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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After Article 50 is triggered, what happens next?

Theresa May says Article 50 will be triggered on 29 March. The UK must prepare for years, if not decades, of negotiating. 

Back in June, when Europe woke to the news of Brexit, the response was muted. “When I first emerged from my haze to go to the European Parliament there was a big sign saying ‘We will miss you’, which was sweet,” Labour MEP Seb Dance remembered at a European Parliament event in London. “The German car industry said we don’t want any disruption of trade.”

But according to Dance – best known for holding up a “He’s Lying” sign behind Nigel Farage’s head – the mood has hardened with the passing months.

The UK is seen as demanding. The Prime Minister’s repeated refusal to guarantee EU citizens’ rights is viewed as toxic. The German car manufacturers now say the EU is more important than British trade. “I am afraid that bonhomie has evaporated,” Dance said. 

On Wednesday 29 March the UK will trigger Article 50. Doing so will end our period of national soul-searching and begin the formal process of divorce. So what next?

The European Parliament will have its say

In the EU, just as in the UK, the European Parliament will not be the lead negotiator. But it is nevertheless very powerful, because MEPs can vote on the final Brexit deal, and wield, in effect, a veto.

The Parliament’s chief negotiator is Guy Verhofstadt, a committed European who has previously given Remoaners hope with a plan to offer them EU passports. Expect them to tune in en masse to watch when this idea is revived in April (it’s unlikely to succeed, but MEPs want to discuss the principle). 

After Article 50 is triggered, Dance expects MEPs to draw up a resolution setting out its red lines in the Brexit negotiations, and present this to the European Commission.

The European Commission will spearhead negotiations

Although the Parliament may provide the most drama, it is the European Commission, which manages the day-to-day business of the EU, which will lead negotiations. The EU’s chief negotiator is Michel Barnier. 

Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He has said of the negotiations: “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

This will be a “deal” of two halves

The Brexit divorce is expected to take 16 to 18 months from March (although this is simply guesswork), which could mean Britain officially Brexits at the start of 2019.

But here’s the thing. The divorce is likely to focus on settling up bills and – hopefully – agreeing a transitional arrangement. This is because the real deal that will shape Britain’s future outside the EU is the trade deal. And there’s no deadline on that. 

As Dance put it: “The duration of that trade agreement will exceed the life of the current Parliament, and might exceed the life of the next as well.”

The trade agreement may look a bit like Ceta

The European Parliament has just approved the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) with Canada, a mammoth trade deal which has taken eight years to negotiate. 

One of the main stumbling points in trade deals is agreeing on similar regulatory standards. The UK currently shares regulations with the rest of the UK, so this should speed up the process.

But another obstacle is that national or regional parliaments can vote against a trade deal. In October, the rebellious Belgian region of Wallonia nearly destroyed Ceta. An EU-UK deal would be far more politically sensitive. 

The only way is forward

Lawyers working for the campaign group The People’s Challenge have argued that it will legally be possible for the UK Parliament to revoke Article 50 if the choice is between a terrible deal and no deal at all. 

But other constitutional experts think this is highly unlikely to work – unless a penitent Britain can persuade the rest of the EU to agree to turn back the clock. 

Davor Jancic, who lectures on EU law at Queen Mary University of London, believes Article 50 is irrevocable. 

Jeff King, a professor of law at University College London, is also doubtful, but has this kernel of hope for all the Remainers out there:

“No EU law scholar has suggested that with the agreement of the other 27 member states you cannot allow a member state to withdraw its notice.”

Good luck chanting that at a march. 

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.