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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France is changing: an army stalks the streets and Boris Johnson wanders the Tuileries

Will Self on the militarisation of France, and Boris Johnson at the Foreign Office.

At the corner of the rue D’Hauteville and the rue de Paradis in the tenth arrondissement of Paris is a retro-video-games-themed bar, Le Fantôme, which is frequented by some not-so-jeunes gens – the kind of thirtysomethings nostalgic for an era when you had to go to an actual place if you wanted to enter virtual space. They sit placidly behind the plate-glass windows zapping Pac-Men and Space Invaders, while outside another – and rather more lethal – sort of phantom stalks the sunlit streets.

I often go to Paris for work, and so have been able to register the incremental militarisation of its streets since President Hollande first declared a state of emergency after last November’s terrorist attacks. In general the French seem more comfortable about this prêt-à-porter khaki than we’d probably be; the army-nation concept is, after all, encrypted deep in their collective psyche. The army was constituted as a revolutionary instrument. France was the first modern nation to introduce universal male conscription – and it continued in one form or another right up until the mid-1990s.

Even so, it was surprising to witness the sang-froid with which Parisians regarded the camouflaged phantoms wandering among them: a patrol numbering eight ­infantrymen and women moved up the roadway, scoping out doorways, nosing into passages – but when one peered into Le Fantôme, his assault rifle levelled, none of the boozing gamers paid the least attention. I witnessed this scene the Saturday after Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel ran amok on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice – it was a little preview of the new state of emergency.

On Monday 18 July the French premier, Manuel Valls, was booed at a memorial service for the victims of the Nice attacks – while Marine Le Pen has been making all the populist running, whipping up anxieties about the enemy within. For many French, the events of the past week – including the failed Turkish coup – are steps along the way limned by Michel Houellebecq in his bestselling novel Submission; a via dolorosa that ends with La Marianne wearing the hijab and France itself annexed by a new caliphate.

Into this febrile drama comes a new player: Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Secretary. What can we expect from this freshly minted statesman when it comes to our relations with our closest neighbour? There is no doubt that Johnson is a Francophile – I’ve run into him and his family at the Tuileries, and he made much of his own francophone status during the referendum campaign. In Paris last winter to launch the French edition of his Churchill biography, Johnson wowed a publication dinner by speaking French for the entire evening. He was sufficiently fluent to bumble, waffle and generally avoid saying anything serious at all.

Last Sunday I attended the Lambeth Country Show, an oxymoronic event for which the diverse inhabitants of my home borough gather in Brockwell Park, south London, for jerked and halal chicken, funfair rides, Quidditch-watching, and “country-style” activities, such as looking at farm animals and buying their products. Wandering among ancient Rastafarians with huge shocks of dreadlocks, British Muslims wearing immaculate white kurtas blazoned with “ASK ME ABOUT ISLAM” and crusty old Brixton punks, I found it quite impossible to rid my mind of the Nice carnage – or stop wondering how they would react if armed soldiers were patrolling, instead of tit-helmeted, emphatically unarmed police.

I stepped into the Royal Horticultural Society marquee, and there they were: the entire cast of our end-of-the-pier-show politics, in vegetable-sculpture form and arrayed for judging. There was Jeremy Corbyn (or “Cornbin”) made out of corncobs – and Boris Johnson in the form of a beetroot, being stabbed in the back by a beetroot Michael Gove. And over there was Johnson again, this time rendered in cabbage. The veggie politicians were the big draw, Brixtonians standing six-deep around them, iPhones aloft.

The animal (as opposed to the vegetable) Johnson has begun his diplomatic rounds this week, his first démarches as tasteless and anodyne as cucumber. No British abandonment of friends after Brexit . . . Coordinated response to terror threat . . . Call for Erdogan to be restrained in response to failed coup . . . Blah-blah, whiff-whaff-waffle . . . Even someone as gaffe-prone as he can manage these simple lines, but I very much doubt he will be able to produce rhetorical flourishes as powerful as his hero’s. In The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History, Johnson writes of Winnie overcoming “his stammer and his depression and his ­appalling father to become the greatest living Englishman”. Well, I’ve no idea if Bojo suffers from depression now but he soon will if he cleaves to this role model. His Churchill-worship (like so many others’) hinges on his belief that, without Churchill as war leader, Britain would have been ground beneath the Nazi jackboot. It may well be that, with his contribution to the Brexit campaign, Johnson now feels he, too, has wrested our national destiny from the slavering jaws of contingency.

Of course the differences between the two politicians are far more significant: Johnson’s genius – such as it is – lies in his intuitive understanding that politics, in our intensely mediatised and entirely commoditised era, is best conceived of as a series of spectacles or stunts: nowadays you can fool most of the people, most of the time. This is not a view you can imagine associating with Churchill, who, when his Gallipoli stratagem went disastrously wrong, exiled himself, rifle in hand, to the trenches. No, the French people Johnson both resembles and has an affinity for are the ones caught up in the virtual reality of Le Fantôme – rather than those patrolling the real and increasingly mean streets without. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt