Today, Newt Gingrich is touring Xtreme Manufacturing, 1415 West Bonanza Road, Las Vegas, Nev, at half eight, before Attending Hispanic Leadership Roundtable, after which his schedule is clear to prepare for a mini-debate on the Hannity show. Mitt Romney was receiving an endorsement at the Trump International Hotel on Fashion Drive, while Rick Santorum was a holding a presser at the Winston Churchill Museum in Fallon at the edge of Reno, while Ron Paul is at the Elko Indian Colony Gymnasium.

Tomorrow, Santorum will head to Missouri (Mark Twain dinette, Hannibal, Admiral Coontz armony, William Woods University, Fulton), Romney will stay in Nevada, while Ron Paul will head to the snows of Minnesota (“hosting a town hall meeting at autoMotorPlex”), and beyond.

With the big four primaries (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida) out of the way, the process now starts to diffuse. There’s seven contests before the magic Super Tuesday contest on March 6 — Nevada on Saturday, Colorado and Minnesota on Tuesday, Maine’s polls — open for a week — will close on Saturday the 11th, and then Arizona, Michigan and Washington around the turn of the month. Colorado is an unpledged state — its 36 delegates are not tied to a candidate — and Minnesota is a state that can decide to endorse or choose not to, and Maine is a caucus state that does not endorse. Missouri has a near-pointless contest on February 7, and then its real caucus on March 17, after Super Tuesday.

With the exception of Colorado, each contest is getting some attention. Romney is polling 45 to 22 against Gingrich in Nevada and take it easily, while Ron Paul is hoping that Maine may yield him an actual victory — Maine’s moderate Republicans drift towards libertarianism, and he’s hoping that the same tendency will be on display in Minnesota. Santorum is hitting Missouri early because Gingrich is not on the ballot, so he is hoping for a major vote to give the impression that he is back in the race.

Gingrich, meanwhile, appears to be sizing up the options — he doesn’t have a home-ground competition until Super Tuesday, which is really southern Tuesday. From that contest he could get three or four wins — as did Huckabee in 2008 — but February is a long desert for him to get across, and by the time it’s over, the pressure on him to withdraw will be enormous.

There’s no sign that Gingrich will give up, however. His main backer, Los Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, appears to be willing to keep funding the campaign, in exchange for Gingrich putting Adelson’s obsessive hyper-Zionist agenda upfront — hence, appearing third or fourth in Gingrich’s raft of promises is to establish a US embassy in Jerusalem, a promise routinely met with evenly divided cheers and utter bewilderment. Gingrich himself regularly peppers his speeches with ruminations on what he will do on “day one of his presidency”.

In his Florida concession speech this became more elaborate — he was happy, amid a catastrophic loss, talking about what he would on the first afternoon of his presidency — “we’ll have those executive orders on our table and we’ll sign them before we go to the balls … this will be a working presidency …”. In other words, he is deranged, and sunk into fantasy. He may still, by some bizarre process, get the nomination, but that would be after a period of chaos and confusion.

Most likely, he is gone, but sticking around in a foul mix of rancour and fantasy. Gingrich is approaching his Iago moment, the point at which his energy is purely negative, even unto his own party. (Every politician has an Iago moment, and an Iago quotient, the point at which they transferred over to it. Some never reach it — i.e. Jimmy Carter’s Iago quotient is 0. Some hit it halfway through, their Iago quotient is 0.5. Mark Latham’s Iago quotient is 1.)

But whatever the motive, everyone is staying in the race. Should Gingrich honour his claim of going to the wire, the only contender who might withdraw before June is Rick Santorum, whose lack of major backers may give him no choice but to avoid embarrassing losses, and preserve a strong record. Ron Paul will still be in right to the convention, just to make a point.

That makes for an extremely interesting process, and one we have not seen for some time. Primary contests in recent decades have gone on for a while, but most usually with two candidates — and even then it is usually wrapped up by April. This one will have three or four candidates right into the end, with different perspectives — from standard GOPism to deep Catholic medieval conservatism to conservative libertarianism. This is an unprecedented fragmentation, and is representative of the fragmentation of the Right, which, should there be another Obama victory, will become total.

The GOP is putting a brave face on this, referring to the idea that a vigorous primary process toughens the ultimate candidate up. So it does — just as a house fire will clear up an untidy living room but that’s not the most important point about a house fire. Since the GOP’s war on “vulture capitalism” began, Mitt Romney has lost five points against Obama in the polls — Obama now has a three-point lead against him, even in the dead-level states such as Ohio.

That may change, but it’s an enormous boost. It is assisted by Romney, the nominee presumptive, who yesterday said that he wasn’t concerned about the fate of “very poor” people, but was instead concerned about the middle class. It’s a line he used before, but it’s backfired massively now — in part because Obama has tapped into the idea of uniting America, etc, etc.

It’s Mitt Romney who now appears to be the class warrior. Today he doubled down on that by being endorsed by Trump, a bizarre ceremony totally Vegas — all the while knowing that the polls show that 62% say that Trump’s endorsement make no difference to their choice, 10% say it makes them more favourable, and 27% say it makes them less favourable … it’s a net negative for Romney but he turned up anyway.

Give the economy, and the capacity of the Democrats to f-ck things up, you wouldn’t want to get complacent — but history may show that this is the time when Obama won re-election, and US conservatism officially self-destructed. Extreme manufacturing indeed.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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