How’s that for hedging, Yogi Berra style? Hey, I’m not going to get caught out on a limb again like I did with my prediction, the day he announced, that Rick Perry was going to win it all (all, that is, except the presidency). Hey, how was I to know he suffered from chronic brain freeze? (OK, actually, I hedged that prediction, too — but nobody remembers that.)
This time, I’ve been more cautious. All during the holidays, I kept getting these vibes that made me feel like this year was not as freaky as I thought it was, and that things were starting to take their customary shape.
All during the fall, even very late fall, I was puzzled. I didn’t know what to tell people who asked me how the GOP presidential nomination process was going in South Carolina. Likely Republican voters were just jumping from candidate to candidate like restless frogs moving from one lily pad to the next.
I knew that the party nationally, and in SC particularly, had been having an identity crisis ever since 2008. The usual patterns didn’t apply, as we saw with the victory of Nikki Haley over more normal Republicans. It didn’t look like the Tea Party was going to be that much of a factor this time, but it was hard to say.
I even started to believe that this time, for once, South Carolina might not go for the eventual nominee. Which would greatly reduce the SC Mystique in the national party.
But then, things shook out to the point that the familiar pattern asserted itself. After all that running around and flirting, SC Republicans started flocking to Mitt Romney. The pattern here has been to go for the establishment guy, and this year that guy was Romney. Last time, he was the Last Conservative Hope for the right, the last chance to stop the establishment candidate of 2008, John McCain — who, for his part, had been the outsider candidate in the previous contested GOP primary, in 2000.
I heard the pattern described well on NPR Friday:
You know, one thing about this race – for all its weirdness and twists and turns – it still is following the traditional form for a Republican primary. There is an establishment candidate. There are some conservative alternatives. Usually the establishment guy wins; that seems what’s like what’s happening this time.
And the guy who came in second last time – because the Republicans are still a hierarchical party, despite the Tea Party – is first this time. It happened with McCain. It looks like it’s happening with Romney. And the other thing, it looks like Republicans, as Bill Clinton used to say, fall in line instead of falling in love. Yes, Romney has weaknesses but they haven’t – conservatives have not been able to find an alternative.
Yup. And that’s what’s about to happen in the Palmetto State — whatever happens in Iowa and New Hampshire, SC is the place that says, “Y’all settle down, now — here’s your nominee.”
I’m late in writing this. I should have said it on the last day of 2011, when I read that Warren Tompkins had jumped aboard the Romney bandwagon.
All the other GOP establishment types had declared themselves early — Alan Wilson, Henry McMaster, Mike Campbell and John Courson for Huntsman, Bobby Harrell for Perry, etc. — but Warren had hung back. Warren is the Tessio of GOP endorsers in SC — he’s the smart one, who backs the most likely horse.
When I saw he’d made that move, I said to myself, Self, Warren is seeing the same stuff you’re seeing — and then some.
But I didn’t utter the words “It’s over” until Friday, when I said in a Tweet responding to the latest poll numbers:
Notice the hedge. I’m being smart. I want people to call the “Tessio of SC bloggers.” No, wait — he got whacked. How about, “The Clemenza of SC bloggers.” That would be more like it.
Today, I’ve been talking to a number of SC Republicans to get their thoughts on the race. I started my day over breakfast with an activist who has not declared for a candidate, even though he sees the writing on the wall. His first words to me were, “It is so over.”
I’m inclined to agree.