Mitt Romney: Winning With a Whimper

This week voters went to the polls in five American states in an effort to select the Republican Party candidate for the presidency of the United States. In case anyone is uncertain, it will be a moderate Mormon from Massachusetts. One of those states was New York, one of the most important states in the nation politically, socially, culturally and electorally, but did anyone notice? The lack of coverage this event has received is an indication that the Republican race is effectively over and threatens to end with a whimper rather than a bang.

That’s both good and bad news for the Republican Party: Good news since it means that they will finally be able to coalesce around a single candidate, but bad news as the lack of excitement threatens to reduce media coverage and whatever public interest there was in the story or in their candidate.

Until recently, the April 24 primaries had promised to be a showdown between Mitt Romney, the Republican frontrunner and his closest rival, Rick Santorum in what would almost certainly have been a knockout for Romney had he defeated former Senator Santorum in his home state of Pennsylvania.  However, the former senator chose to throw in the sweater-vest just days after promising not to disenfranchise the remaining 50% of U.S. states that had yet to hold primaries or caucuses. Clearly Santorum elected to get out ahead of the vote and before a potentially devastating defeat in his home state.

As a result, Mitt Romney swept the board in Connecticut, New York, Delaware, Rhode Island and in Pennsylvania, securing between 56-67% of the vote. Ron Paul came in second in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island, whilst Santorum secured second place in Pennsylvania despite having suspended his campaign. The big looser was the former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich had campaigned hard in Delaware, although how this fit with his previously declared ‘Southern Strategy’ is a mystery at this point. Delaware proved to be the only state where Gingrich received more than 13% of the vote, as he came third in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island and a dismal fourth in Pennsylvania. In a week when it was reported that his Secret Service detail alone is costing a reported $40,000 a day even Newt could no longer justify his continued ego-trip and promptly announced the suspension of his campaign, effective May 1. No doubt he is waiting for some cheques to clear.

So after months of campaigning, what have Romney’s competitors achieved other than a short-term boost to the sweater vest-manufacturing sector? Santorum has, unexpectedly perhaps, emerged as a national candidate. This will help erase memories of his crushing defeat in his 2006 bid for re-election that he lost by over 700,000 votes, receiving only 41% of the vote to his opponents 59%, the largest margin of defeat for an incumbent senator in 26 years. A future career as a Fox News Contributor may be his just reward.

Santorum, of course, emerged as the true winner of the Iowa Caucuses, and won 11 of the first 25 states to vote. The shockingly antiquated voting methods adopted in Iowa must surely be looked at in light of this. Were it not for this he could, and I stress could, have developed the momentum leading into New Hampshire that could have kept him in the race today. In 2000, the voting methods in Florida highlighted the antiquated methods used to elect the most powerful office in the world. Twelve years later, it seems, little has improved.

Importantly, Santorum succeeded in pulling Romney to the right, keeping him honest, perhaps, but honest to whom? Honest to Conservative values? Barely. Honest to Romney’s convictions? Far from it.  It is apparent that Romney has little in common with mainstream Republican sentiment, belief or tradition. No one gets elected Governor of Massachusetts by espousing Conservative values that would be embraced in the heartland. He is, it would seem, the epitome of a RINO: Republican in Name Only.

By forcing Romney to challenge him for the traditional Republican vote Santorum may well have done more harm than good for the eventual Republican nominee heading into the general election against Obama. Romney’s campaign has already stated that they intend to say one thing in the Primaries and then essentially re-set these policies for the general election, giving rise to the allegation of being an ‘Etch-a-Sketch’ candidate, prepared to say or do anything and utterly unconcerned with investing in a set of irreversible policies.

Such statements and lack of philosophical commitment to a cause will be taken apart by the Obama campaign as the election heads into the autumn and the knives are sharpened on all sides.  The president has spoken this week of not having been raised with a silver spoon in his mouth, a non-too subtle reminder of Romney’s great wealth and the divisions that clearly exist in the United States between those who have and those who do not. The White House has clearly decided which side it is going to campaign on this year, irrespective of Obamas’ own personal wealth.

With issues of race, international tensions in the Gulf and an economy that is still sluggish at best, this should be one of the most contentious and closely run presidential elections in living memory. It would be all the more so if the Republican Party had a candidate that could appeal to independents, the mainstream party faithful and Tea Party activists. In Mitt Romney, they do not and this fact alone could well lead to the re-election of Barack Obama, by default rather than by adulation.

An alternate version of this article first appeared on The Commentator on April 25

Obama and the Death of the American Space Program

The final flight of the Space Shuttle Discovery atop of a special 747 (the like of which many people will only have seen at the beginning of the James Bond movie, Moonraker) reveals the true gulf between President Obama’s campaign rhetoric and his vision for and of the United States of America.

Barack Obama campaigned as a visionary, using a high rhetorical style, the like of which had not been heard since the heady days of the 1960s and the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy, whose siblings Obama so assiduously courted. He was anointed as a Kennedyesque figure for the 21st century, but almost as soon as he was elected the rhetorical style dimmed along with his apparent vision for the United States of America.

The high rhetoric of the campaign was replaced by a dull monotone delivered from the omnipresent TelePrompTer. The soaring exhortation of a better tomorrow was replaced by a hectoring tone and with a moral and intellectual superiority more reminiscent of Carter than Kennedy.

President Kennedy was known to quote Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no vision the people perish.” America faces such a situation today under President Obama and this is exemplified in the state of the space programme.

The role of NASA in the American psyche has been essential since President Kennedy made the astronaut the hero of the New Frontier and dedicated the United States to a mission like no other: To place a man on another world. Kennedy used the Space Program as a tool in the Cold War, but also to inspire a generation of Americans to greatness. “We chose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard,” he told an audience at Rice University. The successful accomplishment of that mission was the culmination of a dream, a political struggle and the dedication of millions of man-hours by the hard working people on Florida’s Space Coast and at installations across the nation. It epitomised the American ‘can-do’ attitude that had seen the nation grow and become the most powerfully in the world in such a short period of time. In retrospect, however, it was perhaps the apex of the American century.

With the 1970s came the decision by the Nixon administration to initiate the Shuttle programme, designed to make space travel more routine and business-like, utilising a reusable vessel capable of delivering a payload and then returning safely to earth. To a new generation, the Space Shuttle became the epitome of the United States in the 1980s as it soared majestically into the clear blue skies over the Kennedy Space Centre, taking the United States into space and making such missions seem routine. But the launches never lost the ability to strike awe into all who witnessed them. There was something in the power, the majesty, the danger and the romance of the space mission that drew all in homage. It was a thrilling, exciting and dangerous exercise, which continued the original quest that Kennedy had inspired.

Politicians of all parties were happy to revel in the reflected glory of the space mission and the recognition that it separated the United States from all other nations. It was an extension of Manifest Destiny and the epitome of American Exceptionalism in the third millennium. Even President George W. Bush announced plans to send a manned mission to Mars to continue the ongoing American mission to take mankind beyond the confines of its home planet.

However, the President of the United States has now terminated the shuttle program and cancelled the manned mission to Mars. At a stroke he has announced America’s abdication of space at precisely the moment when America’s competitors appear capable of assuming a foothold in that vital region. To do so is folly and gives credence to those who claim that this president fails to recognise the exceptionalism of the United States. His actions add fuel to those who wish to talk and write endlessly of an inevitable American decline.

NASA’s Space Centre in Florida, for all the romance associated with it, has become a sad reflection of its heyday, it’s facilitates yearning for a new mission to once again inspire the world with American ingenuity. Newt Gingrich recently spoke of developing a Moon base if elected president, a sentiment that received mockery around the world. However, whilst it is clear that ‘Moonbase Gingrich’ is about as likely as a Gingrich Administration, at least the former Speaker was offering a vision of a return to the glory days of America’s space mission. The present occupant of the Oval Office offers no such vision and as a result the very rationale for NASA may perish.

