The race for the Republican nomination is now Mitt Romney’s to lose. He has always been the frontrunner, but now, after winning the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, it would take a gaffe of Cainian proportions to knock Romney off, and that just is not going to happen.
During the entire campaign, a variety of candidates have jockeyed for the chance to secure the anti-Romney vote: Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have each taken turns challenging Romney from the right, at least strategically if not ideologically.
Each, however, proved to be flawed candidates. Bachmann could not capitalize on her momentum from winning the Ames straw poll, and was forced to drop out after a dreadful performance in the Iowa caucus. Perry’s debate performances single-handedly destroyed his candidacy. Cain’s numerous gaffes and controversies drove him from the race. Gingrich was felled after attack ads criticized his record as the Speaker of the House, and has since dedicated his candidacy to damaging Romney. Santorum was the last conservative standing in Iowa, but may have made a strategic mistake by campaigning hard in New Hampshire instead of simply moving on to South Carolina.
With former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman dropping out of the race, the only candidate that has not been anointed as the conservative alternative to Romney is Ron Paul. And, the way things stand right now, Ron Paul looks to be the most likely anti-Romney candidate.
He finished a close third place in Iowa and finished second place in New Hampshire by a decent margin. He is the only candidate of the not-Romneys who has the funds to compete until the Republican convention. And his support continues to rise.
What is interesting, however, is what looks to be Paul’s strategy. Throughout the whole process, Paul has, through attack ads and speeches, heavily attacked all of the candidates who challenged Romney, whether it be Cain, Perry, Gingrich or Santorum. He has, however, been very polite to Romney, defending his record at Bain Capital and even suggesting he’d consider supporting his nomination should he win. (This is the same man who held a shadow convention in 2008 and endorsed all third-party candidates.)
It isn’t likely that Dr. Paul is attempting to secure a place in a Romney administration — his views are still quite different from the former Massachusetts governor. But there seems to be a mutual respect between the two, Paul for his ideological consistency and Romney for his experience in the private sector. Paul, who has been piling up delegates, seems to be playing for a prime speaking slot at the convention and a hand in writing the Republican platform.
Romney will be the nominee. But it seems like Paul has emerged as the last anti-Romney candidate.
This column was originally published on The Collegian’s website on January 11, 2012. It has since been edited to reflect changes in the Republican race.
Tony Petersen is the opinion editor at The Collegian. Follow him on Twitter @tonypetersen4.