Who Won the New Hampshire Republican Debate?

 

It depends on how you score. Rick-Santorum

I see three scoring scenarios:

  1. Best conservative performance
  2. Best electability performance
  3. Best positional performance

Conservative performance is pretty clear: whose answers appeal to conservatives?  (Does not mean conservatives believed the candidate meant what he said.) This is not Tea Party scoring, either. I’m not limiting my evaluation to the 3 core Tea Party principles of Constitutionally limited government, free markets, and fiscal responsibility.  This is broader conservatism.

Electability performance means the candidate appealed to general election voters. This doesn’t meant centrist—it means not scaring the crap out of people who aren’t politics wonks. (That’s most voters, by the way.)

Positional performance means the candidate did what what he had to do based one his current standings in he nomination process.

On conservative performance, I have to go with:

  1. Santorum
  2. Perry
  3. Gingrich / Romney

Electability

  1. Santorum
  2. Gingrich
  3. Romney

Positional

  1. Romney
  2. Santorum
  3. Gingrich

If we give 3 points for first place, 2 for second, and 1 for third, we get this composite ranking:

  1. Santorum: 8 points
  2. Gingrich:  6 points
  3. Romney:  5 points

What does it all mean? 

Santorum should move up a bit in the polls before the New Hampshire primary, but not enough to win.  He needed Romney to finish out of the top 3 in this debate. 

Gingrich needed to pull Romney out of the top 3 and get closer to Santorum than he did.  This hurt Newt.

Romney improved his chances, but he didn’t close the deal.  The longer he lets Santorum and Gingrich stay in the game, the more vulnerable his lead becomes.

BREAKING: Santorum Pulls Away with 13-Vote Lead

That’s with 88 percent of the counting complete.

The bigger story: Romney’s underperforming his 2008 results in key counties.  Santorum outperforming Huckabee in 2008. 

iowa-caucus-results

What does it all mean? 

Conservatives and libertarians dominate the caucuses. 

Romney is the choice of the Republican establishment. The cronies poured millions into his campaign even before he declared himself a conservative.  He’s won endorsements from just about every big name general election loser include Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush. (UPDATE: McCain to endorse Romney tomorrow.)

Yet Romney garnered only 25 percent of the Iowa caucuses (as of this posting). Rick Santorum, an afterthought two weeks ago, leads Romney by 13 votes. Ron Paul is in third with 21 percent. The Professor and Mary Ann and the rest, not so good.

So 75 percent want a non-establishment Republican candidate.

Every candidate except Romney is non-establishment in the voters’ eyes, no matter how you might evaluate their ideologies.

All this means that if the race were between Romney and two non-establishment candidates, Romney would lose.

That’s good news for the GOP and for the  country.

For the GOP because establishment Republicans have a weak record against liberal Democrats in the general.

Good for America because the GOP establishment is largely responsible for Republican loses in 2006 and 2008. And, of course, because the most important mission of a generation is changing who occupies the White House this year.

P.S.  You might hear a lot about the 17th Amendment and Cloture between now and South Carolina.