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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How Donald Trump is slouching towards the Republican nomination

There was supposed to be a ceiling above which Trump’s popular support could not climb.

In America, you can judge a crowd by its merchandise. Outside the Connecticut Convention Centre in Hartford, frail old men and brawny moms are selling “your Trump 45 football jerseys”, “your hats”, “your campaign buttons”. But the hottest item is a T-shirt bearing the slogan “Hillary sucks . . . but not like Monica!” and, on the back: “Trump that bitch!” Inside, beyond the checkpoint manned by the Transportation Security Administration and the secret service (“Good!” the man next to me says, when he sees the agents), is a family whose three kids, two of them girls, are wearing the Monica shirt.

Other people are content with the shirts they arrived in (“Waterboarding – baptising terrorists with freedom” and “If you don’t BLEED red, white and blue, take your bitch ass home!”). There are 80 chairs penned off for the elderly but everyone else is standing: guys in motorcycle and military gear, their arms folded; aspiring deal-makers, suited, on cellphones; giggling high-school fatsos, dressed fresh from the couch, grabbing M&M’s and Doritos from the movie-theatre-style concession stands. So many baseball hats; deep, bellicose chants of “Build the wall!” and “USA!”. (And, to the same rhythm, “Don-ald J!”)

A grizzled man in camouflage pants and combat boots, whose T-shirt – “Connecticut Militia III%” – confirms him as a member of the “patriot” movement, is talking to a zealous young girl in a short skirt, who came in dancing to “Uptown Girl”.

“Yeah, we were there for Operation American Spring,” he says. “Louis Farrakhan’s rally of hate . . .”

“And you’re a veteran?” she asks. “Thank you so much!”

Three hours will pass. A retired US marine will take the rostrum to growl, “God bless America – hoo-rah!”; “Uptown Girl” will play many more times (much like his speeches, Donald J’s playlist consists of a few items, repeated endlessly), before Trump finally looms in and asks the crowd: “Is this the greatest place on Earth?”

There was supposed to be a ceiling above which Trump’s popular support could not climb. Only a minority within a minority of Americans, it was assumed, could possibly be stupid enough to think a Trump presidency was a good idea. He won New Hampshire and South Carolina with over 30 per cent of the Republican vote, then took almost 46 per cent in Nevada. When he cleaned up on Super Tuesday in March, he was just shy of 50 per cent in Massachusetts; a week later, he took 47 per cent of the votes in Mississippi.

His rivals, who are useless individually, were meant to co-operate with each other and the national party to deny him the nomination. But Trump won four out of the five key states being contested on “Super-Duper Tuesday” on 15 March. Then, as talk turned to persuading and co-opting his delegates behind the scenes, Trump won New York with 60 per cent.

Now, the campaign is trying to present Trump as more “presidential”. According to his new manager, Paul Manafort, this requires him to appear in “more formal settings” – without, of course, diluting “the unique magic of Trump”. But whether or not he can resist denouncing the GOP and the “corrupt” primary system, and alluding to violence if he is baulked at at the convention, the new Trump will be much the same as the old.

Back in Hartford: “The Republicans wanna play cute with us, right? If I don’t make it, you’re gonna have millions of people that don’t vote for a Republican. They’re not gonna vote at all,” says Trump. “Hopefully that’s all, OK? Hopefully that’s all, but they’re very, very angry.”

This anger, which can supposedly be turned on anyone who gets in the way, has mainly been vented, so far, on the protesters who disrupt Trump’s rallies. “We’re not gonna be the dummies that lose all of our jobs now. We’re gonna be the smart ones. Oh, do you have one over there? There’s one of the dummies . . .”

There is a frenzied fluttering of Trump placards, off to his right. “Get ’em out! . . . Don’t hurt ’em – see how nice I am? . . . They really impede freedom of speech and it’s a disgrace. But the good news is, folks, it won’t be long. We’re just not taking it and it won’t be long.”

It is their removal by police, at Trump’s ostentatious behest, that causes the disruption, rather than the scarcely audible protesters. He seems to realise this, suddenly: “We should just let ’em . . . I’ll talk right over them, there’s no problem!” But it’s impossible to leave the protesters where they are, because it would not be safe. His crowd is too vicious.

Exit Trump, after exactly half an hour, inclusive of the many interruptions. His people seem uplifted but, out on the street, they are ambushed by a large counter-demonstration, with a booming drum and warlike banners and standards (“Black Lives Matter”; an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, holding aloft Trump’s severed head). Here is the rest of the world, the real American world: young people, beautiful people, more female than male, every shade of skin colour. “F*** Donald Trump!” they chant.

After a horrified split-second, the Trump crowd, massively more numerous, rallies with “USA!” and – perplexingly, since one of the main themes of the speech it has just heard was the lack of jobs in Connecticut – “Get a job!” The two sides then mingle, unobstructed by police. Slanging matches break out that seem in every instance to humiliate the Trump supporter. “Go to college!” one demands. “Man, I am in college, I’m doin’ lovely!”

There is no violence, only this: some black boys are dancing, with liquid moves, to the sound of the drum. Four young Trump guys counter by stripping to their waists and jouncing around madly, their skin greenish-yellow under the street lights, screaming about the building of the wall. There was no alcohol inside; they’re drunk on whatever it is – the elixir of fascism, the unique magic of Trump. It’s a hyper but not at all happy drunk.

As with every other moment of the Trump campaign so far, it would have been merely some grade of the cringeworthy – the embarrassing, the revolting, the pitiful – were Trump not slouching closer and closer, with each of these moments, to his nomination. 

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism