Is This It for Mitt?
Super Tuesday came and went, only it wasn’t quite so super. If anything, the results only served to muddle the outcome further in what was an already muddled Republican primary. If you listen to the MSM, Mitt Romney solidified his role as front-runner after expanding his lead in delegates.
Ah, if only it were so simple. But nothing about this primary season has been simple. The principle reason for quagmire is that the Republicans decided this year to change things up and award delegates proportionally, but left it to the individual states to decide how the apportionment would work. State party bosses, being state party bosses, largely decided that the popular votes wouldn’t matter and state political conventions would ultimately decide how many delegates each candidate would receive. Craziest of all these is Missouri, which held a non-binding primary last month and will hold non-binding caucuses next week. It’s a system only Boss Hogg would appreciate.
The net result of all this inside horse-trading (aside from having only a relative few delegates actually apportioned) is the current morass. If, as in the ancient past (read: 2008) delegates were awarded on a winner take all basis, Romney would have commitments from 513 delegates, Rick Santorum 197 and Newt Gingrich 101. Instead, we have estimated delegate counts. Depending on the source, Romney has between 379 (CBS News’ count) and 430 (Fox News) delegates. My own personal count gives Romney 386 delegates. Regardless of which count you take, there are only two I’ve seen that give the front-runner more than 50% of the delegates contested thus far.
And that brings us to the current problem for the GOP. It is becoming increasingly possible that they will arrive at their convention without a candidate who has amassed 50% of the delegates needed to secure the nomination. Not necessarily probable, but possible. After all, there are three winner-take-all states (New York, California and New Jersey) that profile favorably for Romney and they combine for 317 delegates. If combined with his current total, that would mean he would need to win about 40% of the remaining delegates in the other states not yet voted, in order to reach the 1,144 required. It should be a doable task for establishment’s preferred choice.
Only, therein lies the problem for Romney and the establishment. They want the primary season over so they can focus on the general election. New Jersey doesn’t vote until June 5th – and if Romney hasn’t secured the nomination by then, it will mean enough of the party isn’t supporting the eventual nominee to signal significant weakness to the nation. A comparison can be drawn to 1948, the year Harry Truman became the original “comeback kid” (sorry, Bill Clinton). By all normal election standards, Truman should have been walloped that year: unemployment was rising, the economy faltering, the Soviets detonated their first atomic weapon and Winston Churchill’s infamous “Iron Curtain” was now a reality Americans faced with fear and trepidation. But the Republican nominee, Thomas Dewey, was about as inspiring as dry toast and succeeded in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Not unlike Romney, Dewey was perceived by many fellow Republicans as aloof and calculating – a politician’s politician. Also not unlike Romney, Dewey was disliked by the conservative wing of his party (who preferred Ohio Senator Robert Taft). The intra-party fight lasted into the convention, where it took three ballots to nominate Dewey.
Some 64 years later, the Republican Party seems to be repeating history. Certainly, the political calendar isn’t favorable to Romney. What he needs is a convincing win outside of New England to demonstrate he can bring the party together and he seems to be pouring money into Kansas, in the hope he can get it there. But after Kansas comes Alabama, Mississippi and Missouri, three states that do not favor Romney. Since it’s also highly likely that Santorum and Gingrich will split the lion’s share of delegates from these four states, one or both will probably close the gap with the Romney. The GOP nightmare scenario gets that much closer at that point. If the voting holds as it has thus far, with southern and evangelical voters opting for anyone but Romney, the current front-runner can’t cross the 1,144 threshold before New Jersey’s June 5th primary.
But there are two other pitfalls Romney will need to avoid if he wants to secure the nomination, even at that late date. First, he’ll need to ensure that those party conventions are stoked to vote for him (far from a sure thing at this point). Second, he needs to wrap up as many of the uncommitted delegates as possible. There are currently 93 of them; current projections indicate there may be as many 255 by the convention. That will be a powerful voting bloc, one as capable of tying up the 2012 Republican Convention as those of Earl Warren (yes, the man who later became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court) and Harold Stassen in 1948.
So, Romney still seems best positioned to become the Republican nominee. But party fratricide seems even more certain to deliver him as weak and badly wounded nominee. In 1948, the Republicans thought they could take on an unpopular incumbent presiding over a moribund economy and uncertainty on the world stage with an unpopular candidate and win. Will 2012 prove to be a repeat of that disastrous strategy?
The Republican Dilemma
Webster’s defines a “dilemma” as
“a situation involving an undesirable or unpleasant choice.”
Given that definition, the GOP may want to reconsider changing its name to the “Grand Dilemma Party.” The reasons can be found in what can only be described as the tepid response the party’s rank-and-file have demonstrated towards the party’s Presidential aspirants.
Much column space has been devoted to the vagaries of the Republican Presidential Primary season. The topsy-turvy nature of polls; the fact no candidate can seem to muster more than 40% of the electorate for longer than a week; the inability of any candidate to sustain momentum. The commentariat is busy trying to fit round pegs into square holes, though. They’ve completely missed the boat on what’s actually happening this year, having spent the majority of their professional lives ensconced in the daily trivialities of DC politics.
The narrative thus far runs something like this: there is a natural back-lash against establishment candidates, as represented most wholly by Mitt Romney. Each time a new “anti-Romney” rises (currently, that’s back to Rick Santorum) the electorate looks more closely at said candidate and decides he’s a bit too establishment for their tastes. The anti-Romney of the moment fades back, allowing Romney to capture a few states. The cycle then renews, but in the end the establishment candidate (Romney) wins because he will have the backing of the party machinery. The general GOP membership is resigned to this outcome, even if they aren’t happy about it, and so they’re largely staying home this cycle.
I think something more fundamental is at work within the party. To understand it, you have to return to 1980 and Ronald Reagan’s shock win over Jimmy Carter. (Yes, despite Carter’s bungling of the job, nobody really gave Reagan a legitimate chance of winning that November). Reagan’s magic was in forging a new Republican coalition. He began with the limited government Goldwater wing, mixed in the once strongly Democratic constituency of social conservatives from the Bible Belt, added in the anti-communist/strong defense types (who had fled the Republicans after Nixon’s pursuit of détente) and completed the soup with the Rockefeller Republicans. Most seem to forget now, but Reagan spoke often about his pursuit of a Republican Party “Big Tent” approach – the idea of bringing disparate groups together to work towards a common goal. In 1980, that goal was reinvigorating the American economy through (then radical) changes to monetary and fiscal policy, reducing the size of government while increasing America’s defense capabilities, reasserting American dominance in foreign affairs and direct confrontation with Communism and bringing back the traditional American themes of faith, family and hard work. The new groups in his coalition were referred to as “Reagan Democrats.” These were the people, generally blue-collar types from the South and Midwest, who President Obama derided during the 2008 election as “clinging to their guns and Bibles.”
The dilemma facing the Republican Party is that coalition is fracturing. The former Reagan Democrats and Goldwater Republicans that formed the backbone of that coalition are looking at their choices and felling less than satisfied. Moreover, they sense the Party has moved past them. There are either Rockefeller types (Romney and Gingrich) or aspirants to Jerry Falwell’s throne (Santorum), while the one candidate who hews closest Goldwater’s federalist view is also the one who is the antithesis of a strong US on the world stage (Paul). This leaves those two groups, who desperately want a return to the type of leadership exhibited by President Reagan, without a horse in the race. The result is each candidate has partially captured one constituency, but their individual flaws prevent them from fully claiming it. Romney has the Rockefeller wing for the most part, but it is a small part of the party base (in terms of numbers, not money). Santorum has the inside edge among Reagan Democrats (note his success in the Midwest); although his extreme views on using government to coerce, or even force, his moral code leaves many cold. Paul has captured perhaps half of the Goldwater wing, but his personal character issues and documented degradation of minorities limits his success there.
Can they recapture the coalition? They managed to pull things together enough to get George W. Bush elected in 2000 and re-elected in 2004. They lost a fair number of the small –government types, as was represented by the suppressed turn-out numbers in both years: neither party was putting forward a candidate that met that constituency’s desired goal, although both have been paying lip-service to that goal for 15 years now. The fact that constituency voted en masse for Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996 undoubtedly cost the Republican Party the Presidency in both of those elections. But unlike 1992 or 1996, there isn’t a strong 3rd Party candidate who is advocating both a federalist view of government and strong foreign policy, and unlike 1980, there isn’t a defining vision of the future allocuted by any of the candidates to rally the disparate groups within the tent. That would seem to kick in the Republican electoral formula from 2000 – run a social conservative/Rockefeller hybrid and allow suppressed turn-out to allow him to win. The problem is this year, that ploy may not work. For starters, the Goldwater wing is particularly resurgent this cycle. Consider how the TEA Party, which is largely comprised of Goldwater types, pushed the Party into power in the 112th Congress and that Paul is polling at better than twice his career norms (this is his third try for the Republican nomination).
While the Rockefeller and social conservatives will likely unite behind either Romney or Santorum come the convention, they currently run the risk of alienating as much as 40% of the party’s base with such a decision. If they do, President Obama will win a tough election in November – and the Republican Party as we’ve known it for 32 years will cease to exist. What will be interesting to watch is what takes it place. Will there be three major political parties, the Democrats (absorbing what’s left of the Rockefeller wing), the Social Conservatives and the Fiscal Conservatives? Or will the big-spending social conservative and Rockefeller wing end up absorbed in the current Democratic Party, while the Republicans re-align around federalists principles? And can the current Democratic constituency accept the social conservatives again? After all, the reason Reagan was able to capture them in the first place was that the Democratic Party began purging them during Lyndon Johnson’s Presidency. Regardless, the outcome of this year’s Presidential election promises more change than perhaps anyone bargained for.
Ron Paul’s End Game
First off: if you’re a Paulbot, thanks for clicking on this post. Whenever I’m in need of boosting my viewership stats, I can count on you guys. Now, before you get all kinds of upset, you might as well read through to the end. After all, I’ve a serious question there, and your answers are appreciated.
Ron Paul may be ending his campaign for the Republican nomination sooner than later. I don’t pretend to have inside information. Odds are that if anyone from his campaign saw me walk through the door, they’d as soon shoot me as say hello. But as someone who has watched Ron Paul’s career for the past 30 years, the signs all point to Paul once again looking for an exit strategy.
First, consider that his entire campaign has been about building support for his nascent movement. To that end, he’s dedicated his campaign to winning convention delegates. While he realized he likely couldn’t win the outright nomination, the hope was his campaign would garner enough votes to accomplish two things: get a plank or two on the party platform and build a base within the party to further son Rand’s political career. Despite all of his bluster about only three primaries having been competed, the stark fact is that Paul is last in delegate count with only 4. That’s only 6% of the total awarded. If he holds to that percentage until the convention, the best he could hope for is to be a disruptive force – a result that would do absolutely nothing to help Rand’s career and everything to harm it.
Second, rather than gain momentum, his campaign has actually been losing steam. He won 21.4% of the vote in Iowa, 22.9% in New Hampshire, fell to 13% in South Carolina and so far is only polling 8% in Florida. Not that the Paul camp put much into Florida – a campaign focused on merely winning delegates would prefer to avoid winner-take-all states. Still, the trend line has to be disappointing for a campaign that hoped it build on a loyal base of support. But rather than build on that base, the more voters get acquainted with Ron, the more they seem to shun him.
Finally, there were two lines from Monday night’s debate that probably had a few Paulbots heads exploding. The first came shortly in, when Brian Williams asked Paul if he could support a Gingrich candidacy. “You know, he keeps hinting about attacking the Fed…If I could just change him on foreign policy, we might be able to talk.” Willing to endorse Gingrich probably isn’t what Paul’s supporters wanted to hear – but kow-towing to a potential nominee fits nicely with Paul’s goals. The second was his continued denial of a potential third-party bid, which is also in keeping with his goals this year. Besides, he has no easy route to a third party candidacy. In order to obtain the Libertarian Party nod, he would have to challenge Gary Johnson. And forming a new party for a one time, longshot bid at the Presidency is something that the Presidential campaign veteran wouldn’t consider.
So, here’s my question for those Ron Paul supporters who’ve made it this far: given that he has virtually no chance at winning the nomination, what should Ron Paul do next? Feel free to vote below and leave your comments.
Newt vs. The Establishment
Well, you knew it was coming, right? Establishment Republicans, as I’ve pointed out before, are determined that Mitt Romney will be the party’s Presidential nominee this November and will brook no compromise on the matter. Since last summer, I fully expected the party would do it’s best to eliminate anyone who dared get in the way of that result. After rising in the polls in early December, Newt Gingrich faced a potent barrage of negative coverage that dropped him to fourth place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire. Then came the drubbing Gingrich delivered Romney in South Carolina and a 31 point swing in Florida polling, along with the two men virtually tying in national polls.
Cue the extensive establishment machinery. This morning, it seems every Republican-leaning pundit opened up on Gingrich in what seems suspiciously like a coordinated broadside aimed at derailing his campaign. Among the articles that stood out:
Ann Coulter, writing on her blog:
“To talk with Gingrich supporters is to enter a world where words have no meaning. They denounce Mitt Romney as a candidate being pushed on them by “the Establishment” — with “the Establishment” defined as anyone who supports Romney or doesn’t support Newt…
“This is the sort of circular reasoning one normally associates with Democrats, people whom small-town pharmacists refer to as “drug seekers” and Ron Paul supporters.
Romney is the most electable candidate not only because it will be nearly impossible for the media to demonize this self-made Mormon square, devoted to his wife and church, but precisely because he is the most conservative candidate.”
Former Senator and failed Presidential candidate Bob Dole:
“In my run for the presidency in 1996 the Democrats greeted me with a number of negative TV ads and in every one of them Newt was in the ad. He was very unpopular and I am not only certain that this did not help me, but that it also cost House seats that year. Newt would show up at the campaign headquarters with an empty bucket in his hand — that was a symbol of some sort for him — and I never did know what he was doing or why he was doing it, and I’m not certain he knew either.”
Rich Lowry, in an article damningly entitled “Gingrich: The Republican Clinton“:
“Newt is the Republican Clinton — shameless, needy, hopelessly egotistical. The two former adversaries and tentative partners have largely the same set of faults and talents. They are self-indulgent, prone to disregard rules inconvenient to them, and consumed by ambition. They are glib, knowledgeable, and imaginative. They are baby boomers who hadn’t fully grown up even when they occupied two of the most powerful offices in the land.”
In a similarly themed article in The American Spectator, Emmett Tyrell’s writing is nearly syllable-for-syllable:
“Newt and Bill are, of course, 1960s generation narcissists, and they share the same problems: waywardness and deviancy. Newt, like Bill, has a proclivity for girl hopping. It is not as egregious as Bill’s, but then Newt is not as drop-dead beautiful. His public record is already besmeared with tawdry divorces, and there are private encounters with the fair sex that doubtless will come out. If I have heard of some, you can be sure the Democrats have heard of more. Nancy Pelosi’s intimations are timely.”
Perhaps no author sums up the Establishment’s “Fear of Newt” better than Eliot Abrams. Abrams, in decrying Newt’s penchant for publicly disagreeing with policies he views as flawed:
“Presidents should not get automatic support, not even from members of their own party, but they have a right to that support when they are under a vicious partisan assault.”
Comparing Gingrich supporters to Ron Paul supporters and Democrats is ignoring the fact that unlike either of the latter, Gingrich’s support has waxed and waned weekly. You can attach many adjectives to Newt’s supporters, but “fanatical” would be the most disingenuous. Of course, anyone willing to call Mitt Romney “the most conservative candidate” has already escaped the bounds of reality. The remaining establishment attacks seem to focus on two themes.
The first is that Newt is the ultimate RINO, willing to abandon the party in order to further his own views. This probably is an accurate depiction, but not much of an attack. Abrams’ attack line is viewed by most Americans as a positive – we prefer our Representatives to vote their conscience and not the party line. In a year when the electorate is largely disgusted with the way the party establishment has failed, attacking a candidate for preferring to vest in his own beliefs over orthodoxy is probably not a smart play. The base wants a candidate who’s willing to shake things up a bit – that certainly isn’t Romney. It could be Ron Paul, but by pointing out that Gingrich has a history of breaking with party orthodoxy the establishment allows him to claim that mantle.
The second is that Gingrich is flawed in character; volatile in nature and unable to lead. This line of attack is similar to the one employed in December with success. The problem is that line of attack isn’t new. Voters are well acquainted with Gingrich’s peccadilloes from the 90’s. If they’re as willing to overlook them in Florida as they were in South Carolina, the establishment is likely out of bullets.
This is just a sampling of the pile-on that seems to be taking place. Fear is in the establishment air, understandably so. Gingrich already leads in delegates. Florida is the first “winner-take-all” primary; adding another 50 delegates to his total guarantees that Romney can’t get the lead in the delegate count until March. What the establishment still hopes to sell the party – that Romney is the only electable candidate – would be forever gone as an argument. Because of that, fully expect party leaders to turn up the heat even further on Gingrich until January 31. They can’t risk having a “rogue” candidate win.
Romney’s Mittens EXPOSED
The Republican establishment is suddenly confronting the very real possibility that their horse in the Presidential race is more broken down nag than thoroughbred. A week ago, Mitt Romney seemed assured of sweeping the first three primary votes and virtually locking up the nomination – before the race even began.
Then came a dismal debate on Monday night, in which Newt Gingrich gained a standing ovation and Mittens was left grasping at straws. That was followed by Texas Governor Rick Perry dropping out and endorsing Gingrich, and the Iowa GOP declaring that Rick Santorum was the actual winner in their caucus. The next night, Gingrich delivered another bravura debate performance while Romney did his best Porky Pig impersonation.
Suddenly, a 14 point lead turned into a 12 point loss. And as of this morning, Romney’s 22 point lead in Florida has turned into a 9 point deficit, a 31 point swing in 2 days. The establishment is understandably freaking out. It’s understandable because Romney represents the time-honored tradition of candidate-in-waiting. Oh, and the little fact that they have poured millions of dollars into his campaign thus far – a very real investment on the party leadership’s part. If Romney fails to secure the nomination, it will rank right up there with Solyndra in the history of investment strategies. And finally, there’s the very real possibility that Gingrich will win the nomination. Let’s face it, there is absolutely no love lost between Gingrich and the party elite, many of whom worked diligently over the past 25 years to bury him. To see Gingrich rise like a phoenix from the ashes of his political career has to be particularly galling to people like Karl Rove and Ann Coulter.
But their problem is less with Gingrich than it is with Romney. If Romney were a truly leading candidate, odds are Newt wouldn’t have had a prayer. The fact is they bet on the wrong horse. Even if he survives to claim the nomination, he will be too battered and bloodied to win the Presidency. Romney’s greatest attribute as a candidate was the “I can WIN” argument; losing two of the first three contests (and getting his tail handed to him in the most recent) doesn’t lend much credence to that claim. In fact, after the first three nominating votes, Gingrich leads Romney in the delegate count, 26-19. In point of fact, Romney is closer to third place (Santorum has 13 delegates) than to first.
For all of his money, establishment backing and slick TV commercials, Romney suffers from a very real problem: he isn’t believable. It doesn’t stem from his constantly changing policy positions (Gingrich is equally culpable of that crime). Rather, it comes from a simple observation of the man himself. When you look at Mitt, you see a Presidential candidate straight from central casting: good looking, with perfect hair. Good looking wife and kids. Donates to his church and community. No skeletons in his closet. No skeletons in his family’s closets. Wealthy son of self-made immigrants.
In all of this perfect bio and appearance lies Romney’s essential problem, and it isn’t something that can be corrected in a 60 second commercial or even a 30 minute interview with Barbara Walters. No, Americans know genuine when they see it. Genuine is not a life that would make Ozzie and Harriet jealous. American’s know that real people have trials and travails. They fail, they pick themselves up; they screw up and make amends. They are the guys you hang out at the bar with on Friday night after work. The ones you go bowling with on Wednesday. They are most definitely not Mitt Romney. Every time Romney talks about how $375,000 in speaking fees “aren’t that much” he just comes across as a little more unauthentic; every time he hides something (tax returns, destroyed computer hard drives) you’re left wondering what it is he’s hiding. Because we all know he has a skeleton somewhere – we all do, even if we never talk about them. And we expect our Presidents (and the people who aspire to be President) to at least be human enough to admit they aren’t perfect.
Americans like failed heroes, especially ones who have managed to rehabilitate themselves (see: Rob Lowe or Newt Gingrich). We can relate to making human mistakes, asking forgiveness and starting again. We can’t relate to people who are perfect (or imagine themselves to be). Therein lies Mitt Romney’s problem. And I don’t think he can fix it before January 31.
Newt Goes Ballistic (video)
In case you missed it, last night’s debate started with fireworks. CNN’s John King led off by asking Newt Gingrich about the allegations leveled by ex-wife #2, Marianne Gingrich. That story really is nothing more than the type of salacious material normally found in National Enquirer, but new CNN is desperate for viewership. And ABC news has been desperate for relevance ever since Peter Jennings’ death. (For those of you who revel in those sorts of details, Marianne accused Newt of being a womanizer and wanting an “open” marriage. Big deal.)
So, Newt did what Newt does best: leveled a broadside that was so effective it knocked King off his game for the rest of the evening – and effectively painted his ex-wife as nothing more than another vindictive divorcee.
Here’s the full exchange:
First take: South Carolina Debate
The debate just ended and I thought this one was more spirited than the previous 217 debates.
I think Newt Gingrich won this one, but just barely. His opening was like a shotgun blast, hitting his ex-wife and John King with enough birdshot to wound both. Rick Santorum had his best debate to date, but it was fueled solely by his animosity towards Newt. On the issues, he skitchy – and his answer on SOPA was Orwellian double-speak. Mitt Romney once again survived relatively unscathed, but it’s amazing that he still hasn’t come up with a solid answer about his tax returns. (Hint: we know you’re rich, Mitt). As for Ron Paul, he was a non-factor, although the Paulbots did force King to let him answer a few questions.
