Does the Right Really Want to Beat Obama? Maybe Not
How badly do the sugar daddies of the right wing want to beat Barack Obama in November? Apparently, not enough. How else to explain the jumble of conflicting results emerging from the 10-state Super Tuesday Republican presidential primary/caucus slalom, in which former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney won at least five states, former U.S. senator Rick Santorum took three, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich won a major prize -- his home state of Georgia?
Surely, if the moneybags of the right -- say, the Kochs and the DeVoses and the Adelsons -- really wanted to defeat Barack Obama, they'd get together in a war room somewhere, and vow to coalesce around a single candidate and do everything possible to make him win. But that is not what we see happening. Instead, it appears that Mitt Romney, who couldn't beat Santorum in Tennessee despite outspending him 3 to 1 one in that state, will likely limp to the nomination as a gravely wounded candidate.
And that, perhaps, is just as the leaders of the right want it.
Incumbents are never easy to beat, even in an election that is predicted to be as close as the pundits say 2012 will be. But more than that, the right wing is at its strongest as an opposition movement, and for fomenting opposition, Barack Obama -- at least the fictional, radical leftist, Mau-Mau, crypto-Muslim Obama crafted by the right -- is the perfect foil for right-wing fundraising and hackles-raising. Another four years of Obama will allow the right to build its resources and hone a candidate for 2016 who will not face an incumbent -- and as long as Joe Biden remains vice president through the end of a second Obama term, the Republican presidential candidate in 2016 won't even face the neo-incumbency of one who has served just a heartbeat away.
Romney's Rocky Road
Mitt Romney may have walked away the winner of the most contests tonight, but those wins came came at quite a cost, in both dollars and principles (if Romney ever really had any). The exacting requirements of the the now-far-right Republican base -- the people who vote in primaries and caucuses -- have led Romney to not only back away from his past positions on such potent flash-point issues as abortion and immigration, but have also led him to, well, lie.
This week, a 2009 op-ed piece penned by Romney brought one such lie to light. A favorite bugaboo of the right -- the Obama health-care plan that passed into law in 2010 -- has long been a weak point for Romney among the base because, as governor, he instituted a similar plan in Massachusetts. Romney has sought to quell right-wing fears by saying that while he supported a state's right to institute a mandate requiring citizens to carry health insurance, he opposes such a mandate at the federal level. On Monday, however, BuzzFeed unearthed a USA Today opinion piece penned by Romney that actually proposed just such a federal mandate. Oops.
It wasn't even a week since Romney almost lost the primary in his native state of Michigan to Santorum, and Super Tuesday found him in a similar situation in Ohio, where, at press time, it appeared that he had won the state by a single point, 38 percent to Santorum's 37 percent. With Georgia off the table for Romney because of Gingrich's home-court advantage, Ohio was regarded as a must-win state for him. Yet Romney found himself fighting tooth-and-nail with the underfunded Santorum, who has made a string of absurd pronouncements on matters ranging from contraception to the Crusades -- and whose campaign is so seat-of-the-pants that he found himself denied delegates in districts he won for lack of proper paperwork.
In Virginia, where neither Santorum nor Gingrich appeared on the ballot, Romney mustered only 60 percent of the vote, leaving Ron Paul to pick up the remaining 40 percent.
And as if Romney's night couldn't get any more stressful, Sarah Palin popped up in a spot interview by CNN to say she would welcome a brokered convention, and wouldn't rule out getting into the presidential race should that happen. "My plan is to be at that convention," Palin told CNN from her caucus site in Alaska. (Romney managed to win Alaska's caucuses later in the evening.)
Still, Romney kept his game face on when delivering a victory speech from his campaign headquarters in Boston before the Ohio results were certain. Delivering a rather mechanical speech that repeated his recent refrain that he is battling "for the soul of America," Romney opened with a shout out to each of his opponents by name, saying, "Thanks, you guys. Nice races." (From the Washington Post's political blog, The Fix, came a tweet that read: "People don't talk like that.")
A Romney-Paul Alliance?
While his mentions of Santorum and Gingrich were perfunctory, the Massachusetts former moderate bestowed a big, wet rhetorical kiss on the cheek of the neo-libertarian Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, whom Romney thanked for "his steadfast commitment to our Constitution and his strong support almost everywhere you go." Romney added, "He's got good followers." Speculation has been rife among the chattering classes as to the nature of the Romney-Paul relationship, with the glaring absence of vitriol from Paul regarding Romney, especially given his enthusiasm for attacking both Santorum and Gingrich, at times quite brutally, at least in his campaign advertising.
It's certainly in Romney's interest to keep Paul in the race, at least as long Santorum and Gingrich stay in -- since Paul, the reasoning goes, siphons votes from Romney's right-wing rivals. It is presumed that Paul has been promised some sort of prize by Romney for the favor of holding his fire. Might that be a spot on the ticket for Sen. Rand Paul, son of the Texas congressman? Nobody knows.
Should Romney make it to the convention with all of the 1,144 delegates the nomination requires, however, there will be others calling in their chits. And one imagines that Sen. Marco Rubio, who helped Romney win the Florida primary by smacking down Newt Gingrich for calling Romney anti-immigrant, would be regarded as a far superior vice presidential candidate to Rand Paul. Remember that, in a scenario such as the one we are contemplating here, whomever is the vice presidential nominee on the 2012 ticket is likely to be groomed for the real contest in 2016. Rubio, with his oratorical skills, Tea Party following and Latino immigrant heritage, could be formidable if and when his turn comes around.
Santorum Claims the Silver; Newt Rides the Tortoise
"It looks we're going to get at least a couple of gold medals, and a whole passel full of silver medals," Rick Santorum told his supporters, who cheered him at the Ohio high school he chose as the setting for his Super Tuesday valedictory. (Oddly enough, he chose the sort of public school he derided as an outmoded factory just two weeks ago.) But a passel full of silver won't win Santorum the nomination; that road is paved with gold, a commodity of which Santorum is notably short.
Even with Super Tuesday wins in Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota, or his February 7 trifecta of Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota, it seems unlikely that Rick Santorum can secure the nomination. The problem for the Republican Party is that he keeps winning just enough to stay in the race. Playing the working-class everyman (a somewhat strained position with his two degrees) to Romney's fortunate son persona, Santorum stirs up the evangelical contingent of the base with his Vatican-sanctioned Catholic ideology, which includes his antipathy to separation of church and state, his hostility to LGBT people, and his personal opposition to contraception. (Ironically, evangelicals seem to like this kind of Catholic more than Catholics do; Santorum trailed behind Romney among Catholics in Ohio -- by 13 points.)
Just minutes before, Newt Gingrich, in one of the longest-ever victory speeches for a single primary win, lumped Santorum in with what he characterized as a series of short-lived hares who were once riding high in the polls: Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Rick Perry. "There's lots of bunny rabbits that run through," Gingrich told his supporters, gathered at Atlanta's Waverly Hotel. "I'm the tortoise."
Erick Erickson, proprietor of the right-wing blog, Red State, harumphed in a tweet: "Dear Newt: Happy warriors win. Bitter tortoises get turned into turtle soup."
Gingrich, meanwhile, is running his campaign largely on artificial life-support, in the form of massive infusions of cash from casino mogul Sheldon Adelson to the Gingrich-allied superPAC, Winning Our Future. Adelson contends he's spending so lavishly -- approximately $21million so far, if you include his wife's donations -- on the Gingrich-boosting entity for the sole purpose of keeping Santorum from winning the nomination. But Winning Our Future has done at least as much to hurt Romney -- whom Adelson calls "a fine candidate" -- as it has to wound Santorum. Remember that "King of Bain" video that made the rounds just before the Florida primary? You know, the one that painted Romney as a "vulture capitalist" who destroyed the lives of God-fearing, white, working-class people? That was distributed by Winning Our Future.
So, one might ask, what's Sheldon Adelson really up to? Sure, keeping Gingrich in takes votes from Santorum. But Gingrich's attacks have been most brutal against Romney, whom he's called a liar who "can't close the deal" for the nomination. Could it be that Adelson wants a nominee so wounded that he doesn't stand a chance against the incumbent Democrat? And what of his rich-guy, right-wing pals? Just askin'.