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.

 

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Under pressure at home, Donald Trump will struggle to deliver what Saudi Arabia wants

Above all, the Gulf states want stability. Can this beleaguered US president bring order?

There is a nervous energy around Riyadh. Fresh palm trees line the roads from the airport, punctuated by a wall of American flags and corporate slogans: “Together we prevail.” All the street lights are suddenly working.

The visit of any American president is always a lavish affair in Saudi Arabia, but there is an optimism to this visit that evaded the Obama years and even the recent visits of Theresa May and Angela Merkel.

Yet, there are two distinct parts to this trip – Trump’s first overseas engagement as president – that will determine its success. The first is relatively straightforward. Trump will sign huge defence contracts worth billions of dollars and offer trading opportunities that allow him to maintain his narrative of economic renewal for American businesses.

For the Saudis, too, these deals will fit into their ambitious project – known as Vision 2030 – to expand and diversify their economy away from its current dependence on oil revenues. Both parties are comfortable with this type of corporate and transactional government, enjoying the gaudy pomp and ceremony that comes with the signing of newly minted deals.

The more complicated aspects of the trip relate to its political dimensions. As the Middle East continues to convulse under the most significant turmoil to envelope it since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, what Gulf leaders desperately want is the re-establishment of order. At its core, that is what will define Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia – and the Saudis are optimistic.

Their buoyancy is borne of shared regional interests, not least curbing Iranian influence. Ever since the Arab uprisings in 2011, Tehran has asserted itself across the Levant by organising hundreds of proxies to fight on its behalf in Syria and Iraq. Closer to home, too, the Gulf states accuse Iran of fomenting unrest within Shia communities in Saudi Arabia’s eastern provinces, in Bahrain, and in Yemen.

All of this has left the House of Saud feeling especially vulnerable. Having enjoyed an American security umbrella since the 1970s, Obama’s pursuit of the Iran deal left them feeling particularly exposed.

In part at least, this explains some of the Kingdom’s more frantic actions at home and abroad – including the execution of prominent Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, and the war in Yemen. Both are really about posturing to Iran: projecting power and demonstrating Saudi resolve.

Trump shares these concerns over Iranian influence, is prepared to look the other way on Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and is deeply opposed to Obama’s nuclear deal. Riyadh believes he will restore the status quo and is encouraged by the direction of travel.

Just last month Trump commissioned a review of the Iran deal while the US Treasury imposed sanctions on two Iranian officials. Saudi Arabia also welcomed Trump’s decision to launch cruise missiles against a Syrian military base last month after Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons in the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

These measures have been largely tokenistic, but their broader impact has been very significant. The Saudis, and their Gulf partners more generally, feel greatly reassured. This is an American presence in the region that is aligned to their interests, that they know well and can manage.

That is why Gulf states have rushed to embrace the new president ever since he first entered the Oval Office. Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (colloquially known simply as “MBS”), already visited him in Washington earlier this year. The Emiratis and others followed shortly afterwards.

A spokesman for Mohammed bin Salman later described the meeting with Trump as an “historical turning point” in relations between the two countries. A White House readout of the meeting baldly stated: “The President and the deputy crown prince noted the importance of confronting Iran's destabilising regional activities.”

Now that Trump is visiting them, the Saudis are hoping to broker an even broader series of engagements between the current administration and the Islamic world. To that end, they are bringing 24 different Muslim leaders to Saudi Arabia for this visit.

This is where Trump’s visit is likely to be fraught because he plans to deliver a major speech about Islam during his visit – a move that has seemingly no positives associated with it.

There is a lot of interest (and bemusement) from ordinary Saudis about what Trump will actually say. Most are willing to look beyond his divisive campaign rhetoric – he did, after all, declare “I think Islam hates us” – and listen to him in Riyadh. But what can he say?

Either he will indulge his audience by describing Islam as a great civilisation, thereby angering much of his political base; or he will stick to the deeply hostile rhetoric of his campaign.

There is, of course, room for an informed, careful, and nuanced speech to be made on the topic, but these are not adjectives commonly associated with Donald Trump. Indeed, the pressure is on.

He will be on the road for nine days at a time when pressure is building over the sacking of the former FBI director James Comey and the ongoing investigation into former national security advisor Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russia.

It is already being reported that Trump is not entirely enthusiastic about such a long overseas programme, but he is committed now. As with almost everything concerning his presidency, this extra pressure adds a wild air of unpredictability to what could happen.

Away from the lucrative deals and glad-handing, this will be the real standard by which to measure the success of Trump’s visit. For a relationship principally defined by its pursuit of stability, whether Trump can deliver what the Gulf really wants remains to be seen.

Shiraz Maher is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and a senior research fellow at King’s College London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation.

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