The Republican Party is fragmented and there's no guarantee that it will unite behind one candidate for the 2012 U.S. presidential election.
Still, if recent history is any indicator, it will. Here's an interest group breakdown among the leading contenders:
Mitt Romney - establishment Republicans, old money / old worlds, what remains of the moderates
Newt Gingrich - economic conservatives, other supply side enthusiasts, neo-con foreign policy advocates
Ron Paul - libertarians, Tea Party faction members, other anti-government advocates
Rick Santorum - social conservatives, including the anti-abortion/right-to-life faction
Right now, the race - heading into the all-important New Hampshire primary on Tuesday -- is advantage Romney, to borrow a tennis phrase. It's Romney's race to lose, given his public sector and private sector experience, debate performance, fundraising advantage, and well-organized campaign, and the calculation here is that Romney will win the nomination by an overwhelming delegate margin.
Still, if Paul can finish within 10 percentage points of Romney, that will help build the libertarian's case that he can attract voters from outside of his base.
The same basically goes for Santorum and Gingrich. Santorum's surge of late has been impressive, but he too must show appeal outside his conservative/fundamentalist Christian base. And Gingrich? Maybe he can build some momentum heading into two Southern primaries later this month -- South Carolina and Florida, on Jan. 21 and Jan. 31, respectively.
Of the two, Santorum and Gingrich, which one is likely to be hurt more from a poor showing in New Hampshire? Most likely: Gingrich. Again, voters in this second decade of globalization -- the postmodern era -- appear to favor newness over someone with political baggage/high negatives. It's a sad commentary on the outlook of the electorate in 2012 because all candidates have baggage/negatives, but it is a reality of the postmodern U.S. campaign process, nonetheless, and Gingrich is the candidate with the most political baggage. Hence, a very poor showing by Gingrich could slow contributions to his campaign to a trickle; a poor showing by Santorum, less so, with voters in South Carolina and Florida not writing him off yet, instead taking a let's hear from this new fellow stance.
New Hampshire: Important Electoral Data Point, But Not the Only Data Point
For the typical American voter outside New Hampshire, don't underestimate nor overestimate the importance of Tuesday night's results.
On the one hand, the expectations game winner of the New Hampshire primary will receive increased media attention, name recognition and campaign contributions. More than likely, the New Hampshire primary will determine the 2012 Republican Party nominee for president.
On the other hand, there have been presidential election cycles (rare) in which the New Hampshire primary resolved little.
May the best candidate win.