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

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

Reflections on Super Tuesday

This GOP primary season has becoming a variant on the Wizard of Oz; Romney lacks a Soul, Santorum has too big a Heart, Gingrich has too large an Ego and Paul lacks a Prayer.

Romney’s victories in six out of ten states last night signified a triumph of money and organisation over ideology and passion. Romney simply had more money and a better ground team to organise victory in the states he had to win, as well as in states that he could have afforded to lose and yet won anyway, such as Alaska. Despite his victories Romney is singularly failing to win the hearts and minds of voters. His will therefore be an autocratic victory at best, lacking in Soul. He will be the nominee but no one will ever love him.

In contrast, Rick Santorum is loved by his supporters, but he can’t organise them sufficiently. He was ahead in several key states that he eventually lost last night. This is the weakness in his entire campaign: Sanatorium appears to have the heart of the voters but this is insufficient to win the nomination. His story is the opposite of Romney; all heart and passion but lacking the funds and organisation to secure the nomination.

Newt Gingrich won his home state of Georgia, which was no more of a surprise than Massachusetts voting heavily for its former governor, Mitt Romney. The dilemma for Gingrich is what to do now? His Nixon-inspired Southern strategy has failed to deliver him the much-needed victories he needed to offset the heavy defeats he suffered in the North, East and West. If nothing else, his defeat in Tennessee last night proved his consistency: He is unpopular EVERYWHERE.

Ron Paul is still in the race and continues to pick up an occasional delegate, but like Gingrich, all he is doing now is splitting the anti-Romney vote. Like Ralph Nader in 2000, his tiny percentage of the vote could serve to deliver up the exact opposite of what his supporters would most want. Just as Nader helped enable a Bush presidency in Florida, so too could Paul guarantee a Romney nomination.

So have we learned anything from Super Tuesday? Arguably not. We already knew that Romney was very well financed, well organised and certain to win his home state of Massachusetts and by extension, regional states such as Vermont. We knew that Rick Santorum has the passionate support of those Republicans who are more conservative and that he would win a state or two. We also knew that Gingrich would lament the temerity of his opponents to campaign against him, talk about his battle against the Washington insiders and make the most out of any victory he could lay claim to.

Gingrich claims to be staying in the race and looking to benefit from the forthcoming southern states, but so far he has lost in Florida and Tennessee and has only won 2 states; his home state of Georgia and neighbouring South Carolina. His continued presence on the ballot serves only to massage his inflated ego and to split the anti-Romney vote, ironically ensuring that Romney will almost certainly receive the nomination.

What we also knew before a vote had been cast is that this is probably all in vain. With his approval on the rise, unemployment figures declining, a potentially difficult speech at AIPAC and meting with Netanyahu handled adroitly, President Obama demonstrated this week that he is a force to be reckoned with who will not go quietly into the night.

At this rate, unless the GOP comes up with a Game Changer, the President will be smiling all the way to the ballot in November…

Don’t Dream It’s Over…but it is for John Huntsman

So in the aftermath of the New Hampshire Primary, a candidate has finally realised that they are NOT going to be President of the United States and appears set to throw in the towel. Who is this wise sage you may ask? Newt Gingrich? Rick Santorum? Ron Paul? (The list could go on and on and on…)

No, the answer is John Huntsman, someone who has struggled to gain traction, votes, or even name recognition in some regions and who is all set to withdraw and endorse his fellow Mormon, Mitt Romney.

Huntsman had been championed in some quarters as a serious candidate this year, but things went wrong from the start. His great unveiling ceremony, designed to replicate a similar address by Ronald Reagan so many decades ago, was ruined by unsightly boats in the background that blocked the view of the Statue of Liberty. Republicans remained suspicious of a candidate who until recently had worked for the enemy, sorry, the President of the United States, as ambassador to China (and who could therefore also speak a foreign language, admittedly, not French, something else that was a clear negative). Finally, he was a Mormon, which Mitt Romney has discovered, is hardly something to engender ‘raptures’ amongst the Christian Evangelicals that Republicans will need to woo in vast numbers if they are to reclaim the White House this year.

