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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As we reach the 50th anniversary of China's Cultural Revolution, are we seeing echoes of Mao?

With the official verdict being that Mao was “70 per cent good, 30 per cent bad”, his legacy is never far from the mind of today's politicians.

The Great Hall of the People on the western side of Tiananmen Square in Beijing is normally the scene for formal occasions, such as the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress. In early May, however, it resonated with singing by a group of young women, 56 Flowers, at a concert staged by an organisation calling itself the “Propaganda Department Office of Socialist Core-Value Propaganda and Education”. Tickets sold for up to £200.

The repertoire of the singing group was of a kind heard only rarely in China today. It consisted mainly of anthems from the Mao Zedong era, among them “Sailing the Seas Depends on the Helmsman”, which compares the chairman’s thinking to “the sun that never sets”. The maverick politician Bo Xilai used such songs in his campaign to challenge the central leadership earlier this decade but he is now in prison, serving a life sentence for corruption.

The singers, who describe themselves as “the socialist band fallen from heaven”, wear the sort of scarves worn by Young Pioneers in the Cultural Revolution that Mao launched, 50 years ago this month, to shake up China and assert his leadership.

Some other songs praised the current leader, Xi Jinping, but the event was determinedly retro, demonstrating nostalgia for the era before China embarked on its race for economic growth and before society modernised. In a country where the leaders shape history to their purpose, this was a distinct political statement, and that the performance was permitted at all raised eyebrows among China-watchers. There was even more puzzlement when the organisation that put its name to the show turned out not to exist. Speculation spread that the whole thing had been staged by opponents of the current leadership in an attempt to embarrass it.

While Mao remains the biggest figure in the narrative of the People’s Republic, his three decades in power were marked by killings on a huge scale and the repeated use of terror, ending with the ten-year disaster of the Cultural Revolution. His heritage poses a problem in a country with a vastly changed society that has little affinity with the rampaging Red Guards. The Communist Party-run state needs the Great Helmsman at the centre of its history and its conquest of power. But the kind of nostalgia peddled by 56 Flowers has little relevance in China today, where materialism is more important than Maoist Marxism and where the pressing issues are how to deal with a mountain of debt and reduce excess industrial capacity.

In an unprecedented move in mid-May, the party newspaper People’s Daily ran a severe condemnation of the Cultural Revolution as a grave mistake. However, Mao’s body still lies embalmed in Tiananmen Square, his head is on the banknotes and the official verdict is that he was “70 per cent good, 30 per cent bad”.

Mao launched the movement that convulsed his country after a politburo meeting on 16 May 1966, which identified “representatives of the bourgeoisie who have sneaked into the party, the government, the army and various spheres of culture” but were merely “a bunch of counter-revolutionary revisionists”, aiming to instal “a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie”.

The man who had led the Chinese communists to power in 1949 had been feeling disgruntled. He had been marginalised by his lieutenants Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping following the collapse of his attempt to industrialise the country in the Great Leap Forward at the end of the 1950s and the ensuing famine, which some estimate to have killed more than 40 million people. Mao was nearly 73 but he was not yet ready to be kicked upstairs into a ceremonial post.

Rousing himself for a final power play, Mao launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution to assert himself, to destroy the Communist Party’s “bourgeois” bureaucracy and to give China a shake-up as he led the nation’s young people on a crusade to “destroy the old”. Once more, he ruthlessly turned Chinese against Chinese to consolidate his power and to pursue a supposedly revolutionary adventure.

The effects were, as with earlier initiatives, catastrophic – politically, economically and socially – above all, for the many millions who suffered death, injury, torture and deprivations. The party, the army, schools, universities and practically all other institutions were caught up in the maelstrom.

The wrecking of the regime’s control mechanisms cleared the way to the economic reform that was officially approved by Deng after Mao’s death in 1976, as Frank Dikötter shows in his magisterial new book, The Cultural Revolution: a People’s History, 1962-76. But loosening control is the last thing that Xi Jinping has in mind. Since taking power in November 2012, he has pursued a crackdown on dissent and is centralising authority in a way not seen since Mao. At the same time, and in the lead-up to a crucial party congress at the end of 2017, he is trying to use his campaign against corruption to root out opponents and change the way that China works.

Some commentators have described it as a new Cultural Revolution, even though the attempt to impose draconian control from the centre under Xi hardly chimes with the Red Guards’ invocation to “storm the fortress” and destroy the centres of authority. Still, there are echoes of 50 years ago. In a speech published this month, the president denounced “careerists and conspirators” who were undermining party governance.

“We . . . must make a resolute response to eliminate the problem and deter further violations,” Xi added, in a tone that Chairman Mao might have used. The context changes but China’s leaders have always been adept at finding adversaries to be used to advance their own ends – though what happened under Mao should stand as a warning of where witch-hunting can lead.

Jonathan Fenby is the author of “Will China Dominate the 21st Century?” and “The Penguin History of Modern China”

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad