Santorum's faux pas secures a win for Romney in Puerto Rico

The more Santorum raises issues that don't need to be raised, the more Romney looks like the most re

A few weeks ago, New York Times columnist Charles Blow was asked by a morning-show host on MSNBC why Rick Santorum keeps raising issues that don't need to be raised.

Instead of maximizing his image of being the grandson of a coal miner, father of seven and a man of faith, Santorum talks about the nausea he felt after reading John F. Kennedy's speech on church-state doctrine and the tendency of American colleges to brainwash youth into accepting the evils of liberalism.

Blow's answer, I think, was pretty much right:

This is part of who Rick Santorum is,.It is always going to surface. It has nothing to do with what's happening in the news. ... He has always wanted to fight on this ground and that is what he is doing and that is going to hurt him.

This is the Santorum who surfaced right before Sunday's GOP primary in Puerto Rico -- and it hurt. The island's primaries are rarely contentious, but this year's nomination had ramped up competition for its 20 delegates. That's why Santorum and rival Mitt Romney spent two days stumping in the commonwealth.

But during a town hall meeting, Santorum blow it all away when he said English had to be the first language of any American state. Later on, he clarified his remarks: "Like any other state, there has to be compliance with this and any other federal law. And that is that English has to be the principal language."

There is no such law nor is there any such language requirement enshrined in the US constitution. Nevertheless, a howler like that might have been ignored if Puerto Ricans weren't set to vote in November on whether to vote for statehood. As Albor Ruiz of the New York Daily News wrote:

His comments exploded like a bomb ... It is difficult to believe that even Santorum could have made a mistake so stupid it could guarantee a Romney victory.

It did. Romney won by a landslide, with 83 per cent of votes. Santorum got 8 per cent; Newt Gingrich got 3 per cent.

This is the longest GOP nomination in memory, and the longer it goes, the more moderate Romney appears compared to Santorum. Indeed, this all might be according to plan. Romney has already locked up a lead that's probably insurmountable. Now, he's pivoting from the rhetoric of radicalism to the rhetoric of moderation, where he's most comfortable. The more Santorum raises issues that don't need to be raised, the more Romney will look like the most reasonable guy in the room.

It strikes me that Puerto Rico has something to say about the future of the Republican Party -- ostensible moderates like Romney are more appealing to Latinos than fanatics. As Blow said, Santorum "scares the bejesus out of people."

Though Santorum is Catholic, and though Puerto Rico voters are largely Catholic, they, like their counterparts on the mainland, have rallied around the Latter-Day Saint. The future of the GOP is multicultural, but how can it do that without abandoning a xenophobic past? It probably can't. That is, unless Romney wins. That wouldn't be good for the U.S., but it might be for the GOP.

 

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.

 

Getty
Show Hide image

Why Podemos will defeat the Spanish Socialists

A new alliance on the Spanish Left will be stronger than the sum of its parts.

On Saturday morning, on a palm-tree lined promenade in the small city of Badalona in eastern Catalonia, a 38-year-old woman named Mar García Puig fanned herself with her speaking notes after taking her turn on the stage.

Until six months ago, Puig was a literary editor with no professional experience in politics apart from attending demonstrations and rallies. Then, in December, her life was transformed twice over. In the national election, she won a parliamentary seat for En Comú Podem, the Catalan regional ally of the anti-austerity party Podemos. Four hours after she learned of her victory, Puig gave birth to twins.

Fortunately Puig’s husband, who is a teacher, was able to take paternity leave so that she could take up her seat. In parliament, Puig “felt like an alien”, she told me over coffee. As it turned out, she had to give up her seat prematurely anyway – along with all the other Spanish MPs – when repeated attempts to form a government failed. So now, in the lead-up to Spain’s first repeat election of the modern era, to be held on 26 June, Puig was on the campaign trail once more in a drive to win a parliamentary seat.

The December general election was as historic as it was inconclusive, ushering in a novel political era in Spain and leaving the country with the most fragmented parliament in its history. Fed up with corruption, austerity and a weak recovery from the global financial crisis, voters punished the mainstream parties, ending the 40-year dominance of the conservative Partido Popular (People’s Party) and the centre-left PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party), which have held power since the death of General Franco. Neither group was able to win an absolute majority as new parties from both ends of the political spectrum garnered support from disenchanted voters.

On the left, Podemos, which was only founded in March 2014 by the ponytailed political scientist Pablo Iglesias, won 20 per cent of the vote. Ciudadanos (Citizens), formed in Catalonia a decade ago and occupying the centre left or centre right, depending on which analyst you talk to, secured a 14 per cent share.

Despite having four months to form a coalition government, the two biggest political parties could not reach a deal. The People’s Party, which had implemented a harsh austerity package over the past five years, recorded its worst electoral performance since 1989, losing 16 percentage points. It still won the most votes, however, and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was the first leader to be asked by King Felipe VI to form a government.

By the end of January, Rajoy conceded defeat after the PSOE refused to join his “grand coalition”. The Socialists then failed in their own attempt to form a government, leading the king to dissolve parliament and call a fresh election.

Despite the inconvenience of having to campaign nationwide once again – and being away from her twins – Mar García Puig’s enthusiasm for her new career is undiminished. “In Spain there is a window of opportunity,” she said. “There is a receptiveness to politics that there wasn’t before.”

When the repeat elections were called, some questioned whether Podemos and its regional allies could mobilise its supporters to the same extent as in December. Yet Puig believes that the party’s appeal has grown further in the six months that the country has been without a government. “We are still new and Podemos has this freshness – it can still make people join,” she told me.

The following day, as the church bells rang at noon in the Basque city of Bilbao, crowds gathered for another rally. For protection against the sun, Podemos supporters had covered their heads with purple triangular paper hats displaying the party name as it will appear on the ballot paper: Unidos Podemos, or “United We Can”.

In May, Podemos entered into an alliance with Izquierda Unida (United Left), the radical left-wing party that includes the Communist Party of Spain, and which won 3 per cent of the vote in December. Izquierda Unida is headed by Alberto Garzón, a 30-year-old Marxist economist who, according to a poll by the state-run CIS research institute, is the most highly rated party leader in Spain. Unlike Podemos’s Iglesias, who can fire up a crowd and is seen by some as divisive, Garzón is a calm and articulate politician who appeals to disaffected voters.

Nagua Alba, who at 26 is Podemos’s youngest MP, said the new alliance would be stronger than the sum of its parts, because Spain’s voting system punishes smaller parties when it comes to allocating seats in parliament. “It [the alliance] will attract all those people that aren’t convinced yet. It shows we can all work together,” Alba said.

As part of the agreement with Podemos, Izquierda Unida has agreed to drop its demands for a programme of renationalisation and withdrawing Spain from Nato. The alliance is campaigning on a platform of reversing Rajoy’s labour reforms, removing the national debt ceiling, opposing the TTIP trade deal, and increasing the minimum wage to €900 a month. A Unidos Podemos government would attempt to move the EU’s economic policy away from austerity and towards a more expansionist stance, joining a broader effort that involves Greece, Italy and Portugal. It is also committed to offering the Catalans a referendum on independence, a move that the mainstream parties strongly oppose.

The latest polls suggest that Unidos Podemos will become Spain’s second-biggest party, with 26 per cent of the vote, behind Rajoy’s Popular Party. The Socialist Party looks poised to fall into third place, with 21 per cent, and Ciudadanos is expected to hold its 14 per cent share. If the polls are accurate, the PSOE will face a difficult choice that highlights how far its stock has fallen. It can choose to enter as a junior partner into a coalition with the insurgent left, which has politically outmanoeuvred it. Or it could decide to prop up a Partido Popular-led right-wing coalition, serving as a constraint on power. 

This article first appeared in the 23 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain