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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Millennial Man: How Emmanuel Macron is charming France's globalised youth

At the French presidential candidate's London rally, supporters cheered for a reformist. 

If it weren’t for the flags – the blue, white and red of France, but also the European Union’s starred circle – the audience’s colourful signs and loud cheers could have been confused with those of a rock star’s concert. There even were VIP bracelets and queues outside Westminster Central Hall, of fans who waited hours but didn’t make it in. This wasn't a Beyonce concert, but a rally for France’s shiny political maverick, the centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron. He arrived on stage under a thunder of applause, which lasted the full minute he took to salute the first rank.

Since he resigned from his position as François Hollande’s economy minister last August, the 39-year-old relative political newbie – he used to be a banker and only joined the French government in 2014 – has created his own movement, En Marche, and has been sailing in the polls. In this he has been helped by the fall from grace of Conservative candidate François Fillon. Macron, who can count on the support of several Socialists, the centrist François Bayrou and the unofficial backing of the Elysee palace, is seen as the favourite to face hard-right Marine Le Pen in the election’s run-off in May.

A screen displayed photos of supporters from around the world (Singapore, Morocco, United States, “We’re everywhere”) as well as the hashtags and Snapchat account for the event. Rihanna’s “Diamonds” played as a team of young “helpers”, en anglais dans le texte, were guiding the 3,000 French expatriates to their seats. “We’re about 90 helpers tonight,” said Pierre-Elie De Rohan, 23. A History student at University College London, he joined the youth branch of En Marche via a school group.

The movement has been very active among students: “We’re in all London universities, King’s, Imperial, UCL”, he said. “It’s exciting”, echoed fellow helped Arcady Dmitrieff, 18, from UCL too. “We feel like we’re taking part in something bigger than us.”

Hopeful millennials are flowing to En Marche en masse. Macron is young, attractive, and though, like most French politicians, he is a graduate of the elite École Nationale d'Administration school, voters still see in him a breath of fresh air. “He’s neither left-wing nor right-wing," praised helper 18-year-old Victoria Tran. Her friend Adele Francey, 18, agreed. “He transcends the political divides that have confined us for the past thirty years," she said. “And he looks sincere," added Lena Katz, 18. “He really believes he can make a change.” The Macron brand, a mix of smart marketing, cult figure (the first letters of En Marche are Macron’s initials) and genuine enthusiasm previously unseen on the French campaign trail, has given him momentum in a political system highly based on the leader’s personality.

For Katz, Tran and many of their friends, France’s 2017 presidential race is their first election. “I want to be invested and to vote for someone I like," Tran said. “More than the others, Macron represents our generation.” Their close elders are hoping for a political renaissance, too – perhaps the one that was supposed to come with François Hollande in 2012. “I really believe he can make it," said Aurelie Diedhou, 29, a wholesale manager who has lived in London for two years. “On many topics, he’s more advanced than his rivals, a bit like Barack Obama in 2008. In France, when a politician has the pretention not to be corrupt, or to have held a job before entering politics, they’re accused of marketing themselves. But it’s just true.”

Macron occupied the stage for a good hour and a half – during which his supporters never failed to cheer, even for boring declarations such as “I want more management autonomy”. He passionately defended the European Union, and pleaded for its reform: “I am European, and I want to change Europe with you.”

Such words were welcomed by French expatriates, many of whom have feared that their life in the UK may be turned upside down by the consequences of the Brexit vote. “Britain has made a choice, which I think is a bad choice, because the middle classes have lacked perspectives, and have had doubts," Macron said. He promised to stand for the rights of the French people who “have made their life choice to settle in Britain”.

As far as Macron's UK co-ordinator, Ygal El-Harra, 40, was concerned, that the candidate would make a trip across the Channel was self evident: “We’ve got people in Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, in Cornwall. And they’re not just bankers and traders: some work in delivery, restaurants, many are students... They perfectly represent French society, and we want to keep in touch with them.”

In 2012, London’s French community opted for Nicolas Sarkozy over Hollande, but the vote was very close (48 per cent to 52 per cent). Just as within France, where he appeals to both left and right-wingers, Macron’s internationally-minded liberalism, coupled with his fluent, fairly well-accented English, could win big among the expat. And they matter - there are about 100,000 votes to grab. “For us who are in London, it’s important to have an open-minded, international candidate," the teenager Tran said.

Rosa Mancer, a 45-year-old strategist who has lived in London for 20 years, agreed. “I loved what he said about Europe. We must reform it from the inside," she said. But she admitted her support for Macron was “a choice by elimination”, due to the threat of the far-right Front National and the corruption case surrounding Fillon. “He’s got no scandal behind him," she said. Unlike their younger peers, voters with more experience in French politics tended to choose the dynamic Macron because he was the least compromised of the lot. “It’s certainly not Marine Le Pen, nor Benoît Hamon, the sectarist Fillon or the Stalinist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who will rebuild our fossilised France”, said Roland Stern, a Frenchman in his sixties. “In 1974, Giscard D’Estaing didn’t have a party, either. But once he had won, the others followed him.”

British politicians had come to see the French phenomenon, too. Labour’s Denis MacShane and former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg sat among the VIPs. For the latter, the enthusiasm around a promising and brilliant politician rang a bell. Looking back on the 2010 general election, the former Liberal Democrat leader reflected: “Although my platform was very different at the time, the basis was that the status quo was letting people down and that we needed something different.” Clegg’s advice to Macron? “Make sure you seek to set and manage people’s expectations.”

As Clegg knows too well, there is a danger in bringing everyone together, and that is keeping everyone together without disappointing them all. If his name comes first on the evening of May 7, Macron’s real challenge will begin: forming a government with his supports for a broad political spectrum, and dropping vague pledges and marketing slogans to map out a clear way ahead.

In Westminster, hundreds of supporters were literally behind him, seated in tiers on stage. A massive screen showed a live close-up of Macron's youthful face. Something in his picture-perfect smile seemed to wonder what would happen if the crowd stopped cheering.