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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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.