GOP in Michigan & Arizona: 3 things to know

Santorum vies for Mitt's home state, spoiler Democrats campaign for Paul.

Today's polling shows a close race for the Republican candidates in Michigan: PPP and WeAskAmerica each have the current frontrunner Mitt Romney leading by 2 and 4 points in the state primary, while the Mitchell/Rosetta Stone poll has his nearest rival Rick Santorum +2 ahead.

Arizona, a state that is home to a significant Mormon population, is expected to be won by the former Massachusetts governor: the polls give Romney a 13-16 point lead on Santorum.

Most tellingly, however, an overall Republican nominee race poll commissioned by Gallup on Sunday showed Romney ahead by a mere two points (Santorum 29, Romney 31, Gingrich 15, Paul 11); today a Politico poll switches this, giving Santorum the slim lead (Santorum 36, Romney 34, Gingrich 13, Paul 7).

The state of Michigan offers 30 delegate votes, awarded proportionally in relation to the state's 14 congressional districts. Likewise, Arizona has 29 delegates up for grabs. The Republican candidate Newt Gingrich has not campaigned at all in the Great Lake state, while Ron Paul appeared there only in the last three days.

1) Lose-lose for Romney in home state?

Over at the New York Daily News, Jonathan Lemire argues that whether or not Romney wins Michigan -- the state in which he was born and his father George W. Romney was a governor -- the outcome of tomorrow's primary could be a disaster for his campaign:

If he loses, the defeat would be devastating and could destroy his campaign.

A narrow victory, which the polls now suggest, would open Romney to a slew of questions about why he had such trouble banking a win on his home turf.

And even if he prevails in a rout, his positions and recent rhetoric that appeal to right-wing Michigan voters -- particularly on the auto industry bailout -- may cost him the swing state in November.

Rick Klein at ABC News has a similar warning; that Romney's challenges are growing rather than shrinking as the primary season develops:

Romney's struggle to close the deal in Michigan, where his family has deep roots and where he cruised to victory four years ago, is underscoring longstanding concerns about his candidacy, in addition to creating new ones.

. . . Besides having to answer questions about whether he's conservative enough, Romney now has to beat back suggestions that he can't connect with blue-collar voters whose support he'd need in the fall. Michigan, with its high unemployment and battered manufacturing base, is filled with the kind of voters whose support will determine the presidency in November.

2) The rhetoric shifts, again

Appealing to voters of modest incomes is exactly the task Santorum set himself over the weekend. In a scathing attack to his rival after a weak performance in the most recent GOP debate, Santorum told conservatives in a suburban neighbourhood of Detroit on Saturday:

I didn't blow in the wind when things were popular with the elite, because I don't come from the elite.

And on Romney's wavering positions over global warming and the deficit, Santorum blasted:

Maybe he doesn't understand what the term "resolute" means. It means that you're supposed to have a resolve or a consistent pattern of beliefs.

That evening, his attack on Obama was bizarrely anti-education -- and according to the Post's Eugene Robinson, "ridiculous, offensive, hypocritical":

President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob. There are good, decent men and women who go out and work hard every day, and put their skills to test, that aren't taught by some liberal college professor trying to indoctrinate them. Oh, I understand why [Obama] wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Martin at Politico noted that Romney has not been faux pas-free in recent days:

The former Massachusetts governor demonstrated again in a Detroit speech Friday how he can be a political hazard to himself when he veers off-script. Romney's wife, he explained in a state with 9.3 percent unemployment and in a city blighted by abandoned and decaying homes, "drives a couple of Cadillacs."

. . . Part of the front-runner's difficulty closing the deal is plainly a product of his distant, mechanical style. He bursts with specificity and disgorges a dazzling array of numbers, but conservatives aren't brought to their feet by a recitation of just how many Americans work for companies that file their federal taxes as individuals rather than as corporations.

3) Democrats call for Paul; could upset the vote

Perhaps the biggest unknown hanging over Michigan is what role Democrats will play in the "open" primary. With cross-party voters allowed to take to the state's GOP ballot, The Week has rounded up some of the possible outcomes of a Democratic attempt to spoil the race for Romney. The Detroit Free Press also reported today on the Democrat activists hoping to snag some delegates for the libertarian candidate Ron Paul; at this stage rather an outlier in the race, but votes for whom could further weaken Romney's standing as the man to lead the Republican party.

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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Why Philip Green's fall should bring down the honours system – but won't

Sir Shifty may fall in disgrace, but our ridiculous system will endure. No matter what's happening in the rest of politics.

