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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Letter from Donetsk: ice cream, bustling bars and missiles in eastern Ukraine

In Donetsk, which has been under the control of Russian backed rebels since April 2014, the propaganda has a hermetic, relentless feel to it.

Eighty-eight year-old Nadya Moroz stares through the taped-up window of her flat in Donetsk, blown in by persistent bombing. She wonders why she abandoned her peaceful village for a “better life” in Donetsk with her daughter, just months before war erupted in spring 2014.

Nadya is no stranger to upheaval. She was captured by the Nazis when she was 15 and sent to shovel coal in a mine in Alsace, in eastern France. When the region was liberated by the Americans, she narrowly missed a plane taking refugees to the US, and so returned empty-handed to Ukraine. She never thought that she would see fighting again.

Now she and her daughter Irina shuffle around their dilapidated flat in the front-line district of Tekstilshchik. Both physically impaired, they seldom venture out.

The highlight of the women’s day is the television series Posledniy Yanychar (“The Last Janissary”), about an Ottoman slave soldier and his dangerous love for a free Cossack girl.

They leave the dog-walking to Irina’s daughter, Galya, who comes back just in time. We turn on the TV a few minutes before two o’clock to watch a news report on Channel One, the Russian state broadcaster. It shows a montage of unnerving images: Nato tanks racing in formation across a plain, goose-stepping troops of Pravy Sektor (a right-wing Ukrainian militia) and several implicit warnings that a Western invasion is nigh. I wonder how my hosts can remain so impassive in the face of such blatant propaganda.

In Donetsk, which has been under the control of Russian-backed rebels since April 2014, the propaganda has a hermetic, relentless feel to it. If the TV doesn’t get you, the print media, radio and street hoardings will. Take a walk in the empty central district of the city and you have the creeping sense of being transported back to what it must have been like in the 1940s. Posters of Stalin, with his martial gaze and pomaded moustache, were taboo for decades even under the Soviets but now they grace the near-empty boulevards. Images of veterans of the 1941-45 war are ubiquitous, breast pockets ablaze with medals. Even the checkpoints bear the graffiti: “To Berlin!” It’s all inching closer to a theme-park re-enactment of the Soviet glory years, a weird meeting of propaganda and nostalgia.

So completely is the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in thrall to Russia that even its parliament has passed over its new flag for the tricolour of the Russian Federation, which flutters atop the building. “At least now that the municipal departments have become ministries, everyone has been promoted,” says Galya, wryly. “We’ve got to have something to be pleased about.”

The war in the Donbas – the eastern region of Ukraine that includes Donetsk and Luhansk – can be traced to the street demonstrations of 2013-14. The former president Viktor Yanukovych, a close ally of Vladimir Putin, had refused to sign an agreement that would have heralded closer integration with the EU. In late 2013, protests against his corrupt rule began in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (“Independence Square”) in Kyiv, as well as other cities. In early 2014 Yanukovych’s security forces fired on the crowds in the capital, causing dozens of fatalities, before he fled.

Putin acted swiftly, annexing Crimea and engineering a series of “anti-Maidans” across the east and south of Ukraine, bussing in “volunteers” and thugs to help shore up resistance to the new authority in Kyiv. The Russian-backed rebels consolidated their power base in Donetsk and Luhansk, where they established two “independent” republics, the DPR and its co-statelet, the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR). Kyiv moved to recover the lost territories, sparking a full-scale war that raged in late 2014 and early 2015.

Despite the so-called “peace” that arrived in autumn 2015 and the beguiling feeling that a certain normality has returned – the prams, the ice creams in the park, the bustling bars – missiles still fly and small-arms fire frequently breaks out. You can’t forget the conflict for long.

One reminder is the large number of dogs roaming the streets, set free when their owners left. Even those with homes have suffered. A Yorkshire terrier in the flat next door to mine started collecting food from its bowl when the war began and storing it in hiding places around the flat. Now, whenever the shelling starts, he goes to his caches and binge-eats in a sort of atavistic canine survival ritual.

Pet shops are another indicator of the state of a society. Master Zoo in the city centre has an overabundance of tropical fish tanks (too clunky to evacuate) and no dogs. In their absence, the kennels have been filled with life-size plastic hounds under a sign strictly forbidding photography, for reasons unknown. I had to share my rented room with a pet chinchilla called Shunya. These furry Andean rodents, fragile to transport but conveniently low-maintenance, had become increasingly fashionable before the war. The city must still be full of them.

The bombing generally began “after the weekends, before holidays, Ukraine’s national days and before major agreements”, Galya had said. A new round of peace talks was about to start, and I should have my emergency bag at the ready. I shuddered back up to the ninth floor of my pitch-dark Tekstilshchik tower block. Shunya was sitting quiet and unruffled in his cage, never betraying any signs of stress. Free from Russian television, we girded ourselves for the night ahead.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war