As for the questions, several real issues were left out of the mix to allow for rambling, nonsensical answers to rambling, nonsensical questions. But, hey at least we avoided the Diet Coke question.
Late yesterday afternoon, the Drudge Report reported that ABC is sitting on a “bombshell” interview with Newt Gingrich’s ex-wife.
Color me unimpressed.
First, consider the source. Matt Drudge is, at best, a muckraker. His career was built on looking for the most salacious headlines. Slander and innuendo are his modus operandi. He is more publicity hound than reporter, and this story is exactly what he needed. After a few years of being an afterthought in conservative circles (and even less in liberal ones), people are talking about him again.
Further, rumors abound in conservative circles linking Drudge and James Dobson. Dobson, founder of the conservative group Focus on the Family, is backing Rick Santorum and has thrown some very un-Christian barbs at Newt’s current wife. Now Drudge leaks that ABC is sitting on an interview with Marianne Gingrich, promising details “that will destroy Newt’s campaign.”
Suddenly, Marianne has details that will destroy her ex-husband’s Presidential campaign? Sorry, but scorned women don’t make the best witnesses. What could she possibly tell us that we don’t already know? Newt is a womanizer? He has a nasty temper? He’s ambitious? He believes he’s better than the rest of us?
All of those things are already well-documented over Newt’s 30+ years in elective politics. I have my own doubts about Newt being Presidential material (that temper is troubling when deciding whose finger is on the nuclear button), but Dobson and Drudge seem to be heading into John Quincy Adams territory with this line of attack. The end result of that smear campaign was Andrew Jackson winning, his wife dying, and a man with a well-pronounced vindictive streak seeking retribution for the 8 years of his Presidency (and very nearly causing the Civil War to break out 30 years early in the process).
Rather than inflaming passions of the more prurient, Dobson would be best served by focusing on Newt’s questionable policy arguments.
UPDATE: Andrew Breitbart is now reporting that ABC will air the interview on their Nightline program tonight. Since they’re bypassing higher profile (and viewership) slots to air it, it further reinforces my thought that this doesn’t break any new ground.
8 Things after New Hampshire
In case you hadn’t noticed, yesterday New Hampshire had a primary. Mitt Romney won. Here’s five other things you should know.
- Mitt Romney may be inevitable: Romney wasn’t running so much against the other Republican candidates as against expectations in New Hampshire. Since the state is a second home for the front-runner, he was expected to win – and win big. Earlier, I wrote that anything less than 40% of the vote would be disappointing for his camp. Well, Romney met and possibly beat expectations. 40% of the vote? Check. Double digit lead over number 2? Check – second place finisher Ron Paul finished 17 points back. Increase in share over his 2008 run? Check – he even beat 2008 winner John McCain’s share. On top of all that, he pulled off a feat no non-incumbent Republican has managed: first place finishes in both Iowa and New Hampshire. That’s pretty impressive. One can forgive Mitt if he’s feeling a bit smug today.
- Then again, maybe not: Now comes the hard part for Romney. The campaign shifts to the South, with the South Carolina primary on January 21 up next, followed by Florida on January 31. Yes, South Carolina, home to the Tea Party and where over half the Republican electorate identifies as being evangelical. The state is about as diametrically opposed to New Hampshire as one gets. Look for the attacks to come fast and furious now, as the various conservative alternatives pile-on in an attempt to paint Romney as nothing more than Barack Obama in Mormon clothing. If he falters at all, it could open the door to one of the other challengers to get a crucial win and pull the shine off the campaign’s front runner.
- Kiss Jon Huntsman good–bye: Huntsman bet the ranch on if not a win, then at least a strong showing in the Granite State. A 17% third place finish doesn’t really meet the standard. Really, he has no one else to blame but himself (and maybe his campaign manager). I’ve been watching politics for over three decades and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more disjointed campaign. His only concrete position seemed to be anti-everything Republican Party. He never adequately defended his diplomatic service in the current administration – and seemed pro-China in his foreign policy. Actually, I’ve never figured how he lasted this long, other than that the mainstream media loves the guy. Unless he’s willing to spend his considerable fortune to fly around the country bashing Romney (it’s possible), Iook for Huntsman to slip quietly away. And for David Brooks to write a column lambasting fellow Republicans for not giving Huntsman a fair shot.
- New Hampshire still hates social conservatives: Beware social conservatives in 2016. You may want to skip New Hampshire. The combined vote totals for the three social conservative candidates didn’t even match Huntsman’s total. This comes four years after social conservatives Mike Huckabee, Fred Thompson and Duncan Hunter split 13% of the vote. New Hampshire may be the home of fiscal conservatism and small government, but they don’t want their politicians dealing with personal matters of faith or family.
- Can Ron Paul keep the momentum moving? Paul has managed to harness large numbers of college students, independents and disaffected Democrats in both Iowa and New Hampshire, each time coming in with slightly more than 1/5 of the vote (21.8% in Iowa; 22.9% in New Hampshire). But neither electorate is as conservative as South Carolina’s. And Florida’s electorate is more than slightly older than college age. Can he continue to pull 1/5 of the vote (and be a thorn in the GOP’s rear at the same time)? If yes, then look for him to seriously contest Romney in the remaining caucus states. If his decidedly isolationist foreign policy scares the large number of military retirees in South Carolina and anti-Social Security/Medicare stance riles up the Floridians, Paul will be a footnote in a history text.
- Can conservatives rally in time? South Carolina is social conservatives last real opportunity to derail the Romney train. So far, it looks like a repeat of 2008, when Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson beat each other up. McCain wound up winning the state; Thompson was forced to drop out and Huckabee was never a real factor again. This year, you can cast Rick Santorum as Huckabee and Rick Perry as Thompson – but the script looks awfully familiar. (The difference is this year we have Newt Gingrich, but more on him in a moment). Like Huckabee, Santorum pulled off a surprising finish in Iowa. Like Huckabee, he virtually disappeared in New Hampshire. Perry, like Thompson, was an also-ran in Iowa. Unlike Thompson, he didn’t even register as a blip in New Hampshire (really Rick? Less than 1% of the vote?). The conservative’s best hope is a pair of confab’s taking place this weekend, one in Texas and the other in South Carolina. If the powers that be can’t decide to back one of the conservatives left in the race, look for a replay of 2008.
- Newt Gingrich is now…a Democrat?!? We all knew Newt loathes Mitt. We all knew Newt was waiting for his chance to go “nucular” on Mitt after the way Romney and his SuperPAC demolished Gingrich’s chances in Iowa. None of us realized how far Newt would go. In fact, over the past 48 hours, Newt sounds more like Barack Obama than a Republican in his denunciation of free markets and Romney’s participation. He’s already been blasted by conservative media (see video below). And, his attack didn’t help him in New Hampshire, where he only polled 9% of the vote. Is Newt going to continue along this line, or will party bosses work to neuter him? If there’s one thing the past 25 years has taught us, it’s that Newt will always put himself above party. But still, it’s an amazing turn-around for a man who only ten days ago was chiding his fellow candidates for breaking the Reagan Commandment – even for Newt Gingrich.
- The Obama Campaign better be nervous: Ok, New Hampshire really isn’t indicative of the country as a whole. But still, turnout in yesterday’s primary beat 2008 by better than 10% as unhappy Democrats and Independents showed up to vote Republican. Even taking away the pull of Ron Paul, that’s a lot of people who voted for Obama in 2008 who decided to vote for somebody else this year. The first referendum on the Obama presidency is in, and it isn’t good news for the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
5 Things Iowa Taught Us
The Iowa caucuses are over. As usual, they haven’t defined who will win – but they appear to have narrowed the field considerably. Here’s five things other things Iowans clarified last night.
1. The GOP establishment is in trouble: The Republican Old Guard has rallied around Mitt Romney, pitching him as the “electable” candidate who is “inevitable.” They may not say as much, but they have to be worried. Their inevitable candidate has yet to blast through his glass ceiling of support, ending up with only 25% of last night’s vote. Or, to put it in terms they don’t want to hear, 75% of Republican rank-and-file aren’t buying into either the electability or inevitability of Romney – margins eerily similar to the polling prior to the caucus in both Iowa and the national party. They’ll continue to pour in their support (see: John McCain), but Romney is in for a much tougher fight than he or his establishment backers originally thought. A real sign of trouble will be if Romney can’t get past 40% in New Hampshire. If that happens, expect the establishment to really open up with a full barrage – and risk alienating their party’s base of support.
2. Tea Party Conservatives are coalescing: around Rick Santorum. This is the big story out of the caucuses, and already the left is going off a cliff at the idea of a legitimate Santorum candidacy. The real question is how far can Santorum go? He has limited funding and a skeleton operation. He finished strong in Iowa based on old-fashioned retail politicking, a method which is impossible in a nationwide primary. Still, with Michelle Bachmann now officially out and Rick Perry sounding like he is, Tea Partiers are waking to the realization it’s either Santorum or Gingrich for them – and most have an understandable aversion to Newt. Romney may think Santorum will be easy pickings, based on the latter’s lack of political organization. But, the existing Tea Party groups (such as Tea Party Express) may give Santorum all the organization he needs to compete. If they publicly endorse Santorum in the coming days, look for his campaign to take off.
3. Newt Gingrich is back in his comfort zone: Newt as the peacemaker never really fit his temperament or his history. Based on his statements leading up to last night’s vote and his remarks after, it sounds as if Newt is going to happily stick around for as long as he can, if just to make life miserable for Romney. Lord knows hell hath no fury like a Gingrich crossed and it looks as if Mitt is about to discover that first hand.
4. The real “flavor of the month” was Ron Paul: No candidate needed a win in Iowa more than Paul. Although he tallied 21% of the vote, the stark reality is that among registered Republicans he only garnered 14%. This comes less than a week after leading all candidates among Republicans in Iowa. It seems once they became familiar with some of his zanier ideas and positions, GOP voters decided a man from Venus wasn’t their best option. Yes, Paul did well in bringing Democrats and independents in to vote for him and the fervor among his disciples is reminiscent of Obama in 2008, but his candidacy is basically over. Look for him to do well in New Hampshire’s open primary, then bolt to challenge Gary Johnson for the Libertarian Party nomination after getting whitewashed in South Carolina.
5. The key to the race is still held by Rick Perry: Perry is still officially in the race, although he has gone back to Texas to reexamine his candidacy. Politicians rarely return from self-imposed exile to resume a campaign. However, Perry still has the second largest war chest of any candidate and several PAC’s that were supporting him. Assuming he drops out of the race, the question is: does he keep his money for a potential bid in 2016, or throw that financial might behind a Santorum candidacy? Buoyed by Perry’s finances, Santorum becomes much more formidable – a fact that Perry, who harbors as much (if not more) animosity towards Romney as Gingrich should be all too aware of.
UPDATED 1:02PM: No sooner did I hit publish on this than I read this article from AP, insinuating Perry is going to continue at least through South Carolina. If that is the case (no confirmation yet one way or the other), than point number 5 becomes moot.
Here we go again. In four days, the nation is going to let a state representing 7 electoral votes set the tone for the quadrennial Presidential Election process. This state is hardly representative of the nation as a whole, either. The residents of Iowa have more disposable income than the rest of us. Demographically, Iowa is less ethnically diverse, less educated and more rural than the country in general. The state’s largest city, Des Moines, is ranked 106th in total population and 98th in population density – making it more a large suburb than an actual city.
Why do we do this? Why do we allow 1.2% of the nation’s populace decide the fate of the Unites States for the next four years? I can’t think of a particularly good reason. But I can think of a particularly good way to end the charade. Have all primaries conducted on the same day.
To be clear, I am NOT advocating for federal administration of primary elections. The states have done a fine job running them. If they would rather have the circus atmosphere of a caucus than an election, fine. If they want restrictive and onerous ballot rules, okay. This is directed at the national parties, who are responsible for creating the primary schedule and have perpetrated the insanity of allowing a very non-representative portion of the population to determine their candidates for President. (After Iowa comes New Hampshire, with its four electoral votes and even less representative of the nation).
But a National Primary Day does several things to help end the confusion common to Presidential primaries. First, it effectively ends the candidacy of people with marginal appeal. Let’s face it, by focusing all of their energies on one small state, some pretty marginal people have been able to enter the national conversation based on one position – only to fade into political oblivion. Mike Huckabee won Iowa, only to become a talk show host. Pat Buchanan used Iowa to re-energize a fading career as a political pundit. Howard Dean made plenty of noise in Iowa, only to become a punch-line on late night television. This year, can anyone really imagine that the race baiting history of a Ron Paul wouldn’t be a political albatross in states with more than a 5% minority population? Or that single issue candidates Michelle Bachmann or Rick Santorum would be players on a national stage?
Second, having all Presidential primaries contested at the same time would require candidates to create a national political organization. Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry were surprised by their inability to get on the Virginia primary ballot. Yet the underlying reason is their inability to properly organize. Gingrich can be excused, in a sense; his campaign is underfunded and was largely seen as a joke until last month (although, residing in Virginia probably means he should have understood the rules better than any other candidate). Perry, however, has oodles of money – more than anyone in the race not named Romney – and his inability is due simply to a lack of campaign oversight. Seriously, do we want a President who can’t organize well enough to ensure he’s on every state ballot? Or hire someone to do that for him? Making speeches is one thing, but ensuring the basics are attended to is an essential leadership trait. The United States federal government is a much larger enterprise than any political campaign. A candidate who can’t assume the responsibilities of Chief Executive of a political campaign certainly can’t be trusted to be the Chief Executive of the United States.
Finally, a National Primary Day ensures that every primary vote carries the same weight. The essential element is this: by giving various states an initial say in the nominating process, the citizens voting later have less input. Odds are that by the time “Super Tuesday” rolls around, the parties have already settled on a presumptive nominee. By the time I get to cast a ballot in June, the nominee has been decided – voting becomes nothing more than a pro forma exercise in civic responsibility. The effect, of course, is suppressed turnout in those states, which has dramatic effects on down ballot candidates and initiatives.
It is time to end the madness. Allowing the voters in Iowa (or New Hampshire) to have more input than voters in California (or us poor New Jerseyans) is one 19th century idea whose time has passed.
The Scarlet Knight to the Rescue?
The GOP is finally starting to get it’s act together. Some of the “headliners” are throwing their hats in the ring for the upcoming primaries. Over the past week, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul have officially launched campaigns. They join Herman Cain, Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum as officially declared candidates. By this evening we’ll know if Mike Huckabee is running and by the end of the month, we’ll have Donald Trump’s decision. Mitt Romney hasn’t officially declared yet, but he certainly acts as though he’s in the race. Then there are those who are playing coy and may yet run, such as Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Jon Huntsman and Buddy Roemer.
Color most rank-and-file Republicans unimpressed by their options. Each of the above carries significant baggage. The staunchest conservatives, such as Palin, Bachmann and Santorum, have negative ratings among the general electorate as high – or higher – than their positives and are generally considered “unelectable.” Romney and Gingrich are know commodities but known for the wrong reasons, namely, they change positions so often they’re perceived as standing for whatever will get them elected. Pawlenty and Huckabee are seen by many Republicans as not being conservative enough. Paul is a libertarian at heart; his stances on drug and foreign policy leave many Republicans cold. Everyone else in the race is a virtual unknown – except for Trump, who’s considered so Loony even Bugs Bunny wouldn’t vote for him.
So, the Republican base is still casting about for their dream candidate: someone who embodies conservative principles, wins in liberal regions and has the national name recognition needed if entering a national race. The names most often floated in conservative circles are Chris Christie and Mitch Daniels, governors of New Jersey and Indiana respectively, and Marco Rubio and Col. Allen West, Senator and Representative from Florida respectively. West would be a long-shot; while he meets the first two criteria, he doesn’t have national name recognition.
Of the remaining three, the rank-and-file and power brokers may be coalescing around one potential candidate in particular: Christie. Why Christie? He’s been on the national stage and fought many of the battles that others are now wading into. Public employee unions, school reform, budget reform; check, done all that. Additionally, his blunt speaking style and deft humor have drawn favorable comparisons to another Republican icon, Ronald Reagan. And like Reagan, regardless of where you align politically, the man is genuinely likable – the kind of guy the average Joe could picture himself having a beer with after a long day at work.
We’ll soon find out if the rubber is meeting the road here. A delegation of Iowa donors is coming to New Jersey at the end of the month to meet with Christie, presumably to persuade the New Jersey governor to enter the primary campaign. This is unique in recent political memory. Where once the primaries were mere formalities and the actual candidate was selected during the convention, that hasn’t been the case in a couple of generations. This could be the ultimate play for Christie, as well. He’s been adamant about not running for President, despite numerous speaking engagements around the country (including a memorable one in which he lambasted politicians for refusing to acknowledge the need to cut entitlement spending). But if he jumps in at the behest of party and country, then abandoning his first term could actually be cast as a positive: I didn’t want to, but was convinced the country needed me – and I can best serve my state by serving my country. Already, the establishment Republicans are lashing out at Christie, as evidenced by this article I came across. They know if he is in the race, then their chances are immediately dwarfed by a Tea Party darling.
Will Christie answer the siren song sung by the Iowans? Time will tell. And this story won’t be over before the convention, especially if the current field continues to uninspirationally march through the primaries and caucuses of 2012.
Don’t Bury Newt Yet
Florida Results Map
In the wake of the Florida primary, the general consensus among political commentators is that Newt Gingrich’s campaign is like a zombie – dead, but still walking around.
Not so fast.
Those pundits are basing their opinions on the headline numbers, which make Mitt Romney’s victory look far more impressive than it really is. Yes, Romney beat Gingrich by 14%; the split between women and men was decisive (4:1, according to exit polling). Romney carried every significant demographic group, except white men. He won among voters who decided early on in the campaign – some 40% of the electorate said they decided who to vote for last year, and Romney won 83% of those votes. Most importantly, Romney takes all 50 delegates from Florida, a significant coup at this early stage of the campaign. Further, Gingrich cannot reasonably expect to do more than tread water during February. Of the six states holding nominating contests this month, four should be easy wins for Romney (Nevada, Maine, Michigan and Minnesota), one seemingly leans his way (Colorado) and only one seems competitive (Arizona).
But here’s what the pundits are missing: underneath the headline numbers, Gingrich actually acquitted himself quite well in preparing for a Super Tuesday showdown. To understand why, first; consider the way the election has proceeded thus far; second, take a closer look at the election return map from Florida.
Each candidate has demonstrated an ability to attract a certain type of voter. Romney has found core support among moderate and establishment Republicans. Gingrich’s support has come from the Tea Party and those that describe themselves as staunch conservatives. Rick Santorum is the choice of social conservatives and Ron Paul of the very young. Those characterizations were borne out in the three contests leading up to Florida – and when you look into the results, there as well. The moderate region in the southeast corner of the state (Miami/Ft. Lauderdale/Palm Beach) and the I-4 corridor primarily fueled Romney’s win. Romney’s margin of victory was around 241,000 votes; he outpointed Gingrich by 123,000 in the five counties that best define the area (Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Orange and Hillsborough). Gingrich, on the other hand, easily won the conservative area of the state, loosely defined as the northeast corner and panhandle. In this, each replicated their wins in earlier contests – Gingrich in South Carolina, Romney in New Hampshire.
The best way to look at Florida is that it didn’t really settle anything. The deluge of advertising by Romney was able to firm up his support among his natural constituency but didn’t sway Gingrich’s base. Likewise, Gingrich’s attacks on Romney failed to persuade those who were predisposed to vote for the latter. The Republican Party has settled into two distinct factions, establishment and anti-establishment. As odd as it may be, the anti-establishment camp has settled on Newt Gingrich as their standard-bearer. And that doesn’t bode well for Mitt.
Why? Assuming some type of political bomb doesn’t explode between now and March 6th, Gingrich could conceivably wake up on March 7th with the lead in delegates. The math isn’t terribly difficult. There are 6 nominating contests in February, but they are relatively small states. Most are caucus states and all apportion their delegates, 183 in total for all 6. For good measure, both Paul and Santorum are going to campaign hard for delegates in the caucus states – those states represent a firewall for those candidates and their best opportunity to make a mark. So, assuming Romney wins 100 delegates in February (not far-fetched), that would give him 169 heading into Super Tuesday to Gingrich’s 80. But 11 states vote on March 6th, for a combined 466 delegates. What should trouble the Romney campaign (and by extension, the Republican establishment) is that of those 11 states, 7 of them have electorates that profile favorably for Gingrich. Those states combine for 293 delegates. Only two profile favorably for Romney, combining for a total of 58 delegates. 115 delegates will come from states that profile as toss-ups. It seems reasonable that each will capture large majorities of delegates in the states where they’re strongest, based on past history. If each captures 65% in those states, with the toss-ups splitting roughly equally, then the delegate count could easily be Gingrich 338, Romney 329, Paul 90. This is going on the big assumption that Paul stays in and Santorum drops out sometime in February. Based on the respective campaign finances and goals of those two (Santorum still sees himself as a contender, Paul seems resigned to leading a movement), it isn’t a huge assumption though.
What would a result along those lines mean for the Republican convention in August? Likely that it would be the first brokered convention in 64 years. Roughly 1/3 of the delegates are chosen by March 6th and extrapolating those results across the full party leaves no candidate with the 1174 needed for a first ballot victory. In fact, the two leaders would each be around 150 delegates short of securing the nomination. Besides being a dream come true for Paul (imagine Ron Paul holding kingmaker power in the Republican Party!), the personal animosity between Romney and Gingrich would boil over in a made-for-TV spectacular of epic proportions.
February 1, 2012 | Categories: Politics | Tags: core support, demographic group, election return, Florida, Florida Primary, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, political commentators, Rick Santorum | Leave a comment