The latest in a seemingly endless series of state by state elections to select a Republican Presidential candidate occurred in the United States on Tuesday night. The voting from the three states provided some remarkable outcomes, two clear losers and one obvious winner.
With the three elections held in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri the race for the nomination has again been thrown into disarray for any candidate from Massachusetts hoping for a smooth coronation. Rather than continue the much sought-for momentum following his win in Florida, Mitt Romney has once again proved singularly unable to appeal to the conservative base in sufficient numbers and to put together a string of successes that would be force his opponents to pack up their tents, get in line and back his candidacy. Tuesday night’s sweep of Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri by Rick Santorum was surprising for any number of reasons; firstly, the audacity of taking all three; secondly, the margin of victory in Colorado; third, the fact that Romney couldn’t even muster a second place finish in Minnesota…I could go on and on.
What it demonstrated is the inability of the Romney campaign to adequately court the Republican grass roots electorate. Sure, he may have greased the tracks and played footsie with the money men required to put anorganisation in place that can deliver huge states like Florida, but what is becoming apparent is that the run-of-the-mill Republican voters simply don’t care for Mitt Romney to the degree that they should in order for him to have a chance in November. His decision to appear at large rallies, surrounded by Secret Service agents, apparently convinced that he already is the candidate, is further alienating potential supporters. Once more the ‘anyone but Romney’ candidate won the night. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that it wasn’t Newt Gingrich who, after South Carolina, had seemed set to be a strong challenger to Mitt Romney. His inability to win Florida, despite his blatant attempt to court the Space Coast vote with his promise of Moon Base Gingrich, appears to be hurting him across the country. His failure to challenge in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri is an indictment of his claim to be a national candidate. Gingrich had recently called on Santorum to stand down and support his claim to the true conservative alternative to Romney. Now, however, the reverse could be claimed. The Republican electorate aren’t falling over themselves to vote for Romney, but the opposition is split between Santorum, Ron Paul and Gingrich. As long as that remains the case, Romney has a good chance of winning the nomination despite himself, with an average 55-65 percent of Republican voters favouring anyone else.
The flawed logic and inflated egos of his opponents could do more for Romney than anything else. Let’s consider this result in a little more detail: Four years ago Romney won Colorado with 60 percent of the vote, compared to John McCain’s paltry 19 percent. Last night he managed 34.9 percent.
Likewise, Romney won Minnesota in 2008 and came third last night on 16.9 percent, behind Santorum and Ron Paul. Dress this up how you will, but no matter how hard you try, it was a shocking night for the Romney campaign, whose record to date is two wins from seven elections. On results alone, Santorum is ahead with four wins from seven. So why isn’t this article more about Rick Santorum, I hear you ask? Well, he is his own main obstacle to the nomination in my opinion, a trait that he shares with his fellow would-be nominees. Romney is too rich, too remote and too moderate; Gingrich is too verbose (to defeat Gingrich simply give him a microphone and as much airtime as he wants, stand back and wait...) Ron Paul is simply too far removed from the mainstream of the party and appears to be operating in his own dimension. Ultimately, Santorum is not the candidate he thinks he is or needs to be to win this thing. To defeat Obama, the Republicans need to portray the president as Jimmy Carter.
This in itself is not beyond imagination.
To do so, however, the GOP need a Ronald Reagan to challenge him. Santorum is no Ronald Reagan. This approach is also based on a flawed perspective, for it was not only Ronald Reagan that defeated Carter; he was given a large helping hand by that most unexpected ally, Senator Ted Kennedy who did much to weaken Carter in the primaries. Carter’s re-election campaign, therefore, was derailed long before Reagan emerged as the Republican challenger and this brings us to last night’s big winner: Barack Obama. Obama’s big victory, I suggest, will come not in November, but has already occurred in avoiding an internal challenger.
Whoever he faces in November will have been weakened by his party members and forced to spend money on defending themselves from internal opponents. They will also face the $2 billion that Obama plans to raise to win re-election. So there you have it: three states, two losers (Romney and Gingrich) and one big winner: the President of the United States.