iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
GET UPDATES FROM Will Kryder
 

Mitt's Battle: How Santorum, Gingrich and Paul Are Good for Romney and Hurt Obama

Posted: 01/06/12 02:15 PM ET

Perhaps the most common assertion coming out of Iowa is that such an evenly divided Republican field represents a victory for President Obama, and corroborates the notion that Mitt Romney is unable to find widespread support in his own party. Pundits from across the spectrum pointed to the circus as evidence of a divided electorate, with the inevitable nominee (Romney) unable to form a quorum around his agenda. While the Republicans bicker, Obama just sits back and waits for term number two.

Unfortunately, both common sense and history fly directly in the face of this argument. Just four years ago John McCain sealed up his nomination literally months before the bitter, caustic primary battle of Obama v. Clinton had resolved itself. Clintonites vowed to vote for McCain in the general election should Obama steal the primaries - we know how that turned out.

Similarly, John Kerry faced a light challenge in the 2004 primary. John Edwards was able to slip in a few wins through regional popularity in the Carolinas and Wesley Clark won Oklahoma by a percent, but after Iowa and New Hampshire - both won by Kerry - it was pretty much a done deal. In 1996, Bob Dole won 44 states in the primary. Al Gore literally cruised in 2000. The conservative elite has also been quick to note that Reagan - whose deification in the GOP has made his story more-or-less the Republican presidential playbook - was unable to win Iowa in 1980 (losing to his future V.P, George H.W.).

But it's been Romney's perceived "wall" of 25% support that has been most often cited as evidence of his limited appeal. In their view, and in spite of his victory, it says more that he couldn't get beyond that stubborn hurdle of ¼ support. Fair point, until you actually consider history again. According to the National Journal, the eventual GOP frontrunner has averaged 25.8% of the popular vote in the Iowa Caucus since 1980. Romney finished at 24.6 - par for the course. Furthermore, Romney's victory came in spite of the relatively small amount of time he spent campaigning in the Hawkeye State, unlike his chief competitor Rick Santorum, who had focused his resources almost exclusively on Iowa.

Still, even viewed through the most favorable lens, Romney's Iowa victory was too close for comfort - ensuring that the field will remain somewhat competitive at least through South Carolina. Yet there is a strong case that a protracted primary actually helps his chances in November. True, the mudslinging has dealt some blows to the Romney image, but these criticisms - namely that he is a flip-flopper and that he is in the pocket of Wall Street - will increase tenfold in the general election regardless. A primary fight will only serve to toughen and immunize him for when the Democrats unleash invective on him six months from now.

It doesn't hurt Romney that the more time the average voter spends looking at Mitt's well coifed hair and immaculate dental features, the more time he gets to articulate his case to them. For his part, Barack Obama has been decidedly OUT of the spotlight for the first time since his days in the Senate. If, as the pundits have asserted, Obama is content to just let the GOP infighting continue unabated, why did he show up looking like he was 72 to give a webcast speech to the Iowa Caucus on Tuesday?

Meanwhile, the immensely stratified Republican field has strengthened its connective tissue. True, Santorum, Paul and Romney represent three very different factions of the GOP, but the areas in which they do overlap - the debt crisis and ousting Obama -- will be articulated threefold to the American electorate over the coming months. In other words, these perceived party fractures end up ultimately solidifying message.

The long-term stratification of the GOP is a whole other can of worms -- something that I'll be focusing on as I traverse the Granite State covering the primary. If you're a Republican prognosticator it's hard to feel sanguine about the future of the party. But this election is its own story, and the best thing that could happen to Mitt at this point is to get toughened up in South Carolina and beyond. If he's got the nomination secured - and let's face it, he is going to win - what's the rush?

Will Kryder has been covering politics in Washington D.C. as a researcher for author Ron Suskind since 2009. This is his first piece for Off the Bus, with more to follow through the New Hampshire Primary. If you would like to contribute as a citizen journalist to the Huffington Post's coverage of the 2012 elections, please write to us at www.offthebus.org