Romney is the inevitable candidate again

Victory over Santorum in Arizona and Michigan means the Republican candidate is almost unassailable.

Ever since Rick Santorum swept three states earlier this month, the question everyone has been asking in the US is: Why don't Republicans like Mitt Romney?

Notice I didn't say why do they like Santorum. Indeed, the socially conservative former US Senator from Pennsylvania has been surging, but largely because his winning -- if only symbolically, as in Missouri, whose delegates don't count -- demonstrated a credible conservative alternative to Moderate Mitt.

Because of this, Michigan, where Detroit and its famed automotive firms are located, has been the focus of superlative speculation. Michigan is Romney's birthplace and where his father, George Romney, served as a popular car company executive as well as a respected and moderate Republican governor. If Romney couldn't win with that history, how could he win at all?

Making matters worse is Michigan's long tradition of holding open primaries, which means anyone can cast a ballot for a Republican nominee, even liberals and Democrats! That exclamation point is intended to be cheeky but it's unclear how funny "Operation Hilarity" is. That's the campaign by the Daily Kos, a liberal political website, that feared a win for Romney meant an end to circus entertainment. By voting for Santorum, the editors said, Democrats can "keep the clownshow going."

News broke on Monday that perhaps the Santorum camp is taking Kos' hilarious cue. Democrats across Michigan received robo-calls asking them to vote for Santorum. A second round of calls went out Tuesday telling voters to support Santorum because Romney opposed the Detroit bailout (which Santorum also opposed, but whatever).

Surveys showed Romney and Santorum in a dead heat, raising alarm among analysts who worried the race was so close that voting for Santorum on a lark would bring the joke of President Santorum one big scary step closer to not funny at all. And Democrats would be to blame!

They can all stop worrying now.

Romney handily won Arizona, where he crushed his opponents. Even so, all eyes were on Michigan. For a while, it was too close to call, but around 9 p.m. EST Romney started pulling away from Santorum and by about 10:30pm, NBC and the Associated Press called it in favor of Romney. Cue the sighs of relief.

With 91 per cent of the votes in Michigan counted, Romney had 41 per cent, Santorum 38 per cent, Ron Paul 12 per cent and Newt Gingrich 6.5 per cent. In Arizona, with 73 per cent of the votes counted, Romney had 47.5 per cent, Santorum 26 per cent, Gingrich 16 per cent and Paul 8.5 per cent.

And perhaps now (though I doubt it) there will be less nit-picking over Romney's bona fides. The conventional wisdom has been that working-class and evangelicals don't like Romney, so they'll likely vote for Santorum, a socially conservative Catholic. But turns out that's only half right. According to CNN, working-class voters (defined by income) were more or less split between the candidates. And given exit poll data provided by CBS News, evangelicals liked Santorum, but Michigan's Catholics went for Romney, the Latter-Day Saint.

Some say even a win in Michigan is a loss for Romney because Santorum took the shine of inevitability off him, just as Gingrich did in South Carolina. Yet a win is more often, in the real world at any rate, a win. This shifting back and forth between being portrayed as the candidate of inevitability and candidate of collapse has dogged Romney from the beginning. Every time his opponents gird their loins enough to take a nibble out of the delegate pie, critics point and shout and say Romney won't be able to eat the whole pie! In fact he doesn't have to in order to secure the nomination. But whatever, now that Romney has won again, the narrative will also return to inevitability, with South Carolina, Colorado and Minnesota remembered as only unpleasant hiccups.

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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Martin McGuinness's long game: why a united Ireland is now increasingly likely

McGuinness died with his ultimate goal of a united Ireland arguably closer to realisation than at any other time since the island’s partition in 1921.

In late 2011 Martin McGuinness stood as Sinn Fein’s candidate in Ireland’s presidential election, raising all sorts of intriguing possibilities.

Raised in a tiny terraced house in the Bogside, Derry, he would have ended up living in a 92-room presidential mansion in Dublin had he won. A former IRA commander, he would have become supreme commander of Ireland’s defence forces. Once banned from Britain under the Prevention of Terrorism Acts, he would have received the credentials of the next British ambassador to Dublin. Were he invited to pay a state visit to London, a man who had spent much of his youth shooting or bombing British soldiers would have found himself inspecting a guard of honour at Buckingham Palace.

McGuinness would certainly have shaken the hands of the English team before the Ireland-England rugby match at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin every other year. “I’d have no problem with that,” he told me, grinning, as he campaigned in the border county of Cavan one day that autumn. Though a staunch republican, he enjoyed the “Protestant” sports of rugby and cricket, just as he supported Manchester United and enjoyed BBC nature programmes and Last of the Summer Wine. He wrote poetry and loved fly-fishing, too. Unlike Gerry Adams, the coldest of cold fish, McGuinness was hard to dislike – provided you overlooked his brutal past.

In the event, McGuinness, weighed down by IRA baggage, came a distant third in that election but his story was astonishing enough in any case. He was the 15-year-old butcher’s assistant who rose to become the IRA chief of staff, responsible for numerous atrocities including Lord Mountbatten’s assassination and the Warrenpoint slaughter of 18 British soldiers in 1979.

Then, in 1981, an IRA prisoner named Bobby Sands won a parliamentary by-election while starving himself to death in the Maze Prison. McGuinness and Adams saw the mileage in pursuing a united Ireland via the ballot box as well as the bullet. Their long and tortuous conversion to democratic politics led to the Good Friday accord of 1998, with McGuinness using his stature and “street cred” to keep the provisional’s hard men on board. He became Northern Ireland’s improbable new education minister, and later served as its deputy first minister for a decade.

His journey from paramilitary pariah to peacemaker was punctuated by any number of astounding tableaux – visits to Downing Street and Chequers; the forging of a relationship with Ian Paisley, his erstwhile arch-enemy, so strong that they were dubbed the “Chuckle Brothers”; his denunciation of dissident republican militants as “traitors to the island of Ireland”; talks at the White House with Presidents Clinton, George W Bush and Obama; and, most remarkable of all, two meetings with the Queen as well as a state banquet at Windsor Castle at which he joined in the toast to the British head of state.

Following his death on 21 March, McGuinness received tributes from London that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. Tony Blair said peace would not have happened “without Martin’s leadership, courage and quiet insistence that the past should not define the future”. Theresa May praised his “essential and historic contribution to the extraordinary journey of Northern Ireland from conflict to peace”.

What few noted was that McGuinness died with his ultimate goal of a united Ireland arguably closer to realisation – albeit by peaceful methods – than at any other time since the island’s partition in 1921.

The Brexit vote last June has changed political dynamics in Northern Ireland. The province voted by 56 per cent to 44 in favour of remaining in the European Union, and may suffer badly when Britain leaves. It fears the return of a “hard border” with the Republic of Ireland, and could lose £330m in EU subsidies.

Dismay at the Brexit vote helped to boost Sinn Fein’s performance in this month’s Stormont Assembly elections. The party came within 1,200 votes of overtaking the Democratic Unionist Party, which not only campaigned for Leave but used a legal loophole to funnel £425,000 in undeclared funds to the broader UK campaign. For the first time in Northern Ireland’s history, the combined unionist parties no longer have an overall majority. “The notion of a perpetual unionist majority has been demolished,” Gerry Adams declared.

Other factors are also working in Sinn Fein’s favour. The party is refusing to enter a new power-sharing agreement at Stormont unless the DUP agrees to terms more favourable to the Irish nationalists. Sinn Fein will win if the DUP agrees to this, but it will also win if there is no deal – and London further inflames nationalist sentiment by imposing direct rule.

McGuinness’s recent replacement as Sinn Fein’s leader in Northern Ireland by Michelle O’Neill, a personable, socially progressive 40-year-old unsullied by the Troubles, marks another significant step in the party’s move towards respectability. As Patrick Maguire recently wrote in the New Statesman, “the age of the IRA old boys at the top is over”.

More broadly, Scottish independence would make the notion of Northern Ireland leaving the UK seem less radical. The Irish republic’s economic recovery and the decline of the Roman Catholic Church have rendered the idea of Irish unity a little less anathema to moderate unionists. And all the time, the province’s Protestant majority is shrinking: just 48 per cent of the population identified itself as Protestant in the 2011 census and 45 per cent Catholic.

The Good Friday Agreement provides for a referendum if a majority appears to favour Irish unity. Sinn Fein is beginning to agitate for exactly that. When Adams and McGuinness turned from violence to constitutional politics back in the 1980s they opted for the long game. Unfortunately for McGuinness, it proved too long for him to see Irish nationalism victorious, but it is no longer inconceivable that his four grown-up children might. 

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution