Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Onward: Downward Or Upward?

As expected, Mitt Romney won a clear victory in the Florida primary,
and by a margin similar to the one Newt Gingrich won in South Carolina.
Of course, Florida is a much larger and more diverse state, and this bodes
well for the former Massachusetts governor. He also continues to have a
decided advantage in cash and organization. But the contest is not quite
over; in fact, if former Speaker Newt Gingrich is to be taken at his word,
the contest might go on for some time.

There are now only four major candidates left in the Republican field.
It would seem now that only two of them could win the nomination. The
presence of the other two candidates is another advantage for Mr.
Romney, particularly Rick Santorum's continued candidacy since he
shares the "Anybody-But-Romney" constituency with Mr. Gingrich.

You could almost hear the sigh of relief from the so-called Republican
establishment last night. Some of them did not originally support Mr.
Romney, but Mr. Gingrich's candidacy has ironically brought them all
together under the rubric of "electability."

Mr. Gingrich could not disagree more with this view. He contends that
Mr. Romney cannot beat Mr. Obama, but that he can. So far, however,
the polls do not support the former speaker's contention.

In order to press on, Mr. Gingrich has edited down his campaign, always
filled with new ideas and perspectives, to populist, anti-establishment
themes that he intends to persuade religious and economic conservatives,
Tea Party supporters, and disaffected Democrats to join his side. The
conventional wisdom, reasserted after Florida, is that Mr. Romney's
nomination is now inevitable, and that Mr. Gingrich has once more
imploded in full view.

In the long term of this contest, that's more likely to be accurate, but in the
short term (that is, the next month or so until after Super Tuesday) it may
not be so. Right now, Mr. Santorum is Mr. Romney's unintended best
friend. As long as the former Pennsylvania senator is actively on the ballot
in upcoming primary and caucus states, it is problematic for Mr. Gingrich
to overtake Mr. Romney even if he makes another political comeback.
Mr. Santorum apparently believes that if he waits long enough, as he did in
Iowa, that he could outlast Mr. Gingrich as Mr. Romney's last challenger
standing. Anything is possible, but this more likely fits the category of
wishful thinking. (He may also want to have a place in an adminIstration
led by President Romney.)

Ron Paul's role in the remaining forty-plus primaries/caucuses is not likely
to change. He will receive a relatively small percentage of the popular vote,
as he did in Florida, occasionally spiking up a bit, especially in caucus
states. Many of his voters are voting Republican because he is in the race,
and it is not clear who would be helped most if he withdrew (which, almost
certainly, he will not do).

What we are going to see now is the grand spectacle of an all-out populist,
anti-establishment campaign from Mr Gingrich, one of the most talented
communication candidates of recent times. I am not suggesting he can
pull it off and be nominated in Tampa, but neither am I categorically saying
he cannot do it.

A lot of folks are mad at him, including his party's establishment (of which
he was once a prominent member) and along with Mr Romney and Mr.
Santorum, are saying nasty things about him. At the same time, he is attracting
some conservative grass roots voters who were for other candidates. Mr.
Gingrich is a rare phenomenon; on the one hand he is an intellectual and a
self-proclaimed visionary, and on the other he is a street fighter. Given his
knack for verbal fireworks, and self-implosions, the next several weeks will be,
as I have already said, a spectacle of high (and low?) order.

I, for one, am putting aside all the current manifestations of anger, rhetorical
emotions and various noisy compulsions to take sides.

I am just going to enjoy the show.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.

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