Mark Styen asks on NRO’s Corner:
Byron, so a bad night for Ron Paul then?
That’s wishful thinking for the neocons. This is a great night for Ron Paul. Conservatives nationwide are not going to accept Mike Huckabee, a tax-hiking, big-spending, regulation-lovin’ liberal. But with Romney exposed for the hollow man he is, to whom can they turn? The pundits are boosting McCain, who might win New Hampshire. But McCain, who votes again tax cuts and of course gave us McCain-Feingold, is also unpopular among conservatives. I expect a great many Republicans, conservatives especially, will start asking themselves how they wound up with a choice between McCain and Huckabee. They’ve come to that end by throwing their faux-conservatives whose only appeal was their illusory electability: Romney and Thompson.
Huckabee’s win and Romney’s decline throws the race wide open. Giuliani, another non-conservative, is well-positioned for a comeback, too: he isn’t going to lose his base among East Coast Rockefeller Republicans to Huckabee, and I suspect they’ll stick with him over McCain as well. If Huckabee can beat McCain in South Carolina, Giuliani might suddenly become the “stop Huckabee” candidate and win in Florida, then be in a strong position going into Feb. 5’s super-duper Tuesday.
Thompson’s relatively strong performance in Iowa is bad news for Romney as well, since the two of them are competing for the same “electability”constituency. They’ll produce a drag on one another in South Carolina, Florida, and on Feb. 5. (I don’t know what will happen in Michigan, where Romney might stage a comeback, but that would probably not cancel out a poor performance in Iowa and New Hampshire.)
With the unelectable “electability” candidates eliminated, the clash will come down to a fight over Republican principles. Admittedly, the Republican Party and its principles are in poor shape: after eight years of Bush, all too many Republicans are either Huckabee-style “compassionate” liberals, or Giuliani-style authoritarians. And the McCain cult of personality and “Bull Moose” tendency has its adherents too. Against all these big-government perversions of conservatism, however, there will stand a clear alternative: the candidate who is for much smaller government; a realistic, peaceful foreign policy; who is pro-life but who never abuses religion for his own advancement: Ron Paul. I’d say a battle on principles is exactly the battleground on which Paul has the most natural advantages. It’ll be a hard fight, and the anti-Paul forces are massive, but with the “inevitable” candidate and conservative movement consensus choice, Romney, already down and very nearly out, anything can happen.