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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After Article 50 is triggered, what happens next?

The UK must prepare for years, if not decades, of negotiating. 

Back in June, when Europe woke to the news of Brexit, the response was muted. “When I first emerged from my haze to go to the European Parliament there was a big sign saying ‘We will miss you’, which was sweet,” Labour MEP Seb Dance remembered at a European Parliament event in London. “The German car industry said we don’t want any disruption of trade.”

But according to Dance – best known for holding up a “He’s Lying” sign behind Nigel Farage’s head – the mood has hardened with the passing months.

The UK is seen as demanding. The Prime Minister’s repeated refusal to guarantee EU citizens’ rights is viewed as toxic. The German car manufacturers now say the EU is more important than British trade. “I am afraid that bonhomie has evaporated,” Dance said. 

On 31 March the UK will trigger Article 50. Doing so will end our period of national soul-searching and begin the formal process of divorce. So what next?

The European Parliament will have its say

In the EU, just as in the UK, the European Parliament will not be the lead negotiator. But it is nevertheless very powerful, because MEPs can vote on the final Brexit deal, and wield, in effect, a veto.

The Parliament’s chief negotiator is Guy Verhofstadt, a committed European who has previously given Remoaners hope with a plan to offer them EU passports. Expect them to tune in en masse to watch when this idea is revived in April (it’s unlikely to succeed, but MEPs want to discuss the principle). 

After Article 50 is triggered, Dance expects MEPs to draw up a resolution setting out its red lines in the Brexit negotiations, and present this to the European Commission.

The European Commission will spearhead negotiations

Although the Parliament may provide the most drama, it is the European Commission, which manages the day-to-day business of the EU, which will lead negotiations. The EU’s chief negotiator is Michel Barnier. 

Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He has said of the negotiations: “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

This will be a “deal” of two halves

The Brexit divorce is expected to take 16 to 18 months from March (although this is simply guesswork), which could mean Britain officially Brexits at the start of 2019.

But here’s the thing. The divorce is likely to focus on settling up bills and – hopefully – agreeing a transitional arrangement. This is because the real deal that will shape Britain’s future outside the EU is the trade deal. And there’s no deadline on that. 

As Dance put it: “The duration of that trade agreement will exceed the life of the current Parliament, and might exceed the life of the next as well.”

The trade agreement may look a bit like Ceta

The European Parliament has just approved the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) with Canada, a mammoth trade deal which has taken eight years to negotiate. 

One of the main stumbling points in trade deals is agreeing on similar regulatory standards. The UK currently shares regulations with the rest of the UK, so this should speed up the process.

But another obstacle is that national or regional parliaments can vote against a trade deal. In October, the rebellious Belgian region of Wallonia nearly destroyed Ceta. An EU-UK deal would be far more politically sensitive. 

The only way is forward

Lawyers working for the campaign group The People’s Challenge have argued that it will legally be possible for the UK Parliament to revoke Article 50 if the choice is between a terrible deal and no deal at all. 

But other constitutional experts think this is highly unlikely to work – unless a penitent Britain can persuade the rest of the EU to agree to turn back the clock. 

Davor Jancic, who lectures on EU law at Queen Mary University of London, believes Article 50 is irrevocable. 

Jeff King, a professor of law at University College London, is also doubtful, but has this kernel of hope for all the Remainers out there:

“No EU law scholar has suggested that with the agreement of the other 27 member states you cannot allow a member state to withdraw its notice.”

Good luck chanting that at a march. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.