Sir Philip Green’s Efficiency Review (2010) is his Das Kapital and it is still, happily, online. You can, if you wish, smirk at his recommendations to the government, which were solicited by David Cameron, I imagine, because when he stood next to Green he looked not like a 17th-century woodcut but like a tall, handsome semi-aristocrat.

“There is no motivation to save money or to treat cash ‘as your own’,” Green grumbles, before complaining, “There are inconsistent commercial skills across departments.” I am weeping with laughter at the whole report. But I’m not one of those BHS employees watching their pension ­vanish as the hideous cushions, throws and bedspreads pile up on the Green family yacht Lionheart. I instantly rename the yacht 14-Day Return Policy No More.

The days when Green could write efficiency reviews for people to ignore are gone. It is said that he could lose his knighthood, because that would be exciting and pointless. If so, I hope the ceremony features the formal rending of a garment from the BHS sale bin – perhaps a torn sock will be flung at his head? The Queen will not be happy, because de-knighting makes the ancient system of patronage look as ridiculous as it really is. Do intercessors between man and God make mistakes? Would they raise a man the Daily Mail now calls “Sir Shifty”? (I checked whether there was a Sir Shifty among the knights of the Round Table who flogged the Holy Grail to a passing tinker. There was not.)

Lord Melbourne advised Queen Victoria not to attempt to make her husband, Albert, a king, for if the people knew that they could make kings, they might unmake them. Green will discover this in his tiny way. But the elites should not hide their baubles. One fallen knight will not destroy the system (and I cannot think that Green will take £571m from his Lionheart cushion budget to save his knighthood by replenishing the BHS pension fund, because a knighthood is, in essence, just a tiny Bentley Continental that you wear over your nipple). One fallen knight should destroy the system but it won’t, because human conceit and docility are without end. Green will be shunned. Nothing will change.

One might have hoped that the Brexit vote would have alerted Cameron to the abyss between the electorate and the elected. (Even Alastair Campbell, chomping against Brexit, seemed to forget that he was as complicit in the alienation of voters as anyone else: government by sofa, teeth and war.) The response was glib, even for Cameron, a man so glib that I sometimes think he is a reflection in a pond. Brexit hit him like someone caught in a mild shower without an umbrella. He hummed at the lesson that history dealt him; he hummed as he left his page. It was the hum of the alpha Etonian caught out in a mistake, yes, but it was still a bloody hum.

His next act was to increase pay-offs to favoured courtiers against civil service advice and at public expense; then, it was reported, he nominated his spin doctor Craig Oliver and his former spin doctor Gabby Bertin for peerages, because the upper house needs more PRs. He has learned nothing. I wish him a relaxed retirement in which he will, apparently, write his four-page memoir, David Cameron: My Struggle (sub-subtitle: Eton Mess?). I hope he does not attempt to deny “the prosciutto affair”, because there is no need. It was not true. It was too pure a metaphor.

So the honours system, an essential part of our alienating politics, alongside dodgy donors, duck houses and George Galloway, endures in its worst form as conventional politics fails. It is a donkey sanctuary for political friends and Bruce Forsyth. I am not suggesting that everyone who has been honoured is dreadful – some lollipop ladies deserve to be patronised with an OBE (when there is no E any more), I am sure, and the lords, some of whom are excellent, are the functional opposition now – but the system can no longer be defended by the mirth potential of watching politicians ponder what light-entertainment celebrities might swing a marginal before being posthumously accused of rape. We must find something better before the house burns down. Perhaps a robust parliamentary democracy?

The problem is best expressed by the existence of a specialist consultancy called Awards Intelligence, which engages in “VIP brand-building” by soliciting awards. It sells “awards plans” from £795, which I could well imagine Philip Green perusing as he bobs about aboard Lionheart, were it not too late. The Awards Intelligence website tells us so much, though obliviously, about the narcissism of modern politics that I am tempted to reproduce it in full. But I will merely report that it asks:

"Did you know that you can join the House of Lords on a part-time basis as an Independent Crossbench Peer or a political peer affiliated to one of the main politial parties – even if you have ongoing work, family or community commitments!"

The message from Awards Intelligence, which boasts of a 50 per cent success rate, is clear: the legislature is part-time, it exists to “instil trust, add credibility and provide a platform for you to have your say” – and it can’t always spell “political”.

Sir Shifty and Awards Intelligence do not constitute the worst crisis in the history of honours, dreadful though they are. During the First World War the royal German cousins were stripped of their garters, so that British soldiers would not have to kill men of higher rank. But it is time for the Queen to stop pinning toys on nipples. They are part of a political system sweeping us, swiftly, towards the night.

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue