Romney: a man whose Buggins' turn has come

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Perry, Paul, Cain, Santorum, Bachmann or Gingrich? None of the above, it seems

One hates to spoil the party, after the most rollicking pre-game show American politics has come up with in decades. But duty obliges. The truth is that the contest to be the Republican challenger of President Barack Obama on 6 November could be all over bar the shouting in the next 10 days – with exactly the rather boring outcome most people expected all along.

On Tuesday, Iowa's caucuses kick off the GOP nominating process, followed a week later by the New Hampshire primary. Outwardly, these final few days of campaigning have been in keeping with the switchback ride that has gone before: a sudden moment in the sun for a candidate who had previously been overlooked, in this case Rick Santorum. In reality, the ascent of Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, could have been easily predicted by the simple principle of Buggins' turn. After all, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich at one stage shot to the top of the polls only, for differing reasons, to crash back to earth. So why not Rick Santorum now?

But, after all the disorder and frenzy, a duller and more orderly version of Buggins' turn seems to be playing out – the ancient Republican tradition of handing its crown to an heir apparent, to the candidate blessed by the establishment and who has paid his dues. So it was with George Bush Snr in 1988, Bob Dole in 1996, and in 2008 John McCain, next in line after being vanquished by the younger Bush eight years before. And so, it would seem, with Mitt Romney now.

Last time around, Romney was soundly beaten by McCain. But scarcely had the dust of that failure settled than he was preparing for 2012. Stilted and yet over-smooth, and usually giving the impression of being guided by no principle except his own craving for the Oval Office, Romney is not the perfect candidate. But he's learnt from his mistakes, and has been the front runner for 2012 almost from the start.

Yes, many Republican activists, notably Tea Party types and evangelicals who dominate in places such as Iowa, haven't warmed to him. But he's the choice of the party elders. And if he has not inspired, he has kept plugging away. In the debates he's been competent. On the stump he is relentlessly disciplined. Now, the hard work looks to be paying off.

Iowa initially was never a Romney priority, and not surprisingly. For one thing, the thinly populated state, agricultural and overwhelmingly white, has been an unreliable guide to eventual Republican nominees; in 1988 the televangelist Pat Robertson finished ahead of president-to-be George H W Bush in the caucuses, while in 2008 Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor and Southern Baptist minister, scored a shock win over Romney who had invested vast time and money there. Until very recently, the Romney camp was downplaying Iowa's importance and focusing its attention on New Hampshire – a far better pointer to eventual GOP nominees, and where their man has held a comfortable lead for months.

But in Iowa, too, Mitt's hour may have come. Polls show him running neck and neck with the Texas congressman Ron Paul and ahead of Newt Gingrich, whose star is fading as rapidly as it soared. Romney's unwavering argument that he is the candidate best equipped to attract centrist voters and defeat Obama in the autumn seems to be paying off. Many senior Republicans privately wrote off 2008, but this time they believe the party not only can, but should, regain the White House.

The bombastic Gingrich and the quirky Paul have many devotees, but no one believes either would have a prayer against Obama. Romney the pragmatist may win few hearts. Republican heads, however, are more susceptible to his evident economic expertise, in a year when the economy is the only issue in town.

Most important, the evangelical vote that four years ago closed ranks in Iowa behind Huckabee is this time divided, splintered between Perry, Bachmann and the rising Santorum. Separately, his rivals come no higher than third, but their combined support of roughly 35 per cent, according to the most recent poll, eclipses Romney, in first place to be sure, but stuck, as usual, at about 25 per cent.

Perhaps a clear-cut conservative alternative will emerge from the mysterious alchemy of the caucuses. If not, though, then Romney could win by default – and the candidate senses the opportunity. He has dropped events in New Hampshire to clear the decks for an Iowa blitz, parading star endorsers such as the New Jersey governor Chris Christie and scheduling a series of eve-of-caucus rallies tomorrow in Iowa's biggest cities.

The strategy carries risks. The early primaries are all about expectations. Exceed them and you have what George Bush Snr called the "Big Mo", but fall short and you are deemed a loser. For Romney the danger is obvious. Having, albeit belatedly, committed much to Iowa, even second place will probably be regarded a failure.

But the potential rewards are greater still. In modern times, every eventual Republican nominee has won either Iowa or New Hampshire, but never both. For Romney to land that combination would give him near unassailable momentum. The qualifying "near" is de rigueur, since in 2012 many Republican primaries will allocate convention delegates proportionately, rather than on the old "winner-takes-all" basis. This makes it more likely that the nominating contest will stretch later, diminishing the impact of the first primaries – but even then Romney's organisation and fundraising ability surely give him an advantage.

Twelve months hence, America will be preparing to inaugurate a president. Politics is a funny old business, but few right now would bet that the man taking the oath on 20 January 2013 will not bear the name of either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker