Originally Published: 9 February, 2012.
Following on from my post on Romney last week; things have gotten progressively worse for him. Romney’s ‘I’m not concerned with the very poor’ gaffe helped to reinforce his image as an out-of-touch rich white guy, which I believe will cost him dearly if he does become the GOP candidate, and he lost the primary election to Rick Santorum in three states (Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado). Losing to Santorum in these states shouldn’t cause much damage to Romney; in fact it’s Gingrich who should be worried as it changes the media’s election coverage narrative from Romney vs. Gingrich to Romney vs. Santorum. Significantly, Santorum’s victories illustrate the fast changing, unpredicability of primary election campaigns.
There are two conflicting views of long, drawn-out presidential primaries, the first being that tough primaries help to battle-harden the candidate and prepare him or her for the Presidential election; the second being that they are divisive and weaken the party’s base by highlighting differences between sections within the party.
Significantly, long primary campaigns bring out all the skeletons from a candidate’s closet which again can be either a negative or a positive depending on how the candidate’s campaign spins it. If the negative descriptions of the candidate capture the public’s consciousness then he can be toast in the general election however if the candidate is able to successfully defend himself, it can be a good thing to get the bad news stories out into the public domain early and bury them before the election.
A classic example of a bitterly-fought primary campaign being a positive for a candidate is Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s history-making primary battle. By taking on Hillary Clinton, and thus one of the country’s most powerful political machines, then matching and eventually defeating her, the little-known and inexperienced Obama was able to raise himself to an equal stature to Hillary, one of the most experienced and respected stateswomen in the world. Crucially the primary process enabled Obama to overcome his greatest weakness, his inexperience, by successfully persuading the public that what was needed was change, as personified by him, rather than experience as personified by Clinton and John McCain.
The 2012 Republican presidential primary campaign looks like it is shaping up to be an example of the latter, although its considered a foregone conclusion that Romney will get the GOP nomination, attacks by his rivals and most significantly his own campaign mistakes, have resulted him being in a weaker position than he was in before the primary process started.
Regarding Rick Santorum, his recent primary victory undoubtedly raise his levels of political caché and although he is the darling of a certain section of the Republican Party, namely the Christian right, with his All-American-Good Boy-Apple Pie image, I feel he doesn’t have the teeth needed to go all the way and doesn’t have the mainstream appeal to appeal to the American public as a whole.
In fact, he reminds me of a political version of Ned Flanders, The Simpsons character, right down to the dorky jumper. At a time when the country requires a strong leader to deal with the economic crisis and international threats, Santorum just doesn’t seem to have the political teeth to be able to convey the image of being a strong leader and I can’t imagine him being tough enough to play Washington hardball. Santorum can however build up his support and become a major political player within the Republican Party.
Ironically, if Gingrich became the Republic presidential nominee Santorum would make a good potential running mate with his whiter-than-white, Mr. Nice Guy image counterbalancing Newt Gingrich’s Machiavellian image and politically problematic personal life. Even more ironically if Gingrich was the nominee, then Romney as an Eastern moderate Republican would be the perfect counterbalance. Likewise if Romney does indeed become the GOP nominee then a good potential running mate to balance the ticket would be Bob McDonnell, Governor of Virginia; a key swing state and of a more conservative leaning than Romney.
The next big battle is Super Tuesday on March 6 by which time the Republican nominee should be decided. However the primary so far hasn’t been predictable and we may be in for some twists and turns before the eventual nominee is decided.