Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Republican Presidential Primaries 2012: A Personal Reflection

by Simon Lemieux
Presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney
For the uninitiated in US politics, every four years there is the national Presidential election which is preceded by another set of elections by which the political parties select their candidate. The majority of states use direct elections called primaries, while a few mainly smaller states, use a more informal series of meetings called caucuses, As President Obama did not face any rivals for the post of Democrat candidate, all political eyes and wagers were on the Republicans and who their choice would be.
Therefore as the old Sinatra song goes, ‘The end is near’, and the Republican (Grand Old Party or GOP for short) contest to select their candidate has come to an end. On 29th May 2012 it was confirmed: following his emphatic win in the Texas Republican primary, Mitt Romney will go on to be ‘crowned’ the official GOP candidate at the party’s convention in Tampa, Florida at the end of August. Securing 1480 delegates, he easily broke through the threshold of 1144 needed to secure the nomination. So much for the raw results, the rest of this blogpiece will deal with some of the reasons why Romney was able to win, plus a few general comments about the nature and some novelties of this primary campaign.
Firstly it might be helpful to point out a few reasons why at first glance, Romney ought not to have won the 2012 Republican nomination. Firstly in a party where the religious right holds considerable sway and influence, Romney is a Mormon. Again for the religiously uninitiated, the Mormons are generally regarded as sect rather than as fellow believers by most mainstream Christians, perhaps particularly so by those on the evangelical ‘born again’ spectrum of Christianity who comprise the ‘religious right’ in the USA. Secondly, in a party whose base is increasingly focused on the South, Romney hails from the north east having served as Governor of Massachusetts from 2003-2007. Finally, the Republican Party has become increasingly ‘pure’ ideologically in recent years, a trend enhanced by the arrival of the Tea Party movement. Yet Romney has consistently been accused of being a ‘flip-flopper’ – someone who frequently changes his beliefs and policies. Hardly easy therefore to see him as a ‘true believer’ in both senses of the word. So where did it all go right for Romney in 2012?
Firstly he had experience, having run unsuccessfully for the nomination in 2008 losing out to John McCain. One could say therefore he already had a ‘practice run’ not least in fund-raising having raised $65.2m by March 2008 about $10m less than McCain by that stage. This leads on to the second point, money. Put simply, Romney out-spent, out organised and out-advertised his opponents. According to the New York Times, by March 2012 he had raised $87.5m compared to $35.9m for Ron Paul, $22.5 for Newt Gingrich and $20.6m for Rick Santorum. The arrival of super-PACs as a direct result of the 2010 judgement in v. FEC case heard in a Court of Appeals in 2010 following on from the better known Supreme Court decision Citizens United vs FEC, helped all the major GOP contenders, but helped Romney the most. His super PAC ‘Restore Our Future’ was off the mark quickly and ran some effective ‘attack-ads’ on his opponents such as the anti-Gingrich ‘Baggage’ ad. An early backer of Restore Our Future was Larry McCarthy who had helped devise the infamous Willie Horton ad in the 1988 Presidential campaign, which attacked Bush Senior’s Democrat opponent Dukakis as being soft on crime.
See Romney's anti-Gingrich "Baggage" ad here (remember --- these guys are in the same party!

At this stage, it should also be pointed out that the Republican Party had somewhat changed the rules this time round compared to 2008.  States were encouraged to award delegates proportionately, and the timings of primaries and caucuses were adjusted to reflect this. Aside from the four traditional ‘early  states’ (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina), the next tranche of elections was reserved for those states that agreed to award their delegates proportionately, with the ‘winner takes all’ states bringing up the rear. Such a pattern not only curtailed ‘frontloading’ but also prolonged the contest thus aiding the candidates with better organisation and deeper purses. Another advantage for Mitt….
But it was not just finances and superior organisation that that helped Mitt to win it, the ‘electability’ aspect also has to be reckoned with. Rather like another ‘untypical’ candidate namely Obama in the 2008 Democrat primaries, Romney showed he could win in a wide variety of states. True he only managed a dead heat with Santorum in Iowa, but went on to secure convincing victories in states as diverse as Texas, Florida, South Dakota and Virginia plus of course a virtual clean sweep of the north eastern states. By contrast his closest rivals, Gingrich and Santorum only won a handful of states mainly in the south and none of them delivering the high delegate tallies of New York and California which were other Romney victories.
No account of the primary campaign would be complete though without some account being taken of the weaknesses of Romney’s opponents. From a field of twelve starters, some quickly fell by the wayside such as ex-Governor of Louisiana, Buddy Roemer, who went on to seek (and failed) to secure the Reform Party presidential nomination. Incidentally, Roemer had previously been a Democrat Congressman who switched to the GOP midway through his governorship showing how lightly party labels can be worn in the USA! Among the more promising early starters, Rick Perry Governor of Texas managed to rule himself out after an infamous televised debate when he consistently failed to recall the third federal agency he would abolish along with Education and Commerce – for the record it was Energy. Veteran US political commentator Larry Sabato noted “To my memory, Perry’s forgetfulness is the most devastating moment of any modern primary debate,” Mind you there was the quirky little sub-plot too, that Perry’s family had leased a ranch which for a long time after retained its old name of ‘Niggerhead’ – a claim he strongly disputed, claiming the offensive name had been painted out (whitewashed?!) long ago.
See Perry's memory lapse, here:

Then there was Herman Cain, the pizza tycoon and one of that fairly rare breed, a Republican African American. Never having held elected public office, he briefly seem posed to build momentum as the anti-establishment candidate until that is unproven allegations of sexual harassment surfaced. The Tea Party favourite at the start was Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, winner of Iowa’s Ames straw poll. But after a few early undistinguished performances in debates, and a subsequent humiliation in the actual Iowa caucus, she too faded into the sunset. So then there were three rivals left. The quirky Texas libertarian Ron Paul, the thrice married ex House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Catholic and staunch conservative ex-senator Rick Santorum. None managed to provide a credible enough campaign for Republican conservatives to unite behind. As this contest was always going to be about whom if anyone might be strong enough from the conservative wing of the party to defeat Romney, the answer proved to be no one. The other point to make is those credible candidates who decided not to throw their hat into the ring this time round. Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush, Haley Barbour and Chris Christie all fall into this camp. If Obama secures re-election in November, watch out for these names in 2015/2016.
See Herman Cain's intriguing "smoking ad" here (watch it to the end!):

The main omission in this survey has been policy. And this proves the point in the title – the debate amongst Republicans has not in all honesty focused that much on policy differences. Mitt Romney has not done anything daft here and hence arguably has done enough. He has swallowed the key tests for the Republican ‘core’. In 2012 these include: staunch opposition to Obamacare, hostility to gay marriage, reducing government spending, and finally upholding the rights of gun-owners and foetuses alike. As Michael Wissot in The Guardian observed, one of Romney's best responses in the GOP debates was:
"This(Obama) is a president who fundamentally believes that this next century is the post American century; perhaps it's going to be the Chinese century. He is wrong. It has to be the American century."
With such sure-footed bland patriotic musings, one can see that in the end, Romney’s triumph really was one of organisation over substance.
Interested in taking it further, check out these links to some of the interesting campaign ads that appeared during the Republican primaries, and also Perry’s painful performance in one of the televised debates.
Enjoy, and as they say across the pond, have a nice day!

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