Super Tuesday: Romney scrapes a win in Ohio. Where next for his campaign?

The frontrunner-by-default has just about got through this crucial test. But he is still failing to

Super Tuesday isn't super because it's exciting. American voters have been less than enthusiastic about this crop of White House contenders (OK, they're bored, but I'm trying to be nice). It is super for the big stakes involved -- 10 states holding primaries or caucuses with 419 delegates in play.

But it all hinged on Ohio. Romney and Santorum were neck-and-neck in that state by late Tuesday night. Romney eventually won with a tiny majority. Ohio is important in the general election, because it's a so-called swing, which means that voters are evenly split and could swing Republican or Democratic on any given election. Romney outspent Santorum three to one there. If he couldn't win in Ohio, it's likely Romney would face yet more criticism that he's just not conservative enough.

After a nail-biting vote count, Romney won Ohio with 38 per cent. Santorum was right behind him at 37 per cent.

But it gets worse. Romney has been burning through cash at a historic rate and almost all of it is coming from big-time donors. He outspent Santorum nine to one in Tennessee and 50 to one in Oklahoma, and yet he lost both plus North Dakota. Santorum won 37.3 percent to Romney's 28 in Tennessee and 33.7 percent to Romney's 28.2 in Oklahoma. Santorum took 40 percent of the votes in North Dakota (Ron Paul came in second with 27 percent).

Fortunately for Romney, he won Virginia, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Idaho, but those were expected. He is the former governor of the Bay State. Santorum wasn't on the ballot in Virginia. Romney beat his rivals for Vermont's neighbor, New Hampshire. And Idaho, like Nevada, has a sizable Mormon population loyal to Romney, a Mormon.

Also expected was Newt Gingrich's win in Georgia, which he represented as the Speaker of the House in the 1990s. He crushed it with 47.5 percent of votes. Gingrich's only other win was in South Carolina, which gave him hope of being the conservative alternative to Moderate Mitt. But this was before Santorum swept Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri in early February, which made him the official alternative. There has been some speculation that Gingrich might be able to make up a lot of ground on Super Tuesday given the number of Southern states up for grabs. That hasn't materialized and we'll see if Gingrich honors his vow to remain in contention all the way to the convention.

Romney still has the most money. Any time a rival has threatened him, Romney just spends more on attack ads (which work no matter how people complain about negative ads). That means this is a numbers game. In some states, delegates are proportionally awarded. In others, it's winner-takes-all. Romney only needs to achieve a certain number and then spend the rest of the nominating process in a rear-guard posture. When that happens and what that number will be, of course, are the big questions.

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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Emmanuel Macron's power struggle with the military

Reminding your subordinates that you are "their boss" doesn't go as far as listening to their problems, it may seem.

This is the sixth in a series looking at why Emmanuel Macron isn't the liberal hero he has been painted as. Each week, I examine an area of the new French president's politics that doesn't quite live up to the hype. Read the whole series.

It had started well between Macron and the army. He was the first president to chose a military vehicle to parade with troops on the Champs-Élysées at his inauguration, had made his first official visit a trip to Mali to meet French soldiers in the field, and had pulled a James Bond while visiting a submarine off the Brittany coast.

It’s all fun and games in submarines, until they ask you to pay to maintain the fleet.

“Macron wanted to appear as the head of armed forces, he was reaffirming the president’s link with the military after the François Hollande years, during which the defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had a lot of power,” Elie Tenenbaum, a defence research fellow at the French Institute for International Relations, told the New Statesman. The new president was originally viewed with distrust by the troops because he is a liberal, he says, but “surprised them positively” in his first weeks. Olivier de France, the research director at The French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs, agrees: “He sent good signals at first, gathering sympathy.” 

But the honeymoon ended in July, with what Tenenbaum describes as Macron’s first “real test” on defence: the announced cut of €850m from the army’s budget, despite Macron’s (very ambitious) campaign pledge to rise the defence budget to 2 per cent of the country’s GDP by 2025. A row ensued between the president and the French army’s chief of staff, general Pierre de Villiers, when the general complained publicly that the defence budget was “unbearable”. He told MPs: “I won’t let him [Macron] fuck me up like that!”

Macron replied in a speech he gave to military troops the day before Bastille Day, in which he called soldiers to honour their “sense of duty and discretion” and told them: “I have taken responsibilities. I am your boss.” After the general threatened to quit and wrote at length about “trust” in leadership, Macron added a few days later that “If something brings into conflict the army’s chief of staff and the president of the Republic, the chief of staff changes.” That, Tenenbaum says, was the real error: “On the content, he was cutting the budget, and on the form, he was straightening out a general in front of his troops”. This is the complete opposite of the military ethos, he says: “It showed a lack of tact.”

This brutal demonstration of power led to de Villiers’ resignation on 19 July – a first in modern French politics. (de Villiers had already protested over budget cuts and threatened to quit in 2014, but Hollande’s defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had backed down.)

Macron did his best to own up to his mistake, assuring the military that, although this year’s cuts were necessary to meet targets, the budget would be rised in 2018. “I want you to have the means to achieve your mission,” he said.

But the harm was done. “He should have introduced a long-term budget plan with a rise in the coming years right away,” says de France. “It was clumsy – of course he is the boss, everyone knows that. If he needs to say it, something is off.” The €850m will be taken out of the army’s “already suffering” equipment budget, says Tenenbaum. “There are pressures everywhere. Soldiers use equipment that is twice their age, they feel no one has their back." The 2 per cent GDP target Macron set himself during the campaign – a “precise” and “ambitious” one – would mean reaching a €50bn army budget by 2025, from this year’s €34m, he explains. “That’s €2bn added per year. It’s enormous.”

Read more: #5: On immigration, Macron's words draw borders

Macron has two choices ahead, De France explains: “Either France remains a big power and adapts its means to its ambitions” – which means honouring the 2 per cent by 2025 pledge – “or wants to be a medium power and adapts its ambitions to its means”, by reducing its army’s budget and, for instance, reinvesting more in European defence.

The military has good reason to doubt Macron will keep his promise: all recent presidents have set objectives that outlast their mandates, meaning the actual rise happens under someone else’s supervision. In short, the set goals aren’t always met. Hollande’s law on military programming planned a budget rise for the period 2018-19, which Macron has now inherited. “The question is whether Macron will give the army the means to maintain these ambitions, otherwise the forces’ capacities will crumble,” says Tenenbaum. “These €850m of cuts are a sign than he may not fulfill his commitments.”

If so, Macron’s row with the general may only be the beginning.  It didn’t help Macron’s popularity, which has been plummeting all summer. And the already distrustful troops may not forgive him: more than half of France’s forces of order may support Marine Le Pen’s Front national, according to one poll. “It’s hardly quantifiable and includes police officers,” Tenenbaum cautions. All the same, the army probably supports right-wing and hard-right politicians in higher numbers than the general population, he suggests.

James Bond would probably have known better than to irritate an entire army – but then again, Bond never was “their boss.”