Analysis: Romney sees self as only GOP candidate

Romney’s words indicate he sees main battle as one between himself, Obama, rather than his competitors for Republican nomination.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Brian Snyder)
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Brian Snyder)
MANCHESTER, New Hampshire – After winning a resounding victory in the firstin- the-nation Republican presidential primary held here Tuesday night, Mitt Romney gave a speech that focused on one thing: US President Barack Obama.
Romney’s words indicate that he sees the main battle as one between himself and the Democratic leader, rather than his competitors for the Republican nomination, and they outlined the arguments he is likely to use in a general election.
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Among them was a critique of Obama’s stance towards Israel.
Romney received 39 percent of the New Hampshire vote, on top of the eight-ballot margin by which he prevailed in the Iowa caucuses last week. Ron Paul finished second with 23% of the vote, Jon Huntsman third with 17% and Newt Gingrich fourth with 10%. Rick Santorum, who narrowly lost in Iowa, failed to generate enough momentum to give him more than 9% in New Hampshire, and Rick Perry received just 1%.
No Republican who has not been an incumbent president has won both states, and Romney now heads to South Carolina, which votes next on January 21, as the dominant front-runner.
He was leading in polls taken there before the New Hampshire primary results came in, in some cases by double digits.
Andrew Smith, associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, said Romney’s win in the Granite State “give[s] him tremendous momentum in South Carolina, make[s] him likely the winner of South Carolina, and if that happens, he’s all but the nominee. He’ll be the de facto nominee.”
He explained, “There’s only one campaign that has a significant amount of money, and that is the Romney campaign.
They’re the only campaign that is really organized in other states. And Republicans... tend to pick the person who finished second in the previous nomination contest, and I think by most reasonable analyses, Mitt Romney really finished second in 2008.”
Though Gingrich benefitted from a recent $5 million contribution to a super PAC that supports him from long-time friend Sheldon Adelson – the Las Vegas casino mogul and Netanyahu confidant – Romney’s campaign announced Wednesday that it had raised $24m. in the last quarter, bringing his total contributions for the year to $56m.
Romney’s speech Tuesday night certainly implied that he sees his chief competitor as the man who occupies the White House, not the other candidates for the GOP nomination, despite the fact that 48 states have yet to vote. As such, the content served as an unveiling of the line of attack he could take against Obama.
“His case will be that the Obama presidency has failed to deal with our economic challenges, that Obama is in over his head, and that he [Romney] has the know-how and experience to get the job done,” assessed Thomas Mann, a political expert with the Washington- based Brookings Institution, based on Romney’s remarks.
Romney’s emphasis on the country’s poor economic performance and the need to restore optimism and self-confidence left little room for international issues, which are expected to play a smaller role in this election than in many others.
But he did take advantage of those themes to accuse Obama of apologizing for the US and weakening its place in the world.
“Internationally, President Obama has adopted an appeasement strategy. He believes America’s role as leader in the world is a thing of the past. I believe a strong America must – and will – lead the future,” Romney declared. “He apologizes for America; I will never apologize for the greatest nation in the history of the earth.”
In his speech, Romney mentioned only one foreign country by name, and that was Israel.
His reference indicated that he sees tensions between Israel and the US over the course of the Obama administration providing an opening for him to score political points.
“He criticizes our friends like Israel. I will always stand with our friends,” Romney said to loud applause from the supporters who turned out to celebrate his primary victory. But the Obama campaign pushed back against Romney’s charge.
“If Mitt Romney wants to talk about the State of Israel, he should think about consulting with Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon... or Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak,” said a campaign spokesperson, referring to Ayalon’s statement that “We have not had any better friend than President Obama,” and Barak’s recent comment that “I can hardly remember a better period of support.”
The campaign official also pointed to a Washington Post article last year dismissing the idea that the president has apologized for US actions.
“The claim that Obama repeatedly has apologized for the United States is not borne out by the facts, especially if his full quotes are viewed in context,” the newspaper reported after an extensive review of his remarks.
Obama himself has in the past rejected the appeasement characterization, responding when asked about it: “Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al-Qaida leaders who’ve been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement.”
Large numbers of Republicans say they strongly support Israel, and many primary voters cited the issue as among the reasons why they have been upset with Obama’s stewardship of the country.
In addition to the potential appeal of his statement to Republicans, Mann said Romney’s statement on Israel was also an attempt to court Jewish voters, a constituency that is traditionally overwhelmingly Democratic, but one the Republicans hope to make inroads with this November.
“It was an automatic Republican line – one based on the GOP belief that they can increase their support among American Jews in the 2012 election. I doubt such a line will help garner more votes, but it may help with fundraising,” Mann predicted.