Romney plays the numbers game in Illinois

In the past, whenever Mitt Romney said something stupid, his super PAC would come to the rescue with a money bomb. Attacking his rivals distracted you from whatever dumb thing Romney just said.

Rick Santorum hasn't had that luxury. First, he said college was for snobs. Then he dissed Kennedy. In Puerto Rico, he told voters to stop speaking Spanish. This week, he offered this arch-howler: "I don't care what the unemployment rate is going to be. It doesn't matter to me. My campaign doesn't hinge on unemployment rates."

What he meant to say (I think) is that jobs will come when government gets out of the way of business enterprise. Maximum markets means maximum freedom, and the president's job isn't to fix the economy so much as empower others to help themselves.

Like I said, I think that's what he means. More certain is that Santorum does not have the money to cover his ass. Romney outspent his rivals seven to one in Illinois. Either Santorum needs deeper pockets or he needs to stop giving Romney gifts of ammunition

Of course, Romney pounced, saying that he's concerned about the unemployment rate (which is officially 8.3 per cent nationally; 9.4 in Illinois). But there wasn't much doubt that Romney would win. Polls on Monday showed Romney with double-digit leads over Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. The question was how big the margin of victory would be to win the most delegates.

The answer is a lot. As of 9:30 EST, with about half of precincts reporting, Romney had half the votes, with Santorum far behind at 32.9 per cent, Paul at just over 9 per cent and Gingrich at 7.5.

Romney has longed for a decisive win over Santorum. His victory Tuesday says he's Mr. Establishment, as one Bloomberg columnist quipped, and that he has what it takes to win over voters in the heartland, a perceived weakness that had formerly dogged him.

Prior to Tuesday, the mainstream media had finally woken up to the mathematical reality of Romney's almost insurmountable lead. He has so many delegates now that even when he "loses", as he did with Alabama and Mississippi, he still adds delegates to his pile. The media, which is already bored with this longer-than-expected nomination, will now likely start asking the other candidates with more urgency if and when they are going to step away.

And Romney will help by turning his attention to Obama. His victory speech in Illinois has all the makings of an opening salvo:

We shared the conviction that the America that we loved was in struggle and adrift without strong leadership. And three years of Barack Obama have brought us fewer jobs and shrinking paychecks ... "It's time to say these words -- this word: Enough.

Santorum's strategy now seems to be making the distinction between a real conservative and a so-called Rino ("Republican in name only"). On Tuesday, he said that he won in places where conservatives actually live -- in small towns and farm country -- not in cities where Democrats and Rinos typically reside. This, again, is an attempt to paint Romney as not conservative enough, but such a ploy misunderstands Republican history. Whenever a leader has finally risen above the pack, Republicans typically get in line even if they don't particularly like him. That's Mitt Romney to a T.

In fact, Romney's biggest problem isn't winning, but getting voters to vote. The previous record for the lowest voter turnout was in 1996 with 32 per cent, according to the Chicago Tribune. This time around voter turnout was -- wait for it -- 15 percent.

Former House Speaker Gingrich doesn't often say much that's either good or true, but he nailed it when he complained about Romney's money bombs. He said:

To defeat Barack Obama, Republicans can't nominate a candidate who relies on outspending his opponents 7-1. Instead, we need a nominee who offers powerful solutions that hold the president accountable for his failures.

Romney is running a numbers game now, but beating an incumbent, himself armed to the teeth with deep-pocketed donors, is going to take more than a numbers strategy. It's going to take charisma and that may be one of the few things Romney's money can't buy.

 

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 problem with grammar schools – and the answer to Labour's troubles

This week's news, from Erdogan the despot, to memories of Disraeli, and coffee and class.

Whom should we be cheering in Turkey? Coups are by their nature ­anti-democratic, whatever the rhetoric of their instigators, but Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Islamist president, is about as much of a democrat as Vladimir Putin. Once he regained power, he dismissed several thousand judges, putting some under arrest. A large number of journalists were already in prison.

As recently as 1990, nearly half of Turkey’s employed population worked on the land and, even now, the proportion is more than a quarter. Erdogan has ruthlessly exploited the pious, socially conservative instincts of his people, who are rarely more than a generation away from the peasantry (and therefore politically “backward” in the Marxian sense), to win elections and push through economic liberalisation and privatisation. His foreign affairs ministry claims that the aim is to confine the state’s role to health, basic education, social security and defence. That is good enough for most Western governments. Provided he also co-operates in limiting the flow of Middle Eastern migrants into Europe, Erdogan can be as Islamist and authoritarian as he likes.

 

Quick fix for Labour

I have an answer to Labour’s problems. Its MPs should elect their own leader while Jeremy Corbyn continues as party leader. The former, recognised by the Speaker as the leader of the parliamentary opposition, would get the usual state aid for opposition parties. Corbyn would control Labour Party funds and assets.

He and his hardcore supporters should welcome this arrangement. Their aim, they say, is to build a new social movement. Relinquishing the burden of parliamentary leadership would leave them free to get on with this project, whatever it means. Corbyn could go back to what he enjoys most: voting against the Labour front bench. He would no longer have to dress up, bow to the Queen or sing the national anthem. This, I grant you, would not be a satisfactory solution for the long term. But the long term is more or less extinct in British politics. If Labour had peace for a few months, it might be enough. The situation would be resolved either by Corbyn falling under a bus (preferably not one driven by a Labour MP) or the Tory government collapsing in the face of a mass people’s uprising demanding Corbyn’s installation as supreme ruler. Don’t tell me that neither is likely to happen.

 

Divide and rule

The choice of Birmingham as the location to launch Theresa May’s leadership campaign, combined with proposals such as worker representation on company boards, has drawn comparisons between the new Prime Minister and Joseph Chamberlain.

Chamberlain, who as mayor of Birmingham in the mid-1870s tore down slums, brought gas and water supplies under public control and opened libraries, swimming pools and schools, was a screw manufacturer. There was an Edwardian joke – or, if there wasn’t, there ought to have been – that he screwed both major parties. He became a Liberal cabinet minister who split the party over Irish home rule, putting it out of power for most of the next 20 years. He and his followers then allied themselves with the Tories, known at the time as the Unionists. He duly split the Unionists over tariff reform, excluding them from office for a decade after the Liberals won the 1906 election.

Chamberlain was a populist who brilliantly combined patriotic imperialism with domestic radicalism, proposing smallholdings of “three acres and a cow” for every worker. One can see the appeal to some Brexiteers but he was also divisive and volatile, making him an odd role model for a supposedly unifying leader.

 

Mind your grammar

Justine Greening, the new Education Secretary, is the first to be wholly educated at a mainstream state secondary comprehensive. Pro-comprehensive groups were almost lyrical in praise of her appointment. Yet, unlike her predecessor-but-one, Michael Gove, she declines to rule out the ­return of grammar schools.

To understand how iniquitous grammar schools were, you need to have attended one, as I did. Primary-school friendships were ruptured, usually along lines of social class. The grammars were rigidly stratified. I was in the A stream and do not recall any classmates from semi-skilled or unskilled working-class homes. They were in the C stream and left school as early as possible with a few O-levels. No minister who wants a “one-nation Britain” should contemplate bringing back grammar schools.

 

Living history

Simon Heffer’s recent account in the NS of how his father fought in the Battle of the Somme led one letter writer to ask if anyone alive today could have a grandparent born in the 18th century. Another NS reader replied with an example: John Tyler, a US president of the 1840s, born in Virginia in 1790, had two grandsons who are still alive. Here is another possibility. “As Disraeli said to my husband . . .” If you hear a 94-year-old say that, don’t dismiss her as demented. Disraeli died in 1881. A 71-year-old who married a 24-year-old in 1946 (not impossible; the actors Cary Grant and Anthony Quinn both married women 47 years younger) could have spoken to Disraeli as a boy.

The past is not as far away as we think, though many politicians and journalists behave as though anything before 1980 happened on another planet.

 

Milk money

The class system is alive and well in parts of England. On a family weekend walk, we came across a small village with two adjacent pubs – one clearly for the toffs, the other more plebeian. This was most evident when ordering coffee. The downmarket pub told us that it served only UHT milk with its hot drinks. The other was ostentatiously horrified at the suggestion that it might serve any such thing. 

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt