Paul Greenberg

There were no surprises in the New Hampshire presidential primary. The voting results followed expectations and the polls. Win, place and show -- Romney, Paul and Huntsman -- were all predictable, even for a notoriously unpredictable thing like an American election.

Mitt Romney came in ahead of the pack, way ahead. He even overcame the most formidable opponent a candidate for his party's presidential nomination can have: expectations.

Ron Paul's core of true believers (every political party's got 'em, the way every denomination has got its hard-shell devotees) came out in force to give the country doctor second place. Not bad.

Second place is about as high as a long-time ideologue can hope for in a system that puts practice above theory, results before obsessions. Which is the genius of the American system and the key to its remarkable continuity (with the unfortunate exception of that unpleasantness in 1861-65).

Hard times are the health of fleeting figures on the American scene like Dr. Paul, and this is his 15 minutes, or rather 15 months, of fame. There have been worse times (the Great Depression) and worse radicals (Huey Long) than the good doctor. He's an honorable man with, unfortunately, a few fixations, maybe more than a few, at the center of his politics.

Ron Paul is a familiar enough type -- populist, money crank, isolationist -- who makes regular appearances in the America drama, an outlier who can be almost charming as long as he remains an outlier, an eccentric actor in the wonderful world of American public opinion rather than someone shaping it.

If there was a surprise in the final count out of New Hampshire, it was Jon Huntsman's poor showing in a state custom-made for his kind of appeal to the vague middle -- a Republican primary that was open to independents and Democrats, too. A state in which he'd invested most of his time, energy and resources in this campaign. To no great avail.

Mr. Huntsman called his third-place showing "a ticket to ride" on to the next primary, South Carolina's later this month. Indeed it is -- if his definition of success for an American presidential candidate is coming in third.

The only real question raised by the results in New Hampshire is why Jon Huntsman is still in this race. To block the other anti-Romneys and generally clutter up this year's presidential race? At this point it's hard to see any other point to his staying in technical contention.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.