Republican “brawl” — can Romney be stopped?

Whatever you might think about the length of the American presidential election campaign and about Iowa’s and New Hampshire’s ridiculously out-sized roles in choosing the presidential candidates for America’s voters, the Republican primary campaign is becoming down right exciting.

“There’s no denying the Republicans are in a brawl, and it is becoming ferocious,” writes Peggy Noonan today in the Wall Street Journal.

Let’s see how that all plays out tonight in the big debate in New Hampshire!

The excitement lies in which of the Republican Party’s three equally powerful factions wins in the end:

— the moderate/conservative headed by Mitt Romney;

— the libertarian with Ron Paul, or;

— the social conservative with, yes, right now three candidates to choose from: Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry.

The moderate/conservative faction includes Jon Huntsman, who has invested everything in New Hampshire, but apparently without much success. If he does not succeed on Tuesday, he is finished.

Ron Paul reigns supreme among libertarians and can look forward to between 15 and 20 percent of the vote in the upcoming primaries. But no more. He has hit his ceiling and he has no chance to final victory. However, Republicans worry that if Paul decides to run for president as a third party candidate, he could seriously hurt Republican chances to beat Obama in November.

Among the social conservatives, there is right now a lot of confusion. Who to support? The intellectual conservative media elite, such as George Will, Charles Krauthammer and Michael Gerson, who in their columns have been brutal to Gingrich, now seem to have finally found their man in Rick Santorum.

Krauthammer:

“After every other conservative alternative to Mitt Romney crashed and burned (libertarian Ron Paul is in a category of his own), from the rubble emerges Rick Santorum. But he isn’t just the last man standing. He is the first challenger to be plausibly presidential: knowledgeable, articulate, experienced, of stable character and authentic ideology.”

Prior to New Hampshire on Tuesday the questions are: by how much will Romney win, who will win the battle between Santorum and Gingrich, and will Huntsman survive?

Rick Perry is a non-factor after Iowa. He should have quit but is still hoping for some kind of redemption in South Carolina on January 21. His fate will be decided that day, as will possibly the Republican presidential campaign. Another win for Romney there and the race is over.

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