The Republicans come to terms with Romney

The party is finally beginning to accept that Romney is the best it can do.

The big news last week wasn't that Mitt Romney will probably be the nominee for the Republican Party; it was that the Republican Party is now finally coming to terms with the fact that Romney is the best it can do.

You could tell the establishment was starting to warm up to Romney when former President George H.W. Bush gave his blessing, along with a host of other party heavyweights. Even Jim DeMint, the sage of the Tea Party wing of the GOP, said, without formally endorsing him, that "I'm not only comfortable with Romney, I'm excited about the possibility of him possibly being our nominee.”

Romney's sweep last week of primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia deepened the impression that he's the man. Even rival Newt Gingrich said, while reassuring us that his candidacy continues, that Romney is "the most likely Republican nominee."

Rick Santorum has the most to gain from staying in the race -- and to lose. The longer he runs, the more he can lay the foundation for 2016. But the longer he stays in, the more he keeps the party from focusing on Obama in the general election, and that hurts his chances in 2016.

So it's a balancing act, and perhaps that's why he recently meet with arch social conservatives like Gary Bauer, head of the pro-life group American Values who is a former candidate for president in 2000 -- to get some advice on what to do next. Bauer backed Romney in 2008, but only because he disliked John McCain more. This year, he's got a traditionalist Roman Catholic who appears to take talking points straight from the Vatican. Social conservative love love love that; too bad Catholics don't.

The results of that meeting are unknown, but it looks like the strategy, as it were, hinges on Santorum's performance in Pennsylvania, his home state. It's been said that Santorum is far too conservative to win a general election. Sure, he can win Midwest and Southern states, but not in America's so-called swing states, in which voters are evenly split along party lines. These include Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania. A win in Pennsylvania would go a long way to proving that Santorum is just the conservative Americans want. 

But some are advising him to avoid risking a loss in Pennsylvania. Santorum lost his Senate seat in 2006 by a wide margin of defeat. Even if he loses the primary by a hair, it could be seen as more reason to dislike his chances in 2016. Better to step away, some say, and rekindle this year's brief momentum four years from now.

McCain was the runner-up in 2000. Romney in 2008. So it's not crazy to think Santorum has a shot in 2016. You'll notice I didn't say 2020. Critics on the left and right are saying that Romney doesn't have a shot against Obama and that the Republicans should just pack it up now. The most prominent figure to give voice to this is TV host Joe Scarborough of MSNBC's "Morning Joe." Scarborough, a "renegade Republican," said last week:

Nobody thinks Romney is going to win. Can we just say this for everybody at home? I have yet to meet a person in the Republican establishment that thinks Mitt Romney is going to win the general election this year. They won’t say it on TV because they’ve got to go on TV, and they don’t want people writing them nasty emails. I obviously don’t care. I have yet to meet anybody in the Republican establishment that worked for George W. Bush, that works in the Republican Congress, that worked for Ronald Reagan that thinks Mitt Romney is going to win the general election.

That's not what you want to hear if you're Mitt Romney. But perhaps he doesn't care. According to a report in the Associated Press, Romney's likely strategy in the general election is going to be appearing like a moderate who can fix the economy while attacking Obama with ads. It worked for him in the gubernatorial race in Massachusetts, and he hopes it works this year.

Perhaps it will. What's telling is Romney doesn't appear to believe winning requires that voters like him. Just appear to be a competent candidate, attack Obama with millions in ads, and that should be enough. It seems jaw-dropping, that kind of thinking, and the kind of thing you'd expect from a former Wall Street executive.

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks to supporters at an election-night rally. Photograph: Getty Images.

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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What Brussels can learn from the Italian referendum

Matteo Renzi's proposed reforms would have made it easier for eurosceptic forces within Italy to gain power in upcoming elections in 2018.

The Austrian presidential elections can justifiably be claimed as a victory for supporters of the European Union. But the Italian referendum is not the triumph for euroscepticism some have claimed.

In Austria, the victorious candidate Alexander van der Bellen ruthlessly put the EU centre stage in his campaign. “From the beginning I fought and argued for a pro-European Austria,” he said after a campaign that saw posters warning against “Öxit”.

Austrians have traditionally been eurosceptic, only joining the bloc in 1995, but Brexit changed all that.  Austrian voters saw the instability in the UK and support for EU membership soared. An overwhelming majority now back continued membership.

Van der Bellen’s opponent Norbert Hofer was at an immediate disadvantage. His far right Freedom Party has long pushed for an Öxit referendum.

The Freedom Party has claimed to have undergone a Damascene conversion but voters were not fooled.  They even blamed Nigel Farage for harming their chances with an interview he gave to Fox News claiming that the party would push to leave the EU.

The European Commission, as one would expect, hailed the result. “Europe was central in the campaign that led to the election of a new president and the final result speaks for itself,” chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas said today in Brussels.

“We think the referendum in Italy was about a change to the Italian constitution and not about Europe,” Schinas added.

Brussels has a history of sticking its head in the sand when it gets political results it doesn’t like.

When asked what lessons the Commission could learn from Brexit, Schinas had said the lessons to be learnt were for the government that called the referendum.

But in this case, the commission is right. The EU was a peripheral issue compared to domestic politics in the Italian referendum.

Alberto Alemanno is Jean Monnet Professor of EU Law and an Italian. He said the reforms would have been vital to modernise Italy but rejected any idea it would lead to an Italian Brexit.

“While anti-establishment and eurosceptic actors are likely to emerge emboldened from the vote, interpreting the outcome of the Italian referendum as the next stage of Europe’s populist, anti-establishment movement – as many mainstream journalists have done – is not only factually wrong, but also far-fetched.”

Renzi was very popular in Brussels after coming to power in a palace coup in February 2014. He was a pro-EU reformer, who seemed keen to engage in European politics.

After the Brexit vote, he was photographed with Merkel and Hollande on the Italian island of Ventotene, where a landmark manifesto by the EU’s founding fathers was written.

This staged communion with the past was swiftly forgotten as Renzi indulged in increasingly virulent Brussels-bashing over EU budget flexibility in a bid to shore up his plummeting popularity. 

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker even publicly reprimanded Renzi for demonising the EU.

Renzi’s vow to resign personalised the referendum. He gave voters a chance to give him a bloody nose when his popularity was at an all-time low.

Some of the reforms he wanted were marked “to be confirmed”.  The referendum question was astonishingly verbose and complex. He was asking for a blank cheque from the voters.

Ironically Renzi’s reforms to the constitution and senate would have made it easier for the eurosceptic Five Star Movement to gain power in upcoming elections in 2018.

For reasons best known to themselves, they campaigned against the changes to their own disadvantage.

Thanks to the reforms, a Five Star government would have found it far easier to push through a “Quitaly” referendum, which now seems very distant.  

As things stand, Five Star has said it would push for an advisory vote on membership of the euro but not necessarily the EU.

The Italian constitution bans the overruling of international treaties by popular vote, so Five Star would need to amend the constitution. That would require a two thirds majority in both houses of parliament and then another referendum on euro membership. Even that could be blocked by one of the country’s supreme courts.

The Italian referendum was closely watched in Brussels. It was hailed as another triumph for euroscepticism by the likes of Farage and Marine Le Pen. But Italians are far more likely to be concerned about the possibility of financial turbulence, which has so far been mildly volatile, than any prospect of leaving the EU in the near future.

James Crisp is the news editor at EurActiv.com.