The Republican nomination process was supposed to be a done deal by now. Mitt Romney was by now to have for all practical purposes secured the nomination. It hasn’t been that way. After an advertised win that was not really a win in Iowa Romney went on to win on his home turf in New Hampshire. Then things came apart. A series of gaffes led to a strong win by Newt Gingrich in South Carolina. Then Romney clobbered Gingrich with negative ads in Florida and Gingrich added to the meltdown by two lack luster debate performances. Romney’s win in Florida made it look like he had seized control of the race. Romney quickly picked up the endorsement of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) and a narrow and disputed win in the Maine Caucuses over Ron Paul and a win in Nevada. However that did not last as Rick Santorum stormed to victory in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri. Those defeats sent the Romney campaign which had just seemed to have recovered some momentum int a near panic.
The Romney camp spent an anxious two weeks before the upcoming Arizona and Michigan primaries. Santorum continued to surge during these two weeks and for a couple of days began to poll ahead of Romney in that state. The two campaigns bombard each other aided by the attacks of Newt Gingrich and Ton Paul on the front runners. Santorum then departed from his emphasis on the economy and understanding of blue collar family concerns which contrasted sharply with Romney’s inability to connect on these subjects. Santorum turned the conversation to conservative social and moral issues and made some comments which probably took his numbers down in Michigan. I think that the key mistake for Santorum was his comment that President John F. Kennedy’s religious freedom speech had made him “want to vomit” accusing the late President of promoting an absolute separation of church and state that denies religious people and churches access to the public square and debate. It was a terrible misrepresentation of Kennedy’s speech and plays to a certain paranoia in the conservative Evangelical Christian and Catholic base.
Romney easily won Arizona with the conservative vote being divided by Santorum and Newt Gingrich who improved his showing in that state. However Romney won Michigan and won the Roman Catholic vote showing a weakness in Santorum’s strategy to go after moral issues that may lay Catholics even have problems with. At the same time even though Romney won the popular vote by about 3% he split the delegates 15-15 giving Santorum a claim to have at least tied Romney in Michigan.
Romney stopped the bleeding and won what were described as “must win” states. However the post primary speeches revealed just how tenuous Romney’s wins were. Santorum closed the night with a passionate speech in which he attacked Romney and President Obama and looked like he was trying to cover some to the damage he had done over the past few days by focusing almost exclusively on moral and social issues where he already has the support of the conservative GOP base.
Romney made a speech that showed little passion and looked to me to be like a businessman trying to close the deal rather than a passionate believer in his cause. Saturday is the Washington Caucuses and next week is Super Tuesday. I expect that Romney, Santorum and Gingrich will all have wins, just who wins what states and how big those wins are could define the next stage of the campaign. But even more importantly it is how badly the candidates continue to damage each other will drive the narrative going into the later primary season. This could also effect their fundraising support and possibly increase the calls for another candidate at a brokered convention.
I expect that all four candidates will remain in the race and do whatever they can to gather delegates and seize the momentum. Into this mix the national GOP including major leaders are beginning to wonder what the primary campaign is doing to their chances of winning in November. When people like Jeb Bush, Sarah Palin and others question the viability of their field in a general election it is time for the GOP to wake up.
The race continues and my prediction is that the GOP fratricide will continue and that if it does the chances of the party winning in November will go down with them. I think that at this point barring reconciliation and a true united front in the GOP before the convention that any nominee that they field will be damaged goods and despite the obvious weakness of President Obama and the economy stand a diminished chance of winning in November. Democrats should not rejoice and count they’re chickens before they are hatched because they can still lose the election especially if the economy gets worse. However, if the inter-GOP civil war continues they stand an excellent chance of losing an election that even a few months ago I assumed as did many others was theirs for the taking.
It shall be interesting.