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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After Article 50 is triggered, what happens next?

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 31 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.