Sunday, Sep 26, 2021

Romney Calls on Gingrich and Santorum to Quit

During the campaign for the 1992 Democrat presidential nomination, a little known Arkansas governor named Bill Clinton said, "No one ever gains votes in a national election by going through the presidential primaries. They're designed to chew you up and spit you out." Bill Clinton should know. Widely publicized rumors about a personal scandal came close to sinking his presidential campaign that year, and required his wife, Hillary Clinton, to vouch for her husband's good character on national television in order to rescue him from a humiliating primary defeat in New Hampshire, and allow him to go on to win the nomination. Eventually, Clinton went on to defeat George H.W. Bush for re-election, by campaigning against the sluggish recovery of the US economy.

During this primary season, Republican front-runner, Mitt Romney is in much better shape than Clinton was then. He has now opened an insurmountable lead in the delegate count between himself and his two major remaining rivals for the nomination, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. So much so that he has been able to issue a credible call to those rivals to give up the fight for the sake of the party and the larger goal of defeating Barack Obama at the polls in November.

 

Many GOP party leaders too, are now eager to see the end of the viciously negative primary campaigning which has taken a toll on the popularity of all the GOP presidential candidates. The long primary campaign has given Obama and his re-election campaign a chance to repair their popularity, while gearing up for the general election which promises to be at least as dirty and mean-spirited as anything the Republicans have done to one another so far.

 

Any hopes GOP party leaders might have had that the fight for the nomination would be settled by the outcome of Super Tuesday last week proved unrealistic. Part of that was due to a change in party rules which did away with the practice of holding winner-take all primary contests. Instead, in most states, the delegates are being awarded on a proportional basis. This makes it much more difficult for any single candidate to gain a commanding lead in the delegate count early in the primary season.

 

In addition, the advent of the “independent” SuperPACs has made it possible for candidates to stay in the race based entirely on the support of even a single wealthy contributor willing to put up the money for campaign ads and organizations.

 

Finally, there is the growing influence of party conservatives in the outcome, including members of the religious right and supporters of the Tea Party movement, who are torn between their shared determination to defeat Barack Obama, and their desire to see him replaced in the White House by a candidate who shares their religious and social values.

 

HANDICAPPING THE REMAINING CANDIDATES

 

As the primary campaign has gone on, and the field has grown smaller, each surviving GOP candidate has gone to greater lengths to try to differentiate himself by appealing to the main interests of a particular GOP faction.

 

Romney is the exception to that rule, endorsing core Republican conservative values, while at the same time trying to retain his appeal to independent voters and working class Reagan Democrats. This has immediately marked him to the Obama campaign as potentially their most dangerous GOP foe in the November election.

 

Ron Paul has sought the support of the libertarian and isolationist fringes of the GOP with his iconoclastic opposition to traditional US foreign policy stands, including support for Israel, and a radical economic agenda calling for doing away with the Federal Reserve system and the income tax. As a result, Ron Paul was never really been considered to be a serious contender for the GOP nomination. He is in the race primarily to spread his ideology, while tweaking the noses of the party establishment.

 

GINGRICH’S GRUDGE AGAINST ROMNEY

 

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the most original thinker in the field, has campaigned mostly on the strength of his brilliant debate performances and his fund of original ideas on a broad range of campaign issues. This initially attracted a large number of conservatives to his cause. However Newt’s support has dwindled as his opponents have questioned his fitness to be president, past political associates have come forward to criticize him as unreliable, and party leaders have voiced fears of his tendency to get himself into trouble with one too many provocative statements. Gingrich’s candidacy is also driven in part by a personal animosity toward Romney, whom he has accused of using unfair and dishonest attack ads against him both before the Iowa caucuses and before the Florida primary.

 

Finally, there has been the Rick Santorum phenomenon. The rise of the deeply religious socially conservative former Pennsylvania senator, who was defeated by a huge margin for re-election to a third term in 2006, has become this amazing primary race’s latest surprise.

 

Santorum also deserves credit for making effective use of his sparse campaign resources. By picking and choosing his battles, running in states with large numbers of social conservatives who share his values, or where his opponents had decided not to actively compete, he has won a surprising number of victories with relatively little outside support. With victories in five states, Santorum is now in second place behind Romney in the overall GOP convention delegate count, and has surpassed Gingrich as the leading conservative in the race.

 

CONTRAST TO 2008

 

As a result, there is still an active 4-way race going on for the GOP presidential nomination. By contrast, in 2008, the race for the GOP nomination at this point was already over. It had been conceded to Senator John McCain because his lone surviving opponent, former Governor Mike Huckabee realized on March 4th, that he no longer had a chance to stop McCain from sealing the nomination by winning the Texas primary.

 

Of course, the race for the Democrat nomination in 2008 between Obama and Hillary Clinton lasted well into the spring, but in that case, there was very little difference between the positions of the two candidates on the main issues, and the Democrats later had little trouble uniting behind Obama for the general election.

 

TIME FOR THE GOP TO FOCUS ON THE COMMON ENEMY: OBAMA

 

This year, however, there is a real fear that the bruised feelings generated during the GOP primary campaign will not be healed so easily, and that Romney as the GOP candidate, may have trouble regenerating much of the original enthusiasm Republicans had for defeating Obama in November.

 

For this reason, many Republican leaders now believe that the key to victory in November, lies in resolving the primary race as quickly as possible. That would then allow the party to refocus its full attention on the common goal, defeating Obama and his bid for a second term.

 

The trick now is to persuade enough of the backers of Gingrich and Santorum that the race for the nomination is now essentially over. Due to Romney’s victories in 6 out of the 10 Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses last week, the contention is that Santorum and Gingrich have now fallen so far behind Romney in the convention delegate count that as a practical matter, neither one of them has any realistic hope of ever catching up.The only way that they could possibly stop him would be by combining to deny him an absolute majority of 1,144 GOP convention delegates on the first ballot, thereby creating the prospect of the first “brokered” national convention in more than half a century.

 

WHY A BROKERED CONVENTION WILL NEVER HAPPEN

 

Such a prospect, however, is a nightmare for GOP national leaders. They see it as a prescription for certain defeat in November. In coming weeks, therefore, party leaders are expected to join with the Romney campaign in an effort to get both Gingrich and Santorum to come to terms with Romney’s nomination as quickly as possible. They will argue that for the good of the nation and the party, the GOP must now begin the process of re-uniting the party and turning its full attention to defeating Obama, which now looks far more difficult than it did just a few months ago.

 

Last week, the Romney campaign began to make the argument that even if Santorum or Gingrich beat Romney in the majority of the remaining primaries and caucuses, it will be impossible, due to the proportional distribution of delegates, for either of them to overcome Romney’s commanding lead in the delegate count.

 

“Super Tuesday dramatically reduced the likelihood that any of Governor Romney’s opponents can obtain the Republican nomination,” Romney political director Rich Beeson wrote in a memo to reporters. “As Governor Romney’s opponents attempt to ignore the basic principles of math, the only person’s odds of winning they are increasing are President Obama’s.”

 

ROMNEY’S DELEGATE LEAD IS NOW INSURMOUNTABLE

 

The race for the nomination is very much like the US constitution’s electoral college system for selecting a president. In each case, the total nationwide or individual statewide popular vote is irrelevant.

 

The winner of the presidential nomination is determined by the pledged delegate count at the national convention. Delegates are assigned to the contestants in the caucuses and primaries according to each state’s own rules.

 

With the 211 candidates he won on Super Tuesday, thanks to his victories in Alaska, Idaho, Massachusetts, Ohio, Vermont and Virginia, Romney has 415 delegates, more than twice the number of his closest rival, Santorum, with 176 delegates. Gingrich is even further back, with just 105 delegates thanks mostly to his victories in South Carolina and his native Georgia. Finally, Ron Paul is even further behind in the delegate count.

 

Meanwhile there are only four contests left with “winner-take-all” rules, in which one candidate wins every delegate at stake. However, in all four of them, Delaware, the District of Columbia, New Jersey and Utah, Romney now appears to hold the lead, meaning that his current delegate advantage is likely to grow rather than shrink in the months ahead.

 

As a result, Professor Josh Putnam of Davidson College, an independent expert on the Republican primary process, agrees with the Romney campaign’s analysis. “Delegate-wise, it’s virtually impossible for Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich to get to 1,144,” he said last week after analyzing the results from Super Tuesday.

 

WHY ROMNEY GAVE UP EARLY IN 2008

 

Romney faced much the same situation in the 2008 campaign. After spending over $20 million of his own money to finance his nomination campaign, he made his own analysis after studying the relative delegate counts and state projections, and decided to drop out of that campaign in early February in favor of McCain, the eventual nominee.

 

But Santorum and Gingrich have different motivations for their candidacies. In Gingrich’s case, he is still carrying a grudge from his defeat by Romney in Florida, and in Santorum’s case, he has cast his candidacy as a quasi-religious quest.

 

Not surprisingly, the initial reactions of both the Gingrich and the Santorum campaigns to Romney’s call for them to step aside, was rejection.

 

Neither campaign was able to make a detailed case to show that the projections of delegate counts compiled by Romney’s staff were wrong. Yet, they still weren’t willing to give up. Each pointed to the fact that they were expecting to score more victories in the Kansas caucuses over the weekend, which Santorum won easily, and in Alabama and Mississippi, which took place on Tuesday.

 

SANTORUM AND GINGRICH REFUSE TO THROW IN THE TOWEL

 

Santorum responded to the request that he give up his quest for the nomination with anger. “What won’t they resort to, [trying] to bully their way through this race?” he asked last week in answer to Romney’s suggestion that he get out of the race. Santorum then issued a challenge of his own, declaring that, “if the governor thinks he’s now ordained by G-d to win, then let’s just have it out.”

 

Gingrich defended his decision to stay in the race despite Romney’s lead in the delegate count by insisting that Romney still isn’t up to the challenge of beating Obama in November.

 

“I believe it is going to be impossible for a moderate to win the general election,” Gingrich told supporters in Montgomery, Alabama. “We tried it in 1996, and it didn’t work. We tried it in 2008, and it didn’t work.”

 

While the Romney campaign freely admitted that Gingrich and Santorum were favored to do well in Kansas, Alabama and Mississippi, they noted that at the same time Romney expected to add to his delegate lead with victories in caucuses being held at the same time in places like Guam, the US Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa and Hawaii, where neither Santorum nor Gingrich had virtually any organization on the ground.

 

Romney’s campaign is also confident of victory in several of the upcoming primaries and caucuses in late March and April. He is expected to do well in the Illinois primary on March 20, in Maryland, the District of Columbia and Wisconsin, on April 3, and Connecticut, Delaware, New York and Rhode island on April 24, while Santorum is favored that same day in the primary in his native Pennsylvania..

 

ROMNEY’S ORGANIZATIONAL ADVANTAGE

 

Another crucial advantage for Romney in this race has been his superior campaign organization. It alone, among the surviving GOP organizations, seems capable of taking on Obama’s re-election campaign on something like equal terms in November. With Obama expecting to run a billion dollar re-election campaign, using many of the same seasoned Chicago political professionals who shepherded him to victory in 2008, the GOP will need the well-organized and funded Romney political brain trust which has successfully guided his strategy in this campaign so far.

 

While Gingrich and Santorum have sometimes succeeded in beating Romney in debates, in terms of campaign organization, it has been no contest. That became evident on Super Tuesday, when neither Gingrich nor Santorum were able to meet the requirements to appear on the Virginia primary ballot, and Santorum lost some delegates in Ohio because he failed to register a full delegate slate in the Ohio districts where he won the popular vote in the primary.

 

The only GOP campaign which seems to be equally well organized is Ron Paul’s operation. However, he has his own ideological agenda, and has candidly admitted that his chances of actually winning the GOP nomination have always been “slim.”

 

GOP CONSENSUS FORMING: TIME TO BACK ROMNEY NOW

 

While the Gingrich and Santorum campaigns may still be in denial about Romney’s advantages in a general election against Obama, most Republican elected officials across the country have now accepted it. Most now of them now believe that quick acceptance of Romney as the party’s inevitable nominee is the best way to maximize the party’s chances for victory in November, not only at the top of the ticket, but also in the state and local elections up and down the ballots across the country.

 

Romney has long been seen in this race as the favorite candidate of the party establishment. That, in part, explains why so many Tea Party activists have been reluctant to endorse him until now.

 

But in the aftermath of Romney’s Super Tuesday victories, a number of prominent national Republican names have now jumped on his campaign bandwagon. These include Senator Roy Blunt, of Missouri, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, of Virginia., and Senator. Tom Coburn, of Oklahoma.

 

ROMNEY STILL FLAWED, BUT IMPROVED

 

They do not necessarily think that Romney will make the perfect GOP candidate. Far from it. The rough and tumble of the primary campaign has revealed some of Romney’s flaws. He still has trouble connecting solidly with the party’s conservative voter base. Some of his unguarded comments reflecting his great personal wealth have interfered with his ability to win over working class voters.

 

Yet despite all that, Romney is a far more effective politician today than he was when he first ran for president four years ago, or even last year, when he entered this race. He is far more comfortable in debates now, and is capable of holding his own on a debate stage even against the likes of Newt Gingrich, who rightfully boasts of his skill as one of the most effective debaters of this generation.

 

Romney is also much more effective at getting across his message today on the campaign stump, and in broadcast interviews than he was before. He has learned from his mistakes, and has now developed more effective answers to some of the most troubling questions surrounding his candidacy such as the similarities between his Massachusetts health care plan, and how he earned his personal fortune as a successful venture capitalist.

 

WHY PARTY LEADERS ARE REJECTING GINGRICH AND SANTORUM

 

By contrast, most senior GOP officials still harbor an active dislike for Newt Gingrich, going back to his days as Speaker of the House. They also fear that Rick Santorum’s rigid code of religious social conservatism will turn off too many independent voters in the general election, despite his strong appeal in the GOP primaries to evangelicals, Tea Party activists and working-class Reagan Democrats turned off by Obama’s elitist policies..

 

Of the three, Romney is the one judged most likely to succeed in November. Nevertheless, GOP elected officials don’t want to get too far out in front of the party’s conservative base in reaching that conclusion and making a public endorsement.

 

GIVING ROMNEY THE CREDIT HE DESERVES

 

While most of the media attention over the past three months has been focused on Santorum and Gingrich as the underdogs in this primary campaign, Romney and his staff have yet to receive the credit they deserve for his impressive string of primary and caucus victories. This is especially true for his victories in Florida, Washington State and Ohio, where he had to come from behind in the early polls to defeat one of his main opponents.

 

As far as Romney’s primary defeats are concerned, his campaign can argue that no presidential nominee ever goes through a primary season undefeated, and that all front runners sooner or later do stumble. The key question then is can they pick themselves up, learn from their mistakes, and become a better candidate as a result? In Romney’s case the answer to that question, too, is clearly yes.

 

After losing in South Carolina to Gingrich largely because of the former Speaker’s superior debate performance, Romney came back, less than 2 weeks later, to defeat Gingrich in the Florida debates.

 

Romney has not lost a single one of his “must-win” contests in the nomination battle – which is another measure of a superior candidacy. He won impressive victories in Florida and New Hampshire, and by closer margins in Michigan and Ohio. He also performed much better than most people originally expected he would, in conservative Iowa, coming within a handful of votes of beating Rick Santorum.

 

His critics complain that his come-from-behind wins have been ugly, the result of a deluge of negative advertising. But in the fall, as the Republican nominee, Romney can expect exactly the same treatment from the Obama re-election campaign, and in that case, he certainly will be well qualified to fight fire with fire.

 

It is true that Romney has struggled when campaigning in parts of the South. He has also seemed out of touch, at times, with working class voters. But on both scores, he can be expected to do better than Obama, whose elitism in the past has made it difficult for him to appeal effectively to those same voter constituencies.

 

Equally important, both Romney and his advisers have shown the rare quality of political resiliency. Their ability to make mid-course corrections during campaigns has been crucial to enabling him to come from behind and win.

 

SUPPORT FOR THE OTHERS WILL START TO DRY UP

 

While Santorum and Gingrich may remain optimistic, in the end, whether or not they can continue their campaigns is not their call to make. They are both dependent upon wealthy conservative donors who have poured money into the Super PACs. They have also relied upon local elected Republican officials across the country who have endorsed them and given them the access to their local political supporters.

 

Steve Schmidt, the political strategist who ran day-to-day operations for John McCain presidential campaign in 2008 predicts that, “the next couple of weeks will be dominated by different groups of people accepting reality, which is that Mitt Romney will be the nominee.”

 

For example, Republican Senator Rob Portman, of Ohio has begun to tell his Senate colleagues, “I think it’s time for us to start coalescing around a candidate who can focus on the Democrats instead of Republicans attacking each other.”

 

As GOP party leaders and wealthy campaign donors begin to accept the inevitability of Romney’s nomination, much of the support for Santorum and Gingrich will start drying up, and at some point, they will have to face the fact that they no longer have the resources needed to continue with their campaigns.

 

WILL ROMNEY HAVE TIME TO RECOVER?

 

Whether that will happen soon enough to allow Romney to recuperate from the damage already done to his candidacy by his primary rivals is a matter of some debate. GOP strategist Karl Rove argues that it is still too soon to say how much impact the primaries will have on Romney’s prospects against Obama in November.

 

In the end, despite the deterioration in Romney’s approval ratings with Hispanics and independents, along with the recent boost Obama has enjoyed due to the recovery of the jobs market, political professionals are still predicting a very close election in November. Romney is weaker, and Obama is stronger, but overall, the president is still clearly vulnerable.

 

Obama’s job approval numbers are still no better than mediocre. While he is looking stronger today than he did a few months ago, Romney is still narrowly in the lead, or virtually tied with Obama in the national head-to-head polls, especially in some of the key battleground states which are expected to determine the winner of the presidential election.

 

Romney’s supporters expect his popularity to bounce back rapidly, once he is freed of the need to answer his Republican rivals, enabling him to concentrate once again on attacking Obama and his record.

 

Many Democrat political analysts are also expecting Romney to shift toward the political center in order to recapture some of his recently lost independent support, and are therefore cautioning their party leaders against overconfidence.

 

OUTSIDE FACTORS COULD STILL DETERMINE THE OUTCOME

 

A lot can change, and probably will, in the presidential race between now and November. The election could be decided by outside forces and events, such as a sharp rise in the price of gasoline, a war between Israel and Iran, the explosion of the sovereign debt crisis in Europe, or a stalling of the current US economic recovery.

 

Putting aside all of the outside factors, the presidential election could still be decided by which candidate runs a better campaign, which one can best catch and respond to the moods and concerns of the country and be able to react more effectively to the moves of his opponent.

 

Certainly, Mitt Romney today is much better at all three than he was before the primary race began last year. Despite the painful setbacks he has endured, he may yet look back at the GOP nomination campaign as a valuable training experience to prepare him for the bigger challenges yet to come.

 

The Washington Post and Bloomberg News contributed to this story.

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