Mitt Romney crushes Newt Gingrich in Nevada...

...but the dog-whistling Gingrich refuses to quit the race.

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Money and religion are the reasons Mitt Romney won Nevada on Saturday, his second straight victory since losing to Newt Gingrich in South Carolina. Romney outspent his rivals five-to-one (in fact, he's spent more than John McCain did during his entire 2008 campaign) and enjoyed the backing of a sizable Mormon bloc, which made up 26 percent of the electorate. In another instance of political ecumenism between differing faiths, Romney, a Mormon, appealed to nearly 50 percent of Nevada's white evangelical voters.

Poor Newt Gingrich has been losing ground since his come-from-behind win South Carolina. In Florida, Romney quit focusing on Barack Obama and began focusing on Gingrich; he crushed the former House Speaker with tsunamis of attack ads. Some say those ads caused poor voter turnout in Florida. That only got worse in Nevada. Compared to 2008, about 25 percent fewer voters came out.

Gingrich may be cash-poor but he's always been calumny-rich. In Florida, he said Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, had prevented Holocaust survivors on public assistance from eating kosher. That was kittenish compared to his latest. In creating distance between Romney and the hardline conservative wing of the GOP, Gingrich called him "Obama-lite" and a "George Soros-approved candidate." In dog-whistle-speak, that translates roughly to: He's like an uppity black man and a rich Jew.

Gingrich said voters "want a candidate who represents Americans who work, pay taxes and believe in the Declaration of Independence, not somebody who is clearly against the American ideal." Gingrich cashed out on his political connections for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-backed mortgage lenders. He's now a millionaire.

Gingrich held a press conference after the Nevada results that sparked speculation that he may be pulling out. No such luck. Instead, his staff announced a "delegate-based" strategy. That means what we've known since Florida. The new rules of the Republican Party mean states are no longer winner-take-all. Instead, candidates win a proportion of delegates. Gingrich has reason to stay in the race, which is what he said he'd do.

Of course, the longer Romney has to fight, the more banged up he will be in November. He's said that a prolonged battle will better prepare him, and maybe that's true. The real damage may be self-inflicted and at this rate, who knows what condition Romney will be in.

In January, Romney took heat, somewhat unfairly, for saying he likes to fire people. That was taken out of context, but still. He said it. After winning in Florida, he told CNN that he's "not concerned about the very poor." That line is unfortunately the same in context or out.

A long fight for the GOP's heart has Romney worried insomuch that he's made secret deals with Ron Paul, the libertarian candidate. They have agreed not to savage each other. A partnership like this brings the promise of Paul's energetic and young followers, and also the potential for reviving Tea Party fanatics who love Paul but yawn whenever Romney enters the room. The upside for Paul is that he might get a speech at the convention and therefore pave the way for his son, the truly weird Rand Paul and his nascent presidential ambitions.

That may backfire if Gingrich can hold on. Paul is the guy most people believe could lead an insurgent third party but Gingrich, in his quest to peel away every delegate he can from Romney, may be positioned just for that. His biggest problem, however, isn't money. His biggest problem is that so few people like him.

John Stoehr is a lecturer in English at Yale University.

 

 

John Stoehr teaches writing at Yale. His essays and journalism have appeared in The American Prospect, Reuters Opinion, the Guardian, and Dissent, among other publications. He is a political blogger for The Washington Spectator and a frequent contributor to Al Jazeera English.

 

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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle