Super Tuesday and Beyond
At this point there’s not much left to say about the Republican Primary process. It’s been an inane and trying process, and the public debate has suffered for it. Somehow the central political conversation has devolved into an argument over birth control. The tenor of the Republican race has been caustic, Mitt Romney has sicced his attack dogs on the anti-Romney du jour. It has been a moderately effective strategy, but it’s hurt Romney’s favorability, and caused significant rifts in the party. Last night was “Super Tuesday,” and it did little to shake up the race. There is little doubt that Romney will win the nomination, but the Republican Party still seems uneasy with that result.
Newt Gingrich scored his second win of the primary season in his home-state of Georgia. He did so in fairly convincing fashion, garnering 47% of the vote, and he won a significant amount of delegates. But Gingrich’s efforts are likely all for naught; Santorum has clearly emerged as the preferred anti-Romney in state after state. The question for Gingrich has become which is stronger: his egomaniacal love for himself or his disdain for Romney. Gingrich has been defiant and seems set to stay in the race. I can understand his desire. He clearly recognizes that Romney is a weak candidate. If he had the opportunity to take him on one on on, he probably could win. However, his time has passed, Santorum is the anti-Romney, and Gingrich needs to recognize that. He finished a distant 3rd or 4th in last night’s other races, except for Oklahoma where he trailed Romney by about .5% for 2nd place. Gingrich might’ve been well positioned in Virginia, his adoptive state, but he failed to make the ballot. It seems unthinkable to me that a major presidential candidate would fail to make the ballot in such a major state, but it indicates a lack of infrastructure within his campaign, as well as a tendency to shoot himself in the foot. Gingrich will persist as long as he has money. So it will be up to his big donor, Shellie Adelson, to tell Gingrich enough is enough.
Ron Paul had a fairly standard Ron Paul type of night. He showed some support across the board; he took home a couple second place finishes; but he still is yet to win a primary. At this point, Paul is simply trying to collect delegates, and become a power broker. Paul has indicated a willingness to attack Santorum as a sort of Romney surrogate, but it seems doubtful that any Paul supporter would turn to Romney at this point. His existence in the race is a non-factor, besides the fact that he attracts voters who likely wouldn’t be a part of the process. Paul may well be the candidate best positioned to take on Obama at this point; if one assumes that the Republicans will coalesce around whichever candidate, Paul would attract more Independents and Democrats than any of the other candidates, and thus be well positioned. Poll after Poll has showed him competitive with Obama, but his views on foreign policy and the drug war make him a non-starter for many Republicans.
Who could’ve imagined that Rick Santorum would become such a credible candidate? He was a laughing stock, an internet joke, a social values conservative at a time when social values seemed to be taking a back seat. He’s a big government conservative, at a time when the Tea Party seemed to recognize that conservatives were just as complicit in expanding the debt as Democrats. And yet, he’s not Mitt Romney. Santorum had a relatively good night. He added three more wins in North Dakota, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. He also had a brutally close loss in Ohio. If he had been able to eke out Ohio or Michigan last week, he may have critically wounded Romney. His close losses speak a great deal to Romney’s weakness and Santorum’s political skill; he was vastly outspent in both states. The worst thing that happened to the Santorum campaign were polls following his three wins in Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota, that showed him well ahead in both Ohio and Michigan. Instead of a narrative about his upstart campaign keeping things close with the Romney juggernaut, his losses are portrayed as failures. Santorum failed to qualify for the ballot in Virginia, and more damningly, failed to have a full slate of delegates in Ohio. This tempered his strong showing there, as Mitt got the vast majority of the delegates. Just like Gingrich, and Romney to some degree, the Santorum campaign just can’t stay out of its own way.
I mention delegates, because at this point the race becomes less about the kabuki theater of expectations and more about the hard delegate math. Romney has taken to the airwaves saying that none of the other candidates have a realistic chance at getting the delegates needed to nominate. Unspoken is the fact that it will be difficult for Romney to get the necessary delegates. Romney continues to win states, but he does so in uninspiring fashion. He racked up wins in Alaska, Idaho, Massachusetts, Ohio, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming, but it did little to quell the fears about his campaign. He still shows significant weakness in the south, where any loss to Obama would be deadly. It’s interesting when CNN showed those county by county breakdowns for Ohio. Santorum vs. Romney almost exactly mirrored Democrats Vs. Republicans, with Romney showing strength in the population centers and Santorum carrying a myriad of small counties.
Romney appeared magnanimous in his speech last night. He congratulated the candidates on their campaigns, and pivoted to Obama. Romney’s standard issue victory speech is painful to watch. He stammers over his applause lines; his voice grates; he comes off as both arrogant and unsure; and he’s incredibly boring. He offers nothing but vague promises to restore America to greatness. He offers no specifics, not even vague specifics. He speaks only in platitudes. Republicans blast Obama for only talking about hope and change, but he does so charismatically. Romney offers a vague message in a way that could lull an insomniac to sleep.
The race likely hinges on Santorum and Gingrich coming to some arrangement. If you add up all the votes that have been cast thus far, Romney leads Santorum by about 1.2 million and Gingrich by 1.3 Million. However, if you add up Santorum’s and Gingrich’s vote totals, they lead by about 600,000. It’s ironic after the vitriol Newt has spewed towards Mitt, that Gingrich has become one of Romney’s best assets. Rick Perry dropped out of the race and endorsed Gingrich because he felt he was more conservative than Romney. Will Gingrich return the favor to Santorum? The upcoming races in Kansas, Alabama, and Mississippi may force Gingrich out of the race, if he can’t win those southern states. Romney will likely do poorly in these upcoming races. The next real test for Romney will be Illinois on March 20th. For now, Romney seems inevitable. But he has significant weaknesses. Super Tuesday illustrated both points fairly clearly and the Republican race is basically unchanged after last night’s 11 contests.
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