The world’s media covered the final flight of the Discovery but they appeared to miss the point. This was not a flight of fantasy, but rather a one-way trip to become a museum piece, to be stared at by children, too young to recall its magic and majesty, and mourned by those who could. It will be placed in a mausoleum by a president who campaigned as a visionary and appears capable only of presiding of the diminution of the United States; a president who appears not to appreciate the power of imagination and ideas that helped propel the American people from sea to shining sea and then out into the stars.

The final flight of the Discovery across the skies above Washington DC resembled the sad, lonely flight of Air Force One on November 25, 1963, as it flew low over the nation’s capital, crossed the Potomac and dipped its wings in final salute to the memory of the man who had inspired the moon mission and whose body was at that very moment being lowered into the ground at Arlington National Cemetery.

“Without vision the people perish.” It is such vision that America, its people and its space program require today from its President.

(This article originally appeared on The Commentator website Apil 18, 2012)

My Latest Article on The Commentator

I am pleased to announce that the first of my weekly postings for The Commentator has appeared this lunchtime. The piece, which laments the last flight of the Space Shuttle and the accompanying reduction in America’s national vision under President Obama, is available at here

Super Tuesday Media Work Part One

Super Tuesday saw me engaging with the world’s media, conducting radio interviews on the Iberian Peninsula, offering words of wisdom to journalists in Eastern Europe and appearing live on a Doha based satellite TV channel.

Here is my forecast for Super Tuesday from my Al Jazeera English appearance on March 5, 2012

JDB to address the Henry Jackson Society in Cambridge tonight

I am delighted to announce that I will be addressing the Henry Jackson Society members at Cambridge University this evening.

I am honoured to have been invited by Jonathan Bronitsky and Brendan Simms to discuss U.S. politics with such an august group of people.

My talk, entitled, Process, Primaries and the Presidency, will address the events so far and consider the candidacies of Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum, as well as Newt Gingrich. I will assess the Republican chances for success in November and the likelihood of Obama’s re-election. It is likely that foreign policy will be addressed so discussions of the forthcoming meeting between Obama and Netanyahu and the state of U.S-Israeli relations may be tabled.

The event is at 5.30 this evening at Pembroke College.

JDB and the BBC

I was called into the BBC again tonight, for the second time this weekend, to discuss the outcome from the South Carolina Primary. I was delighted to be working with the wonderful Martine Croxall again, and if my performance is any good, I’m going to give her the credit, because she is a blast to work with.

The Clash in the Carolinas

South Carolina saw the first shots fired in the American Civil War and whilst the latest Republican Presidential Debate wasn’t held at the famed Fort Sumter, it may as well have been for the clear divisions that it threw up within the Republican Party between a moderate and a team of rebels all seeking to lay claim to the proud conservative heritage of Ronald Reagan.
The hours heading into the debate were particularly tumultuous. A mere twelve hours beforehand former governor Mitt Romney had been cruising; the declared victor in Iowa and New Hampshire (an historical first for a non-incumbent presidential Republican candidate) and was expected to win Saturday’s South Carolina Primary and in the process finally see off any serious competition for the nomination. Sure, the primaries and caucuses would drag on until June, but realistically, a Romney victory this weekend would effectively seal the deal.
And then a series of interesting and unrelated incidents occurred…
For weeks many of us have been stating the blindingly obvious; namely that Romney has failed to gain the support of up to 70% of voters in the last two elections and that the polling in South Carolina had him similarly placed. However, with a field of other candidates remaining in the race, the Romney opposition was divided. This field thinned slightly earlier in the week with Ambassador John Huntsman’s decision to get out and back Romney. However, on Thursday afternoon, Texan governor Rick Perry followed suit, choosing instead to endorse Newt Gingrich. Suddenly, Gingrich surged.
At the same time, word leaked of a pre-recorded interview that Newt Gingrich’s second wife had conducted for ABC News in which she referred to the Speaker’s request for an open marriage that would allow him to see his then mistress and now latest wife.
Compounding this was the breaking news from Iowa, where it seems that eighteenth century voting methods no longer suffice (strangely enough). Having declared Mitt Romney the winner by a paltry 8 votes in the immediate aftermath of the caucuses, the final (?) tally was revealed to put Rick Santorum ahead by some 34 votes, raising the memory of Florida 2000.
The upshot of all this? Romney, the former man to beat, was now stripped of his win in Iowa and sinking in the polls to a resurgent Newt Gingrich, whose own reputation was being torn to shreds by a vengeful wife, whilst his latest spouse stood by his side. As the debate approached, its potential importance mounted and one wondered what would happen next?
The debates got off to an explosive start. The big question was always going to be as to when the issue of marital fidelity would be raised, and the answer was, immediately. Straight out of he box moderator John King of CNN asked Gingrich if he would like to address the allegations. “No, but I will” he responded and took the opportunity to attack John King and CNN for having the nerve to ask him such a question. It really was all about Newt for much of the debate from then on.
Interestingly, the expected fireworks between Newt and Romney failed to develop, instead Rick Santorum, after a VERY shaky start, attempted to take the opportunity to seal the deal with conservative voters and attacked Gingrich whenever possible, going after his record as Speaker in particular, suggesting that ‘grandiosity has never been a problem’ for Gingrich. At times he spoke through clenched teeth and appeared desperate to remember his script and adhere to his message. Fundamentally, Santorum did himself no favours when he acknowledged that being in he last four was an achievement, a statement that spoke to the heart of his dilemma: He’s not a winner. He also had a complete inability to look his opponents in the eye when attacking them, making him look weak, feeble and cowardly. He must surely be the next candidate to drop out and leave the floor for a straight square-off between Romney and Gingrich.
The bias against Ron Paul in terms of coverage continued unabated, which the candidate noted at one point. When he could get a word in edgeways Paul remained as committed as ever to delivering his thoughts and perspectives in his own unique manner, something he admitted could do with some fine-tuning.
With all of the focus, it really was Gingrich’s night and he didn’t disappoint. More a showman than a politician, one expected to start seeing rabbits come from up his sleeves as he pulled one set of figures and historical facts out after another, referencing his books and time in office and work with the mighty Ronald Reagan.  It was clear that Gingrich had a full mastery of the issues and a calm presentation style that would be a benefit in a general election. His weakness of course, is self-embellishment, something Romney highlighted in reference to his virtual exclusion from the Reagan diaries. He also failed to convince in terms of immigration when he suggested establishing citizen’s panels to screen illegal immigrants to decide who could stay and who should be expelled.

The big loser was Mitt Romney who appeared smug and glib and time and again was forced to pivot to prepared answers in response to tough questions. On more than one occasion he appeared to indicate his fatigue, not physically, but with the annoying matter of having to go through the motions of these tiresome debates with candidates he believes he should defeat without trying. The debate was balanced and smart at times, and certainly did not descend into the sort of name-calling and adherence to talking points that occur so often in US politics. It was well moderated and well conducted, reflecting well on all concerned. Surprisingly, perhaps, there was no single knock out punch landed. If anything, there appeared to be more animosity between Gingrich and King than between the candidates, following the heated opening exchange. It is almost certainly  the opening exchange for which the debate will be remembered, which is a shame as the Speaker’s private life really had very little impact beyond this.

What was missing? Only little things like foreign policy, Iran, national security, financial policy…
Did the debate tell us anything? It confirmed Ron Paul’s tenacity and determination to adhere to his core beliefs and Libertarian sentiments; Santorum had a faltering start, took the fight to Gingrich but appeared to falter under the gaze of Mitt Romney; Gingrich appeared large, but smart and a master of the issues and gave a very focused closing statement; Romney came across as smug and lacking in the depth required for the job he is once again seeking and singularly failed to ask for the voters to turn out and support him on Saturday. You know what they say, if you don’t ask, you don’t get…. Saturday will be fascinating.

The Elephant Race Trundles On

So, 2 states down, 48 to go. That will no doubt be a disappointment to James Fenton of the Evening Standard, whose recent article of January 6 (“While Republicans flounder, the mood is turning ugly”) called for Republicans to unite ‘sooner rather than later…to call the fight off before the party hurts itself.’ What a misguided sentiment, calling apparently for a coronation rather than a competition. Thankfully the founders of the United States preferred democracy to Fenton’s suggested model and that is exactly what is going to play out across all 50 states in the coming months.

Last night’s New Hampshire Primary saw the unsurprising victory of local candidate Mitt Romney, winning with 39% of the vote, 1 % short of the magic number required before Sir Christopher Meyer promised to eat one of famous red socks. Romney’s ability to win in New Hampshire was never really in doubt; what was going to be telling was the gap between first and second and who it was that would win silver in New Hampshire. After Iowa, there was speculation that Rick Santorum would continue to surprise. Not so much. With just 9% of the vote, the former senator from Pennsylvania must be disappointed that the momentum he so required has thus far failed to materialise in a development that could prove fatal as the race heads south to the Carolinas and to Florida.

Santorum is, however, far from being the biggest loser of the night, although that honour is perhaps shared. John Huntsman bet the farm on winning New Hampshire and didn’t, coming in a distant third with 17%. Likewise Newt Gingrich needed to impress and didn’t, also taking just 9%. One wonders how Gingrich’s renowned ego will handle the fact that 91% of Republicans voted for someone else? How he must lament not running in 1996.

It was no great surprise that Rick Perry failed to improve on his shockingly low Iowa result of just 1%, which remained constant. Of course it could have been worse, his vote could have collapsed altogether. Perry is gambling on a huge showing in South Carolina, where, if truth be told, his campaign was always going to begin, but surely, even in their worst nightmares, his campaign staff can’t have imagined gaining just 1% in the opening two elections?

And finally, before I am accused of ignoring him altogether, we come to Ron Paul; Third in Iowa, second in New Hampshire. That is quite an achievement and as usual it is being quite overlooked. Why is this? I think frankly that the media recognises that he cannot possibly win. Paul is that classic character that appears in the American political arena every now and then; someone who is more interested in speaking his mind than in necessarily winning an election. As was said of Barry Goldwater, he is more interested in being right than in being president. Now, before anyone jumps up and down, I’m not comparing the politics of the two men, merely their refreshing capacity to declare boldly their opinions and to stand by them, something that is all too rare in political life.

Clearly Ron Paul’s message is striking a cord with a solid core of Republican voters and the Party should take heed. It is my view that they will ignore it in the hope that it will go away, or come home to the roost when it realises that the alternative is guaranteeing four more years of Barack Obama in the White House. This is a dangerous gambit that risks either an independent run by Ron Paul (which he has discounted, but never say never in politics) or the disillusionment of 20% of Republican voters who could simply stay at home in November. A Republican victory against the incumbent was going to be a challenge and they cannot simply dismiss a fifth of their potential electorate if they wish to win.

The reaction to Paul  is predicated on the basis that if Romney is to face a serious Republican candidate it is not going to be Ron Paul, but rather SOMEONE ELSE. I stress this, because at present it is impossible to determine who, if anyone, this will be. The results from last night indicate a major problem for the Republican Party: 61% of New Hampshire Republican Primary goers voted for someone other than Mitt Romney. If one discounts the Paul vote as one of protest, that still leaves 38% of Republicans backing candidates other than Romney, virtually the same number as support him. What does this demonstrate? Simply that the anti-Romney vote is currently being distributed around too many candidates. It is a sad thing for any candidate to have to consider dropping out after only two votes, but the alternative is to limp on to further ignominy. Democracy is a great concept, but ego threatens to lead to an unintended coronation. Santorum appears to be a spent force; as is Huntsman. Both they and Perry must surpass expectations in South Carolina and Florida if they are to have any chance of halting Romney. If these three fail to do so they should contemplate the painful option of dropping out and endorsing whoever remains, perhaps Newt Gingrich, as an alternative to Romany. To do otherwise is to continue to split the anti-Romney vote and thereby guarantee the nomination of a mediocre candidate who fails to engender excitement among his own party and who will fail to be an adequate challenger for the presidency in November.