Presidential Campaign Shifts To Battle Of The Insiders

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

The only surprise that came out of the Florida GOP primary Tuesday was the speed and efficiency which the state counted the votes.  There were no signs of a butterfly ballot controversy, and with the 12 point spread between Mitt Romney and second place finisher Newt Gingrich, there will be no flip flops on who was declared the winner as there was in Iowa.

Mitt Romney won Florida fairly handily, taking 46 percent of the vote.  Gingrich’s 32% combined with third place finisher Rick Santorum’s 13% still falls shy of Romney’s total by roughly 20,000 votes.  The party will remain divided on its direction for the future for the next month, as there are no contests on the February calendar that should provide a knockout opportunity.

Caucuses next week in Maine, Colorado, and Minnesota along with a primary in Missouri will select only “unbound” delegates who are not necessarily committed to the candidates they are selected to represent.  Primaries on February 28th in Arizona and Michigan are the next opportunity for “bound” delegates.  Washington State will then caucus on March 3rd as a quick preview to March 6th’s Super Tuesday, when Georgia will vote with 9 other states.  Georgia will be, by far, the day’s biggest prize.

The battles between the two leading contenders are likely to be increasingly negative, and based on faux issues designed to wedge Republican voters away from the other candidate.  The reality is that both Gingrich and Romney have ideologically impure actions and statements from their past that represented pragmatic political calculations necessary to advance their own career or agenda at the time.  The faithful will continue to use these to demonstrate the other candidate can’t be trusted with the mantle of conservatism, and their candidate is the only hope of defeating the current President.

In short, do not look for intellectual or logical consistency from the Presidential campaign over the next month, as it will only frustrate anyone attempting to make a rational, fact based decision on who is best for Republicans to nominate.  In the second tier, Rick Santorum will continue to position himself as a protest vote for social conservatives, as Ron Paul will continue to do the same for Libertarians.

The front runners continue to run a scorched earth program against themselves or their own positions needed for a general election.  Newt Gingrich began the campaign by attacking entitlement reform as right wing social engineering.  He spent the South Carolina phase of the campaign co-opting the Occupy movement’s talking points against venture capitalism.  During the Florida campaign, he extended his remarks to claim that Romney’s capital gains and dividend income came from “not working”, which will make for an interesting argument when defending lower tax rates for dividends and capital gains if and when real tax reform is debated.

Gingrich, who had previously positioned himself as the one candidate who can effectively debate President Obama, spent the week complaining that one debate audience was too quiet, another too loud, and most curiously, that he couldn’t debate someone who won’t tell the truth.  Perhaps Newt didn’t spend a lot of time with Congressman Joe Wilson while he was campaigning in South Carolina.  Wilson famously expressed his opinion of the President’s ability to tell the truth during an address to a joint session of Congress by shouting “You Lie!” during the speech.

Romney, for his part, is frustrating mainstream conservatives by playing the political equivalent of a prevent defense – sitting on a lead without aggressively finishing off his opponent.  The Romney campaign seems so transfixed on not giving voters a reason to against them that they sometimes forget to drive home a message of why conservatives should.

The result is that the conservative punditocracy – those who have a vested interest in keeping conservative activists paranoid about the mainstream media and the “establishment” so they can maintain book sales and ratings – are able to continue to brand Romney as a moderate, liberal, or generally a bad man as Romney remains focused on a general election strategy without first aligning conservatives behind him.

The month leading up to Super Tuesday should be reserved for ultra-party insiders and activists to fight among themselves and settle this once and for all.  There is little that will be said or done that will appeal to independent or disinterested voters.  Unfortunately, there will be a lot that is said and done that will likely turn those voters off.  This is what keeps Democrats smiling.

Despite low job approval ratings and horrible economic statistics, President Obama should still be considered the favorite for re-election in November.  For despite all he has going against him, a unified Republican party with a broadly appealing message does not at this time look like it will be one of them.

12 comments

  1. John Konop says:

    The problem is the irrational pandering to part of the base. The latest issue that will kill the GOP in the general is the birth control issue. The GOP now wants to allow employers for religious reason to end the right of women to buy birth control pills via a company insurance policy. Beyond the fact that unwedded mother are a major driving force behind welfare, future prison population, under employed………………..this is flat out radical policy, beyond being fiscally irrational.

    If I follow the logic of this bill than a Muslim employer can ban the insurance company for paying for pork for the employees at a hospital for religious reasons. A Jewish employer can ban shellfish……………. A Scientologist can ban coverage of any prescription drugs………………….. BTW this is not religious freedom, it is pushing your religion down the throat of other people.

    Issues like this have overwhelmed any rational debate on real issues. It seems like the GOP wants to blow this election.

    • elfiii says:

      Really? I thought since employers were paying the piper they got to call the tune? I didn’t know the federal government could dictate some mysterious conjured up “right” for people to demand their employer provide them with a health insurance policy to suit their every whim.

      This “right” must be in one of those “emanatin’ penumbras” Sandra Day O’Connor discovered in the Constitution on one of her days off.

      Shizam! You learn something new everyday!

      As for the OP, I mostly concur but why no mention of the lying ads by Mitt’s campaign about Newt? Mitt did start the whole thing.

      • John Konop says:

        elfiii,

        I guess you would support employers not paying for pork, shellfish. drugs, forcing patients to eat fish only on Fridays at the hospital…….based on their religion?

        Birth control does not cost extra in a policy, and the employer gets a tax break and birth control saves all of us money. But hey I am just old time fiscal conservative, who thinks unwedded mother concept should not be promoted.

        BTW what did Mitt lie about? I have heard this many times, but no one has ever given me exact examples.

    • Three Jack says:

      John, you obviously disagree with the BC bill as I do, so I know you will love this — http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0212/72328.html

      Susan G. Komen cut off grants to Planned Parenthood. No problem with the decision if it was made for reasons other than political as the spokesperson claims, but I would bet on it coming down to abortion as always with GOPers.

      • Harry says:

        It was a sound decision. Planned Parenthood is a leader in running abortion mills around the country. Komen on the other hand is a good cause, and didn’t needed to be tainted with PP.

        • Three Jack says:

          Well Harry, Komen just stepped in it by politicizing their method of distributing funds. And your description of PP as an abortion mill couldn’t be further from the truth. The money from Komen was targeted to clinics for mammographies…one would think a pro-life ‘birther’ like yourself would support helping women detect breast cancer early. Just one more contradiction in the world of big government socons.

    • Engineer says:

      My question is, how do these people against birth control react to women that use the medication not for birth control, but to help maintain their “cycle” (excessive “flow”) and for other women that use it as a way to prevent recurrent ovarian cysts?

      While yes, the medication is also used for birth control, there are other legitimate non-“birth control” uses for it.

  2. saltycracker says:

    Charlie – well expressed.

    The ad naseum ads in Florida by Romney were news bites of Newt’s censure & questioning his Fannie pay. Questionable things.

    The disappointment was Newt’s railing on Romney’s wealth and his paying the legal 15% taxes on dividends. Romney gives more to charity routinely than, say, Gore has in his entire life.

    Newt did wise up in his concession speech & list some bullet points he’d do immediately on being elected – Romney should steal them & start a list himself.

  3. Dave Bearse says:

    It won’t be pretty. The GOP has long experience with wedge issues, and Newt was at the forefront of the escalation of the “nasty, vicious, negative business” within politics he carped about in SC.

  4. bowersville says:

    South Carolina…now there’s a story within itself. Gingrich wins and turnout in the Republican primary is up by 20% over 2008 in SC. Yet we complain on Newt being nasty about Bain Capital, off shore accounts and 15% capital gains tax. Clearly a populist attack but I’d expect that line of attack from Obama. Yet in a Republican primary in SC it sold. The turnout numbers in FL, Iowa and NH won by Romney/Santorum were down 11-16%.[numbers courtesy of Nate Silver, fivethirtyeight]

    Florida…Romney made his statements about the poor with a safety net that he’d patch with the rich being okay and his focus would be on the middle class[I don’t know if this was campaigned on in FL but he’ll have to take it forward at least to explain]. Krauthammer described it as typical class warfare and a message he’d expect from the Democrats.

    Somebody help me out here. Why were the numbers down in FL and up in SC? I know negative ads have a tendency to drive numbers down and Romney had a slew of them in FL but to me that’s too simplistic. Is it the message that sold or the messenger? If it’s the messages that you would expect from a Democrat, then what?

    • John Konop says:

      The numbers were up for the GOP voters in counties in Florida that supported Newt. The Palin side of the GOP is coming out in mass for Newt. The problem for the GOP is this side of the party does play well with independents in a general or a good part of the GOP in swing states. It is all great TV.

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