GOP round-up: 5 things we learned

Endorsements, gaffes and delegates from another week of the Republican candidate race.

Mitt Romney's convincing win in the Florida primary on Tuesday has put him firmly back in front of the race for Republican presidential nominee. Yet as John Stoehr noted on Wednesday, the GOP's new rules for candidates mean that unless the three other hopefuls run out of money in the next month, Barack Obama's opponent for November may not be named until March. Before then hundreds of delegate votes are up for grabs, with the Nevada and Maine caucuses taking place tomorrow (4 February), Colorado and Minnesota caucuses on the 7th, primaries for Arizona and Michigan on the 18th, the Washington state caucus on 3 March, and Super Tuesday, this year falling on 6 March.

The New Statesman's Republican primary tracker is tabulating the share of delegates so far, but here's a round up of recent developments in the race for which Romney and Newt Gingrich -- plus Ron Paul and Rick Santorum -- are still running.

1) The Donald Trump endorsement

On Thursday the billionaire real estate magnate and TV celebrity Donald Trump annouced his endorsement for Mitt Romney, as the man who's "not going to allow bad things to happen to this country that we all love."

 

On Tuesday, Trump (a former possible GOP candidate himself) told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that "in a very short time [he'd] be making an endorsement," though up until the moment his citation was unclear. Reports before the announcement suggested Trump's backing would go to former House Speaker, Newt Gingrich; two members of the Gingrich campaign even confirmed the rumours Wednesday evening.

But what's it worth for Romney? A poll by the Washington Post/Pew Center at the beginning of the year showed 64 per cent of voters would not be effected in their decision by Trump's endorsement; 20 per cent said they would be less likely to vote with Trump, and 13 per cent said they would be more likely to back his candidate. And as CNN's Alyssa McLendon notes, today's endless TV coverage and online debate over the merit of candidates means "voters feel they have more than enough information to make up their own minds," without being swayed by the mutual self-congratulation of politicians and public figures.

2) Romney's "not concerned about the very poor"

Until now he may not have been GOP's king of the gaffe (his sympathetic "I'm also unemployed" was possibly the worst), but Romney has certainly been called up on Wednesday's comment during a CNN television interview that he was "not concerned about the very poor" because they have an "ample safety net."

 

Campaigning in Hannibal, Missouri today, Rick Santorum said Romney's comment "sort of sent a chill down my spine as a conservative and a Republican . . . I want to belong to a party that focuses on 100 percent of Americans and creating opportunity for every single one." Gingrich took a plainer line yesterday, saying: "I really believe that we should care about the very poor, unlike Governor Romney . . . What the poor need is a trampoline so that they can spring up."

The Democractic National Committee got in the fastest, creating an attack ad around the comment in less than a day:

 

3) Who's in the money?

This week the Federal Election Commission released its donation data showing the half a million external contributions received by the campaigns of 2012 presidential hopefuls until December 2011. Obama raised $140m; Romney -- $56.5m; Newt Gingrich -- $12.7m; Ron Paul -- $25.5m, and Rick Santorum -- $3.3m.

Interestingly, the data also showed the sectors and professions of the donors, revealing that Romney's campaign received money from fewer, wealthier individuals and proportionally more corporations, whilst Obama's funding came largely from many small donations. The president's super PAC donations were made largely by individuals connected to Hollywood and labour unions.

4) Newt's still rooting on the moon

Despite dwindling funds, the Rick Santorum campaign has used $100,000 on national conservative radio ads to play over the next week. "Out of this world" urges potential Gingrich voters and Tea Partiers to back Santorum, "the one true conservative that can stop Romney and defeat Obama." The ad addresses the former House Speaker's support of the Wall Street bailout, his "radical healthcare mandates" and -- possibly his easiest target -- Gingrich's proposed $100 billion lunar colony.

 

5) There's 46 states remaining

As Newt's placards remind us, only four US states have voted for their Republican nominee so far; that's 103 delegates out of a total 2,286, with candidates needing a minimum 1,144 delegate votes to secure the nomination.

 

On Super Tuesday alone, the southern states of Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Virginia -- where Gingrich typically fairs best and his strategy is largely focussed -- offer 226 delegates; over twice the number already awarded.

In a poll by Facebook/Politico in Nevada yesterday, 81 per cent of voters said they will not be influenced by the result of the Florida primary; only 8 per cent said it would effect their vote and 7 per cent said it might.

Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.