Huntsman had elected not to campaign in the Iowa Caucuses, remarking that ‘they pick corm in Iowa and presidents in New Hampshire.’ Alas his extensive efforts to woo the voters of the Granite state came to nothing, as he polled just 16.9% and came in third behind Romney and Paul. Seriously, whoever advised his campaign that betting huge in Romney’s neighbouring state was the way to win the nomination should never work in politics again. Indeed, this campaign season has been beset by terrible political decisions; Sarah Palin’s dithering; Romney’s shoe shine antics and various utterances regarding firing people; Rick Perry’s ENTIRE campaign and Huntsman’s all or nothing focus on New Hampshire. Considering that Perry has made a similar effort to focus on South Carolina (where he is currently polling just 6%), his continued viability must surely come into question.

Huntsman’s expected departure will doubtless be the first of several such decisions, as candidates look at the vast costs involved in running primary campaigns in both South Carolina and Florida, the latter of which in particular requires huge advertising budgets just to stay in the game. As the inevitable begins to set in, expect to see similar announcements between now and the end of the month. Such a move will help to solidify the conservative opposition to Romney, as this vote will no longer be splintered between the various candidates who are NOT Mitt Romney. This development has, however, come a little late in the game to be truly effective although it may allow Newt Gingrich to remain in the race, if he is able to muster their support.

Ron Paul is likely to be unaffected by this decision since his core supporters appear utterly unimpressed by the Republican mainstream candidates and would, in all honesty, be advised to form a third party Libertarian movement. They won’t for many reasons. Not least of which is that to do so would simply split the vote on the right and hand the election to the Democrats. Their best bet is to wage a Pat Buchanan-esque rearguard action and to ensure a prime time speaking slot at the convention and a say in defining the platform for the fall. Of course, in 1992 Pat Buchanan ensured that his voice was heard loud and clear and it was his remarks, rather than the candidate’s (a chap named Bush) that resonated in the ears and minds of American voters that fall…. as they queued to elect Bill Clinton. Such is life!

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.

Reflecting on New Hampshire Debate

After a series of interminable debate amongst the Republican Party presidential candidates, life was finally breathed into the contest this morning in New Hampshire in the NBC/Facebook debate. Coming less than 24 hours after the previous such event (yes, really) this clash of contestants threatened to be a weary affair with all concerned having debated so soon beforehand. Instead, the opposite occurred with all parties running on adrenaline or coffee to ensure a lively and memorable debate.

One constant through all of the debates has been Mitt Romeny’s capacity to appear serene and above it all. He knows he’s got the nomination in the bag and is determined not to blow it by getting down in the mud with his challenges. He’s content to let them scramble around looking to win cheap debating points, whist he lords it up above them all as the Nominee in Waiting.

This was replicated again, as the other candidates (Gingrich, Paul, Santorum etc) were left to win debating points, which to their credit they did when presented with the opportunity. Governor Perry won the prize for Most Engaging speaker with a good line in self-depreciating humour that won a lot of laughs. Only when the polling is over will we know if the laughs were with him or at him.

Newt Gingrich (Mr Speaker) was happy to remain the Teacher In Chief, filling his answers with facts and history and dropping Ronald Reagan’s name whenever possible, even when it was to defend Trickle Down economics. Ron Paul (Dr Paul) remained as committed as ever to Libertarian principles and the defence of liberty even whilst Rick Santorum mocked his inability to get anything done or to work with anyone. When Santorum was able to get a word in edgeways he appeared to be balanced and rationale, though he did little to overcome his comments on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell on Fox News recently.

The biggest loser today may have been Huntsman who did little to distinguish himself. It was always going to be difficult for someone who was an Obama appointee to seek the nomination this year, and Huntsman has repeatedly done nothing to make his job any easier.

What emerged from this debate is that the candidates believe Obama to be a socialist with a secular view of the nation who is weak in the Middle East and a threat to national security. Not mush we don’t already know, but the extent to which these views are being so openly espoused makes for fascinating viewing. What it says about the Republican’s understanding of socialism, however, is another matter.

The latest polling out of New Hampshire does not make for comfortable reading for Romney who has now dropped steadily to 35%, down from the low forties whilst Paul and Hunstman are gaining ground, though remain far behind on 20% and 11% respectively. Texan governor Rick Perry, who many expected to thrown in the towel last week after his poor showing in the Iowa caucuses remains on 1%. His only hope remains what it always was, a string showing in the South Carolina Primary on January 31. Without it, he will be forced to withdraw, though he will doubtless not be alone in that prospect by the end of the month. Romney may have done enough to secure a points victory today, but once more, the true victor was probably Barack Obama.