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Republicans 2012: Anatomy of Defeat

Published on March 28, 2012 by: in: Politics

We are over the key moment of primary elections, that is the “Super Tuesday”, when people from ten American states simultaneously vote. Most often, during that day (at the very latest) the decision is actually made who will be nominated for a candidate of their party for the presidential elections. And if not, there remains a strong suggestion and the followers of other candidates slowly accept a defeat. Still, the Republicans, this year the only ones fighting in primaries, are in a much worse situation. The hitherto results have shown that none of the candidates taking part in the competition is capable of uniting different sections of “coalition” constituting the Republican electorate. This means that the final nominee shall be unable to activate the party’s entire basis in the proper November elections; especially as at that stage the fight generally concentrates on independent centre voters with moderate views (and researches show that these are exceptionally numerous in 2012). As a result the candidate shall be incapable of fighting effectively for the victory, which requires support of both the basis and the majority of independent voters.

photo: DonkeyHotey

photo: DonkeyHotey

It is hard to state unmistakably how many candidates count in Republican primaries. Beyond doubt three campaigns still exert an influence on the results in individual states. Out of the three, Newt Gingrich has unquestionably lost his chance for nomination and Rick Santorum’s chances are minimal. If it is so, why then Mitt Romney isn’t sure about the further turn of events? According to only too obvious sociological criteria the reason is a split in the Republican basis in these primaries. Romney has got a clear advantage in some of basis’ sections, while other sections still mostly reject his candidacy. The ex-governor of Massachusetts has to win them over, if he wants to stand a chance with president Obama, as these sections are crucial from the point of view of the party’s candidate for the president. Their activation in 2000 and 2004 brought the success, while their lukewarm attitude towards the right-wing nominee in 1996 and 2008 signified a defeat.

photo: New York Times

photo: New York Times

When we take a look at the map from the Internet service of NYT with the current primaries’ results (above) we shall note that the distribution of victories is zonal. Romney (blue colour) wins in both coasts’ states. Basically there, where in the proper elections strong are… Obama and the democrats. Exception to this rule (apart from Ohio and Florida, the states for which both parties always fight a very even battle) is a very slight shift of the zones’ borders in the west, where strong Mormon influence allowed Romney to win Wyoming and shall probably allow him to win Utah (currently a grey spot west from Nevada).  The states of the conservative South and centre of the country that most strongly support the Republicans constitute the zone where the red victories of Santorum abound. This candidate could presumably win also in both orange states, secured by Gingrich, but Georgia is the latter’s native land, and voting in neighbouring South Carolina took place before Santorum gained impetus.

So we can observe regularity: Romney loses in bastions of his own party, the great part of the basis perceives him as “not enough conservative” candidate. Santorum described him as “the most liberal candidate that Republicans have ever had” (surely he exaggerates, after all there was Ike Eisenhower, though you would have to dig in the past a little bit). Romney’s strength is such sections of the Republican electorate as: the richest voters, Republicans with moderate, close to centre views, not practising religion rigorously, but most of all those who (irrespective of views and sociology) when voting, refer to a calculation of chances for defeating Obama in November – indeed Romney is considered the most electable, even by a part of his opponents. Still, the Republican basis isn’t deficient in voters that think doctrinally or irrationally. Even if they are aware of the smaller chances of Santorum or Gingrich in clash with the democrat president, they vote for them for the sake of their radical conservatism. As a result strong conservative voters, religious fanatics, especially members of charismatic churches – “reborn in Christ” evangelicals, sympathizers with the Tea Party, as well as the poorest provincial Republicans representing blue collars support Santorum and, to a lesser degree, Gingrich.

So far it has been believed that the lack of unity in camps of his opponents within the same party was the favourite’s blessing in a disguise. There is not one, but two “anti-Romney” candidates. Theoretically, they should take one another’s supporters, and persistent continuing of campaigns by both should act in Romney’s favour. It isn’t really so, as the electorate opposing the favourite divides very unevenly. When Gingrich caught the wave, Santorum had a minor support and Gingrich was able to defeat Romney in the primaries in South Carolina. And when Romney spent colossal sums on a negative campaign against Gingrich, his electorate quickly switched to Santorum, and an opposite situation happened; but still from Romney’s point of view – quite similar: of the two opponents one still had enough potential to defeat him in conservative states, only now it was Santorum. What’s more, until the “Super Tuesday” both gentlemen helped each other a little bit. Gingrich practically gave the campaign a miss in such states as Colorado or Tennessee, as well as Ohio, where polls didn’t give him much chance, but his good result could take away Santorum’s chances, and so bring Romney the victory. The other way round, Santorum basically withdrew from Georgia. So these candidates didn’t block one another entirely. Romney counted on the fact that the situation in Alabama and Mississippi will become aggravated, where according to polls they all, Santorum, Gingrich and Romney, had a chance to win. He trusted that his opponents will share the anti-Romney votes evenly, and at last he will manage to win over the first state in the far South. It didn’t work out. Santorum got both states, extreme conservatives’ dislike for Romney turned out to be very strong. In both clashes Romney got the third place: almost equal division of anti-Romney votes could not save him, as they were so numerous.

What next? Despite this almost-a-stalemate, Santorum would have a real chance for nomination only under the condition that Gingrich should withdraw, as his obstinate carrying on has finally deprived him of e.g. victory in Ohio, and shall probably deprive him of next ones in further clashes. If Gingrich vacated the space, we would have a clear fight of two camps in the Republican Party, two conceptions of this party. If Gingrich continues to go on, the stalemate will last long and two scenarios will come into play. 1. An open convention, before which no candidate shall gain the absolute majority of the delegates and a need will emerge of party negotiations that may even select a nominee from beyond the set (names of Sarah Palin or Chris Christie are already mentioned)! 2. In the end Romney shall get the absolute majority of the delegates. On the other hand, it is a fact that Santorum is very weak apart from his most faithful, far right-wing electorate. One way or another, the party’s nominee will be remarkably beaten-up. Formally, Romney would be a candidate of the entire party, who still got the nomination thanks to less than 50% of votes in primaries and in the conservative South with a support of barely 25-28% of Republicans! Such candidate would be treated as a foreign body by the key part of the party’s basis.

It’s only March, opinion polls show that the president fighting for re-election enjoys a very slight percentage of positive opinions of his work. Nonetheless, even today one may risk making a prediction: Barack Obama shall be the president of the USA for the years 2013-17. (?) Question mark I place here is very small.

Translation: Alicja Bratkowska

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About Piotr Beniuszys

Piotr Beniuszys holds Master’s degree in sociology and political science; his views are to the right in economic issues, to the left in ethical and moral issues – i.e. liberal in both cases; the final chairman of Unia Wolności in Gdańsk, a former member of Democratic Party – demokraci.pl.

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