Romney will win the nomination, the question is when

Whenever Romney has stumbled or been threatened by Gingrich or Santorum, he opens the cash spigot.

American media loves a good horse race. That's why you see so much feverish debate over trivia. For instance, does Mitt Romney have what it takes to appeal to white working-class Republicans? The answer, if you're clear-eyed, is moot, because voters who are truly working class - earning less than $50,000 - are most likely to vote Democratic in the general election. Reporters and pundits covering the GOP nomination for the White House are already bored. No need elevating that boredom to ennui with the realities of class.

The only question is when Romney will secure the nomination, not if. Other questions - if, say, he will be worn down politically and organizationally by November - are big questions no one can answer right now. In terms of party politics, no one can conceivably catch up to Romney, and this despite supporters who don't like really him.

Of the 10 states in play on Super Tuesday (March 6), he won six - Alaska, Idaho, Massachusetts, Ohio, Virginia and Vermont. Sure, there's room for debate amid victory. For instance, he won Ohio only by a hair. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich weren't on the ballot in Virginia. Mormons favoured a fellow Mormon in Idaho. And Massachusetts chose its former governor by a landslide (72.2 percent).

Romney now has 415 delegates, more than the others combined. He has more organization; he has more money; he has more momentum. Of all the differences between this nomination and those of the past (and there are obviously many), the one fundamental difference is the rule changes initiated by the Republican Party. Every state is supposed to allot delegates proportionally to ballots cast for each candidate. It used to be winner-takes-all. If there was any question about who the frontrunner might be, that was settled by the time the first Super Tuesday came around. But that can't happen this year, because some states, like Florida ignored the rule and remained winner-take-all while others, like Georgia, now issue a percentage of delegates. Bottom-line is Romney is winning. It's winning piecemeal but it's still winning.

What's fascinating is what 2012 has revealed about the GOP and American politics in general. For instance, the curious case of religion. Santorum is a Catholic and you'd think he'd be a shoo-in among Catholics. No so! You'd also think Catholics wouldn't care for a Mormon. Not so! Turn all that upside down. Santorum is so socially radical, as if he were speaking for Pope Benedict himself on, say, the issue of birth control, that Catholics have flocked to Romney. Meanwhile, Romney scarcely talks about religion at all, even waffling on abortion. Perhaps that why evangelical Christians, who favoured Bush, have rallied around Santorum's orthodox anti-abortionism.

Another curiosity is the beginning of what could be a split of the GOP. I don't mean to overstate this, but it's true that Ron Paul is the Tea Party favourite, and his positions on drug enforcement and war are contrary to party dogma. He has, however, a snowball's change in getting the GOP nomination. Even so, Paul, who ran in 2008, is laying the groundwork for a libertarian insurrection. Paul is elderly so some are saying the beneficiary of his effort is his son, Rand, who rode a wave of Tea Party enthusiasm to become a US Senator in 2010.

Then there's the money. No one has even spent as much at this time in the nomination process as Romney. Not even close. I'm talking about Romney's coffers as well as those of the super PAC (political action committee) that supports him. It's called Restore Our Future and it is the product of the 2009 ruling by the US Supreme Court that said money is the same as free speech and so it can't be subject to campaign finance laws. Romney's super PAC comprises huge donors, spending millions on each state during the nomination. Whenever Romney has stumbled or been threatened by Gingrich or Santorum, he opens the cash spigot. Romney might be the first GOP nominee universally known for not being able to sell his platform so he buys one.

As I said, American media loves a good horse race (and who doesn't!) but that also means a certain degree of myopia when it comes to explaining why Romney can't warm the cockles of Republicans. A better place to find answers is the larger cultural and political shifts that have taken place since the era of President George W. Bush.

The last decade saw significant and radical shifts to the right while Bush was in office. He and his henchmen Dick Cheney and Karl Rove were able to force the GOP's rank-and-file to get in line. The rank-and-file are of course now the same people in thrall to the radicalism of the Tea Party ideology. But once Bush left office, that radicalism could not be contained. Add to that the historic election of the first African-American President of the United States and you have the making of a reactionary extravaganza that was the 2010 mid-terms.

Without a strong leader like Bush - or for that matter, an influential intellectual like William F. Buckley, who died in 2008 - that radicalism has become unbridled. Even House Speaker John Boehner, who could reasonably presume that the rank-and-file would get in line as they historically have done, cannot control his right flank. Hence, the reason the GOP's top priority since 2008 has been unseating Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, pity the poor quarter-billionaire. While the party was moving to the radical right, Romney, as governor of Massachusetts from 2002 to 2007, was busy achieving health care reform, which had been a long-time objective of the Republican Party (yes, it's true!). I kind of feel sorry for the guy. He thought he was doing the right thing for the party - being a moderate Republican able to accomplish a Republican agenda while running a very liberal state. I can see why people would think he'd be a good candidate in a general election. Too bad he didn't foresee that his main problem would be his own party.

John Stoehr is a lecturer in English at Yale University.

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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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.