Can Romney beat Gingrich, & win the White House? And will this actually matter?

Posted by Alexander Hay

Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney doesn't sound like the sort of man who should be feeling hard done-by

From left to right - Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich & Mitt Romney - handsome beasts all (Image C/O DONKEYHOTEY @ FLICKR)As his once elusive tax records suggest, now finally released under great pressure, he's worth $42.5 million a year and has had a long successful career as both a businessman and politician

And yet fate, or at least the Tea Party, has been out to get him. Quite apart from being a Mormon (which puts him on the same level as Satanists in the eyes of some Republicans) his politics have not always been as hard right or as furious as the radicalised Republicans would have wished of late.

Being a former governor of a very liberal state (Massachusetts) where he implemented a semi-nationalised health insurance scheme that is uncannily close to the hated Obamacare, he may have something of a problem.

Nonetheless, and beyond his religion and the unpardonable sin of trying to keep in with his electorate, Romney otherwise meets all the requirements of an establishment Republican candidate - being rather stuffy, middle aged, upright, white and rich.

This causes problems however, as the more strident elements of the party demand a radical who would indulge their whims and govern in a state of perpetual conflict with everyone and everything.

So it is that the 2012 Republican Primaries have been dominated by two factions - one of which is trying to get Mitt Romney chosen to run against President Barack Obama, and the other which is determined to stop him at all costs.

The latter has been considerably unsuccessful so far, mainly because the candidates it chooses just so happens to be the kind who only radical Red State conservatives would take seriously, minor matters like electability and appealing to the centre ground having long since been jettisoned.

Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry... All seized upon by the Republican's very own Militant Tendency, only to be exposed as absurd and unelectable by precisely being the sort of people the Tea Party would vote for.

The last, great white hope is, or rather was, Newt Gingrich, an old hand who can claim to have destroyed Bill Clinton's second term, can make all the right noises to the faithful, can bluster the public into submission and generally act like a radio shock jock.

Sadly, this is the same Newt Gingrich who is guilty of gross hypocrisy, abandoning one wife while she was seriously ill with cancer, was fined by the House Ethics committee for improper business links, seriously advocates building a base on the moon in the middle of a worldwide economic crisis, and panders to racists, creationists, Islamophobes and homophobes. Oh, and Sarah Palin. Despite his obvious charisma and intelligence, which sets him apart from the rest of the Stop-Mitt contestants, he is far too much like a caricature of a right-wing politician, made flesh.

All of which caught up with him at last week's debate in Florida, a crucial win for any would-be Republican President:

Mitt Romney has regained his frontrunner status in the Florida primary, according to a new poll from Quinnipiac University.

The poll shows that, even before Thursday’s debate in which Romney appeared to get the better of Newt Gingrich, the former Massachusetts governor had opened up a substantial lead in the state’s primary Tuesday.

It gives Romney a 9-point lead, 38 percent to 29 percent, and suggests a troubling trajectory for Gingrich’s campaign. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum follow at 14 percent and 12 percent, respectively...

In this sense, Gingrich is simply following the pattern set by previous wannabe Romney-Slayers - having made an initial splash, his momentum has slowed the moment the media (and those much ignored rational elements amongst Republican voters) take a long hard look at him. It didn't help that his victory last week in South Carolina shocked Romney into finally putting some spine into his campaign - and lead to him decisively routing his opponent in last night's debate:

...The most memorable exchanges of the night came when Gingrich clashed with Romney over illegal immigration, an emotive issue in Florida, which has the third largest Latino population in America.

The exchanges centred on an ad Gingrich put out describing Romney as 'anti-immigrant'. Gingrich withdrew the ad on Wednesday after leading Latino Republican politicians described it as offensive, but in the debate he stood by it.

Romney called on Gingrich to apologise, describing the ad as "inexcusable and inflammatory and inappropriate", unusual language for the normally buttoned-up candidate.

He said it was "simply the kind of over-the-top rhetoric that has characterised American politics for too long"...

Students of politics will no doubt note the dramatic irony of Gingrich getting trounced by not being right wing enough, and note also that Romney's underrated ability to suck up to his audiences' prejudices will probably win him the nomination.

And yet, it may ultimately not matter:

The pace of US economic growth increased in the three months to December, according to new figures.

The economy grew at an annualised rate of 2.8%, the Commerce Department said...

...The pace of consumer spending picked up to 2% from 1.7% in the previous quarter.

Much of this was attributed to an increase in sales of new cars, which rose by 14.8% over the quarter...

...The latest US jobs data showed that the unemployment rate dropped to 8.5% in December - the lowest rate in nearly three years - from 8.7% the month before. The Fed believes the rate will drop to 8.2% this year.

Modest though these gains are, they still suggest an upward trend for Obama, whose policies appear to be paying off - at least for now. Combine this with his ongoing success in military adventures while simultaneously retreating from America's most ruinous wars, and he need only avoid making any mistakes to win his second term.

Romney, meanwhile, faces many obstacles - winning over the political centre just when it seems the current President is delivering on his promises, convincing his own party to support him, somehow winning over the Christian right and - worst of all - having to somehow tame and placate the Tea Party, which will no doubt be furious that one of the establishment is standing in place of 'their' candidate.

Needless to say, the Republicans will spend decades mourning the day they let the Tea Party take hold, leaving them unable to provide a credible candidate. But perhaps the truth was that they couldn't have won in any case. Instead, they seem to have chosen to lose in the most humiliating, brand-damaging way possible.


[SOURCES: Washington Post, The Guardian & BBC]

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Alexander Hay

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