But there was nothing personal in it at all – nothing about his life, his history, his dreams, his disappointments, what motivates him… you know, the stuff that candidates include in big, introductory-type speeches to get people to like them. As human beings.
It was the kind of Obama-bashing speech that plays well with partisan conservatives, but not with general-election swing voters (“saving the soul of America”; “appeasement strategy”; etc.) – which suggests that his audience was South Carolina primary voters. Which suggests that he’s still stuck in that awkward phase I’ve suggested before, in which he’s effectively, in the nation’s eyes, entering the general election phase, but can’t yet afford to switch out of primary-election mode.
It’s probably the smart call – use the over-the-top conservative rhetoric for a little longer, in hopes of ending the nomination fight early. Unless, of course, he and his team think that this is the right rhetoric for the general election, but I don’t think they’re that stupid.
See Andrew Sullivan – “I think Romney is that stupid.”
And Sullivan also offers this:
Obviously, Romney is the prohibitive favorite at this point. But the two runners-up staked a position against military hegemony over the entire planet, a seismic shift in Republican politics. And Romney remains … Romney. His speech was the kind of contemptuous, acidic, hyperbolic ad hominem attack that turns off moderates, independents and former Obama voters. I think he is a weak candidate – and could get beaten further on the Bain front by Gingrich in South Carolina. That several Republicans have legitimized this line of attack is like manna from heaven for the Obama campaign. It can be repeated this fall. It will be.
And the turnout, even during a recession this brutal for so many, was low: not such a great omen for an opposition party.
And Jesse Adelman paraphrases what Romney’s hair actually said in his victory speech:
There is no primary. There is no general. There is only this: I am Mitt Romney’s haircut. This is my year, and I will not be denied. Everything about me is presidential. You may not even know why, but you’ve all thought it, and that’s no accident. I’ve been designed precisely for this moment. I’m a hybrid of every classic American presidential hairstyle since the 1930s. Roosevelt’s fatherly gray temples. Kennedy’s insouciant bouffant. Reagan’s lethal, revolutionary amalgam of feathering and pomade.
The yammering simpletons who comprise our political class have busied themselves for the past year or so earnestly handicapping the Republican primaries, as if they’d actually been contested. I’d like to say something magnanimous about my competition, but come the hell on. Newt Gingrich looks like he’s wearing a bowl of boxed mashed potatoes on top of his fat watermelon face. Rick Perry parts his greasy mop in the middle, like a mental patient. Rick Santorum probably walks into his barber shop and says, “Give me the Bob Saget.” I could go on and on. Those hapless losers might as well be completely bald, like Donald fucking Trump.
It’s all about the hair? And talking hair? That’s a more interesting movie, but so is the one that Benjy Sarlin sees in production now – “The big question now is how far Gingrich et al are willing to go before they decide they either can’t win or it isn’t worth damaging their standing with the party to continue lobbing bombs at the likely nominee.”
Kevin Drum puts it this way – “If Newt Gingrich doesn’t get to be quarterback, he’ll take his ball and go home. And then he’ll return with a backhoe, tear up the field, and turn it into a toxic waste dump.”
But here’s Drum’s final assessment:
I guess I’m expected to say something about tonight’s primary. So here it is. Mitt Romney has always been the inevitable nominee. After Iowa, he continued to be the inevitable nominee. After tonight, he is, still, the inevitable nominee. In other words, nothing happened.
Ah, so that’s it. Nothing happened.
But then if you visit out here you will, sooner or later, come across a location shoot – some studio filming scenes for a new movie in the streets. And really, nothing much happens. You can watch gaffers and grips and the lighting folks sitting around. Some of them read books. Some doze off. There’s a lot of standing around and waiting. And nothing happens. And before you know it they strike the set and move on. And you have no idea what’s going on – what matters is what comes much later, the complex technical stuff done by rather anonymous folks in anonymous buildings far from what you thought was the real action – like with the Republicans in New Hampshire. And they’ve struck that set and moved on to the next. And we’ll just have to wait to see if we get a turkey.