Santorum wins big. Is it a big nothing for the GOP race?

Santorum's victories in Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado mean bigger challenges for Romney and bett

After victories in Florida and Nevada, it seemed Republicans, even Tea Partiers, Evangelicals and otherwise "very conservative" Republicans, were finally consolidating around Mitt Romney.

That was the narrative on Sunday. By Monday, all that had changed. A new poll released by Public Policy Polling showed that Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania Senator considered the most socially conservative of the candidate, was going to have a very big day, with wins in Missouri and Minnesota, and a strong second-place finish in Colorado.

As of midnight EST, that prediction was about right. Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado all went to Santorum. Romney came in second in Missouri and third in Minnesota (pending final results, he was second in Colorado). Santorum won 55 per cent in Missouri to Romney's 25, 46 per cent to Romney's 16 in Minnesota (Ron Paul won 27 per cent). In 2008, Romney won Minnesota.

This is a big win for Santorum or big nothing, depending on how you square it. Tuesday's victories help revive his campaign, which had been flagging since Iowa. But Minnesota's and Colorado's caucus results, like Iowa's, are non-binding, and Missouri doesn't pick its party delegates until later in the year.

But in many ways, a win for Santorum is another way of saying a loss for Romney. That's what Tuesday was about -- a warning that the conservative heart of the Republican party is wary of a Mormon millionaire who soaks his opponents in attack ads and whose bleeding-heart liberal health reform law was the model for Obamacare. Newt Gingrich recently compared Romney to Barack Obama and billionaire George Soros and it looks as if those attacks have paid off. For Rick Santorum. The American heartland is the native soil of American conservatism. It's no surprise voters there went for a devout Catholic who speaks of doomsday and the evils of stem-cell research.

Indeed, while Gingrich and Romney have sparred relentlessly over the past 30 days, Santorum has gone unscathed while benefiting from the fallout. But the honeymoon is over. On Tuesday, the Romney campaign downplayed that day's vote while turning its attention to Santorum, accusing him of being a "big government conservative" and then cribbing his well-received freedom of religion message (which, in the language of the looking-glass, means anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage).

Romney skipped Missouri because it didn't have delegates at stake. To Santorum, this is why Missouri was a more honest assessment of who the most viable candidate is. Santorum won every single county in Missouri and Romney didn't spend a dime. Even so, he has more money, more organization and more experience running for the White House. In Florida, more than 90 per cent of ads were negative and most were from Romney's camp. The onslaught continued in Nevada, and now that Santorum is surging, he can expect the same treatment through March, the earliest we will know which candidate will be chosen.

Santorum's win on Tuesday complicated an already complicated GOP nomination process. First, new rules by the Republican party mean that delegates are awarded proportionally to winners, instead of the winner-takes-all approach of the past. That gives every candidate incentive to run longer, even Gingrich, who hasn't won since South Carolina.

The longer Gingrich stays, the happier Obama is, because Gingrich is tearing Romney apart even as he loses. Romney, meanwhile, is trying to play a short and long game at the same time, with one eye on Gingrich and one eye on Obama. Now he has to watch Santorum, too, and Santorum is now a viable candidate to not only be the not-Romney but perhaps to lead a third party spawned from the cracks long-ago evident in the GOP.

Then again, Gingrich. By March, the earliest we will see a dominant figure arise, the primaries will move back to the American south, where Gingrich is a shoo-in, just as he was in South Carolina, where there was a surge in voter turnout that rivaled every primary since. Even with no delegates at stake, Santorum's victories, combined with proportional delegates to each winner, mean bigger challenges for Romney and better chances for Gingrich.

 

 

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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The failed French presidential candidates who refuse to endorse Emmanuel Macron

While the candidates of the main left and right parties have endorsed the centrist from nowhere, others have held back. 

And breathe.

At 8pm on Sunday night France, Europe, and much of the West let out a huge sigh of relief. After over a month of uncertainty, scandals, rebounds, debates and late surges, the results of the first round of the French Presidential Election was as predicted: Emmanuel Macron (24 per cent) will face off against Marine Le Pen (21 per cent) in the second round of the election on the 7 May.

While polls have been predicting this face-off for a while, the shocks of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump had thrown polling predictions into doubt. But France has a good track record when it comes to polling, and their surveys are considered some of the most reliable in the world. The irony is that this uncertainty has meant that the polls have never been so central to a campaign, and the role of polling in democracies has been a hot topic of debate during the election.

The biggest surprise in many ways was that there were no surprises. If there was a surprise, it was a good one: participation was higher than expected: close to 80 per cent – on par with the Presidential Elections of 2012 – whereas there were concerns it would be as low as 70 per cent. Higher participation is normally a bad sign for the extremes, who have highly motivated voters but a limited base, and who often do better in elections when participation is low. Instead, it boosts the traditional parties, but here instead of the traditional right-wing Republican (Fillon is at 20 per cent) or Socialist parties (Hamon at 6 per cent), it was in fact the centre, with Emmanuel Macron, who benefited.

So France has so far not succumbed to the populist wave that has been engulfing the West. The contagion seemed to be spreading when the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi lost a referendum on reforming the constitution, but the fightback started in Austria which rejected the far-right candidate Norbert Hofer in its Presidential election and voted for the pro-European, former-Green independent candidate Alexander Van der Bellen. Those hopes now rest on the shoulders of Macron. After having dubbed Angela Merkel the leader of the free world during his farewell tour of Europe, Barack Obama gave his personal blessing to Macron last week.

Many wondered what impact Thursday night’s shooting on the Champs-Elysées would have. Would it be a boon for Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration platform? Or even right-wing François Fillon’s more traditional law and order approach? In the end the effect seems to have been minimal.

In the second round, Macron is currently predicted to beat Marine Le Pen by more than 60 per cent of the vote. But how does Le Pen almost double her vote in the second round, from around 20 per cent to close to 40 per cent? The "Republican Front" that saw her father off back in 2002, when he received only 18 per cent of the vote, has so far held at the level of the two traditional political parties. Both Hamon and Fillon have called to vote for Macron in the second round to stop the Front National - Hamon put it nicely when he said he could tell the difference between political opponents, and opponents of the Republic.

But not everyone is toing the line. Sens Commun, the anti-gay marriage group that has supported Fillon through thick and thin, said that it will not call to vote for either party – a thinly veiled invitation to vote for Le Pen. And Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, a conservative, Catholic and anti-EU right wing candidate, whose 5 per cent is the reason Fillon didn’t make it to the second round, has also abstained from calling to vote for either. It is within this electorate that Le Pen will look to increase her vote.

The other candidate who didn’t call to vote for anyone was Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who fell back on a demagogic position of saying he would follow the wishes of his supporters after having consulted them. But as a spokesperson for the FN pointed out, there are remarkable congruities between their respective platforms, which can be categorised as a populism of the left and a populism of the right.

They in particular converge over the question of Europe. Aping Brexit, both want to go to Brussels to argue for reform, and if none is forthcoming put membership of the Eurozone to the electorate. While Le Pen’s anti-Europeanism is patent, Mélenchon’s position is both disingenuous and dangerous. His Plan A, as he puts it, is to attempt reform at the European level. But he knows fine well that his demands, which include revoking the independence of the European Central Bank and putting an end to austerity (the ECB, through its massive programme of quantitative easing, has already been trying to stimulate growth) will not be met. So he reverts to his Plan B, which is to leave the European Treatises and refound Europe on a new basis with like-minded members.

Who those members might be he hasn’t specified, nor has he explained how he would leave the EU - at least Le Pen had the decency to say she would put it to a referendum. Leaving the European Treatise has been in his programme from the beginning, and seems to be the real object of his desires. Nonetheless, having set himself up as the anti-Le Pen candidate, most of his supporters will vote for Macron. Others will abstain, and abstention will only help Le Pen. We’ve been here before, and the last thing we need now is complacency.

 

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