New Hampshire reveals a deeper Republican divide

Anti-Mitt Romney documentary sets the tone.

The New Hampshire primary later today is only the second stop for the Republicans in a long campaign for presidency, yet for most of the candidates it will be make or break.

However, instead of concentrating on their policies and reaching out to the undecided populace -- only 44 per cent of voter's polled said they had made up their mind -- the GOP candidates have engaged in a week of smear campaigning, with front-runner Mitt Romney the main target.

The tone of the campaign was well and truly set by the pro-Newt Gingrich Political Action Committee (PAC), Winning Our Future, with the release of a stinging anti-Romney documentary. The 30 minute film -- "When Mitt Romney came to Town" -- has yet to be released in full, but the three minute trailer attacks the former governor of Massachusetts for his actions during his time at the investment firm Bain Capital.

 

The video has led Romney, who has spent the last day of campaigning in New Hampshire trying to undo his own gaffe, to be portrayed as a modern day Gordon Gekko, the corporate raider immortalised by Michael Douglass in the 1987 film "Wall Street".

Gingrich attempted to solidify this view during last weekend's debates during which he grilled Romney over his lack of dedication to his constituents whilst he was governor.

The release of the documentary's trailer has underscored the the campaign as a tit-for-tat game that has impressed few voters. According to a national CBS poll released yesterday, 58 per cent of registered Republican voters have said they want more presidential choices, with only 37 per cent stating that they were satisfied with the candidates.

According to John Dickerson, writing on Slate.com, the party is suffering from a "humor crisis", confusing insults for jokes. He writes:

Humor suggests that no matter how dark things are, you have the sensibility to laugh, to see a bit of sun around the corner... A joke well-told gives the audience something they can pass along later to their friends. It magnifies your message easily or at least makes voters feel good enough that they report back favorably about their experience at your rally.

The candidates have concentrated all their energies on attacking the front-runner despite all the indications that regardless of his gaffes and embarrassment, he will still come first in the vote later today. The polls have consistently placed Mitt Romney in first place ahead of Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman who is currently tied in third place with Rick Santorum according to the WMUR/UNH poll.

Romney may take New Hampshire but the real challenge ahead is who the Republican party will choose to rally behind come January 21 in South Carolina. The votes have been too close for any candidate to emerge as a clear winner; with all their skirmishes, the candidates have failed to put themselves forward to their own party and are instead damaging their own bids for the Republican presidency nomination.

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The failed French presidential candidates who refuse to endorse Emmanuel Macron

While the candidates of the main left and right parties have endorsed the centrist from nowhere, others have held back. 

And breathe.

At 8pm on Sunday night France, Europe, and much of the West let out a huge sigh of relief. After over a month of uncertainty, scandals, rebounds, debates and late surges, the results of the first round of the French Presidential Election was as predicted: Emmanuel Macron (24 per cent) will face off against Marine Le Pen (21 per cent) in the second round of the election on the 7 May.

While polls have been predicting this face-off for a while, the shocks of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump had thrown polling predictions into doubt. But France has a good track record when it comes to polling, and their surveys are considered some of the most reliable in the world. The irony is that this uncertainty has meant that the polls have never been so central to a campaign, and the role of polling in democracies has been a hot topic of debate during the election.

The biggest surprise in many ways was that there were no surprises. If there was a surprise, it was a good one: participation was higher than expected: close to 80 per cent – on par with the Presidential Elections of 2012 – whereas there were concerns it would be as low as 70 per cent. Higher participation is normally a bad sign for the extremes, who have highly motivated voters but a limited base, and who often do better in elections when participation is low. Instead, it boosts the traditional parties, but here instead of the traditional right-wing Republican (Fillon is at 20 per cent) or Socialist parties (Hamon at 6 per cent), it was in fact the centre, with Emmanuel Macron, who benefited.

So France has so far not succumbed to the populist wave that has been engulfing the West. The contagion seemed to be spreading when the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi lost a referendum on reforming the constitution, but the fightback started in Austria which rejected the far-right candidate Norbert Hofer in its Presidential election and voted for the pro-European, former-Green independent candidate Alexander Van der Bellen. Those hopes now rest on the shoulders of Macron. After having dubbed Angela Merkel the leader of the free world during his farewell tour of Europe, Barack Obama gave his personal blessing to Macron last week.

Many wondered what impact Thursday night’s shooting on the Champs-Elysées would have. Would it be a boon for Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration platform? Or even right-wing François Fillon’s more traditional law and order approach? In the end the effect seems to have been minimal.

In the second round, Macron is currently predicted to beat Marine Le Pen by more than 60 per cent of the vote. But how does Le Pen almost double her vote in the second round, from around 20 per cent to close to 40 per cent? The "Republican Front" that saw her father off back in 2002, when he received only 18 per cent of the vote, has so far held at the level of the two traditional political parties. Both Hamon and Fillon have called to vote for Macron in the second round to stop the Front National - Hamon put it nicely when he said he could tell the difference between political opponents, and opponents of the Republic.

But not everyone is toing the line. Sens Commun, the anti-gay marriage group that has supported Fillon through thick and thin, said that it will not call to vote for either party – a thinly veiled invitation to vote for Le Pen. And Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, a conservative, Catholic and anti-EU right wing candidate, whose 5 per cent is the reason Fillon didn’t make it to the second round, has also abstained from calling to vote for either. It is within this electorate that Le Pen will look to increase her vote.

The other candidate who didn’t call to vote for anyone was Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who fell back on a demagogic position of saying he would follow the wishes of his supporters after having consulted them. But as a spokesperson for the FN pointed out, there are remarkable congruities between their respective platforms, which can be categorised as a populism of the left and a populism of the right.

They in particular converge over the question of Europe. Aping Brexit, both want to go to Brussels to argue for reform, and if none is forthcoming put membership of the Eurozone to the electorate. While Le Pen’s anti-Europeanism is patent, Mélenchon’s position is both disingenuous and dangerous. His Plan A, as he puts it, is to attempt reform at the European level. But he knows fine well that his demands, which include revoking the independence of the European Central Bank and putting an end to austerity (the ECB, through its massive programme of quantitative easing, has already been trying to stimulate growth) will not be met. So he reverts to his Plan B, which is to leave the European Treatises and refound Europe on a new basis with like-minded members.

Who those members might be he hasn’t specified, nor has he explained how he would leave the EU - at least Le Pen had the decency to say she would put it to a referendum. Leaving the European Treatise has been in his programme from the beginning, and seems to be the real object of his desires. Nonetheless, having set himself up as the anti-Le Pen candidate, most of his supporters will vote for Macron. Others will abstain, and abstention will only help Le Pen. We’ve been here before, and the last thing we need now is complacency.

 

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