GOP Arizona debate: 3 things we learned

How did the Republican candidates fare in the final debate before Super Tuesday?

The Republican candidates met in Mesa, Arizona last night for another debate ahead of the state primary on 28 February. This was the 20th televised meet of the GOP Presidential hopefuls, and arguably the most vital debate yet. As Rebecca Lloyd noted yesterday, wins in Arizona and Michigan would cement Mitt Romney's place as frontrunner; victories for Rick Santorum -- behind in delegate votes but ahead in the polls -- would mean Romney has lost more states than he has won, demonstrating his serious disconnect with the conservative right.

1) Newt's now a non-starter

Newt Gingrich has slipped well behind in the polls (his delegate count, too, is lagging), and whilst his performance last night will have done little to change this, Ginger Gibson at Policito felt the former House Speaker actually won the debate. "Staying above the fray, avoiding attacks and focusing on the issues" may have been made for a successful performance, but as this one word answer shows (equal parts puerile and unbelievable), Gingrich's days of domineering in the race are done.

 

2) Santorum couldn't pull it off

Last night was the sweater-vest-wearing former Senator's chance to build on his momentum gathered over recent weeks, and in this he decisively failed. "Take a look in the mirror!" was just one of Romney's successful chastisements of his rival -- even though, in strangely convoluted terms, he was holding Santorum wholly responsible for Obamacare having once voted for a pro-choice senator.

3) Close seats made for uncomfortable viewing

What happened to the podiums? Bunched-together seating on the CNN stage had the four candidates within shoulder-patting distance of one another, and this proxomity made all the more obvious their mutual dislike.

Santorum bared an all-American smile on screen whilst Ron Paul, to his immediate right, slammed him as "a fake". And the body language (arms flying and fingers pointing) during a clash over earmarks demonstrated just how divided the Republican party these days appears to be.

 

 

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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Theresa May's "clean Brexit" is hard Brexit with better PR

The Prime Minister's objectives point to the hardest of exits from the European Union. 

Theresa May will outline her approach to Britain’s Brexit deal in a much-hyped speech later today, with a 12-point plan for Brexit.

The headlines: her vow that Britain will not be “half in, half out” and border control will come before our membership of the single market.

And the PM will unveil a new flavour of Brexit: not hard, not soft, but “clean” aka hard but with better PR.

“Britain's clean break from EU” is the i’s splash, “My 12-point plan for Brexit” is the Telegraph’s, “We Will Get Clean Break From EU” cheers the Express, “Theresa’s New Free Britain” roars the Mail, “May: We’ll Go It Alone With CLEAN Brexit” is the Metro’s take. The Guardian goes for the somewhat more subdued “May rules out UK staying in single market” as their splash while the Sun opts for “Great Brexpectations”.

You might, at this point, be grappling with a sense of déjà vu. May’s new approach to the Brexit talks is pretty much what you’d expect from what she’s said since getting the keys to Downing Street, as I wrote back in October. Neither of her stated red lines, on border control or freeing British law from the European Court of Justice, can be met without taking Britain out of the single market aka a hard Brexit in old money.

What is new is the language on the customs union, the only area where May has actually been sparing on detail. The speech will make it clear that after Brexit, Britain will want to strike its own trade deals, which means that either an unlikely exemption will be carved out, or, more likely, that the United Kingdom will be out of the European Union, the single market and the customs union.

(As an aside, another good steer about the customs union can be found in today’s row between Boris Johnson and the other foreign ministers of the EU27. He is under fire for vetoing an EU statement in support of a two-state solution, reputedly to curry favour with Donald Trump. It would be strange if Downing Street was shredding decades of British policy on the Middle East to appease the President-Elect if we weren’t going to leave the customs union in order at the end of it.)

But what really matters isn’t what May says today but what happens around Europe over the next few months. Donald Trump’s attacks on the EU and Nato yesterday will increase the incentive on the part of the EU27 to put securing the political project front-and-centre in the Brexit talks, making a good deal for Britain significantly less likely.

Add that to the unforced errors on the part of the British government, like Amber Rudd’s wheeze to compile lists of foreign workers, and the diplomatic situation is not what you would wish to secure the best Brexit deal, to put it mildly.

Clean Brexit? Nah. It’s going to get messy. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.