— Bud Norman
— Bud Norman
The race for the Republican presidential nomination is all over but the shouting, to resort to an old cliché, but there still seems to be a good deal of shouting left.
Mitt Romney’s clean sweep of Tuesday’s primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., only put him a bit more than halfway to the number of delegates needed to clinch the nomination, but it nonetheless made clear he’ll have a smooth ride through the other half. The contest in D.C. can be easily dismissed, as there are only a half-dozen or so Republicans living in the capital city and at this point most of them are probably employed by the Romney campaign, while the win in neighboring Maryland is barely more impressive. The respectable four-point victory in Wisconsin is more convincing, though, because if former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum’s blue-collar image and pro-manufacturing message can’t win there it is hard to see what states left to be contested he can win.
Yet Santorum vows to remain in the race, as do long shot candidate Newt Gingrich and no-shot candidate Ron Paul, and there is still considerable grumbling among a significant portion of the party about Romney’s candidacy. Tune into any of the conservative talk radio shows and you’ll hear it from every other caller, or surf your way through the right side of the blogosphere and you’ll read it in every other post. The discontent also shows up at the polls, where Romney is still falling short of 50 percent in many states.
Much of the opposition to Romney is based on the health care reform bill he implemented while governor of Massachusetts, a valid complaint for conservatives fuming about the suspiciously similar Obamacare law, but there also seems to be a more visceral resentment on the part of Republicans who consider themselves outsiders that the perceived candidate of the “elites” is winning the nomination. Romney’s well-groomed, well-educated, and well-heeled persona also seems to be a problem with a certain segment of the party.
Some disgruntled Republicans might even sit out a general election between Romney and Obama, but Democrats would be well advised to not overestimate their number. Despite his frequent deviations from conservative orthodoxy Romney remains far to the right of Obama, and once the race is officially over that will become clear even to the most disappointed conservatives. It should also become clear, once Romney has sewn up the nomination, that the vast majority of Republicans who did vote for him could not possibly all be “elites.” Nor should the Democrats overstate how much damage the protracted Republican battle is doing to the party, as most voters have stopped paying attention to the anticlimactic race and won’t hear the criticisms being leveled against Romney by his remaining rivals.
— Bud Norman
Southerners are a diverse group of individuals, in our experience, and they don’t deserve the crude stereotypes that appeared in much of the coverage of Tuesday’s Republican primaries in Alabama and Mississippi. It is hard to resist reaching for the redneck jokes when Jeff Foxworthy is out campaigning for Mitt Romney, however, and both states did wind up voting as the conventional wisdom predicted.
Most of the media types reckoned that southerners wouldn’t cotton to national frontrunner Romney because he hails from way up north in Massachusetts, is too rich, insufficiently rock-ribbed in his conservatism, and is a Mormon. Although it no doubt pained many southerners to prove the media types correct for a change, Romney finished behind winner and Rick Santorum and runner-up Newt Gingrich in both Alabama and Mississippi, the efforts of comedian Foxworthy notwithstanding.
A win in either state would have been a significant boost to Romney’s candidacy, possibly even the knock-out punch that has thus far eluded him, but the losses might prove only a minor setback. He lost to Santorum by a mere three percentage points in Mississippi and was nearly tied with Gingrich in Alabama, results that are quite respectable given the low expectations heading into the races, and because neither contest was winner-take-all his sizeable lead in the delegate count was little affected. By finishing just behind Gingrich he also kept the former House Speaker in the race to split the anti-Romney vote in at least the next round of contests, a nice tactical advantage while it lasts.
The results also suggest that the southerners’ animosity toward Romney isn’t so strong that it would harm his chances in the region during the general election, and they don’t necessarily confirm any media-sanctioned stereotypes. Santorum won despite being from Pennsylvania, which is almost as Yankee as Massachusetts, and despite being a famously devout Catholic, a religion that the media types have long presumed is also anathema to southerners.
— Bud Norman
The Grand Old Party had a grand old time in Kansas on Saturday, with the most fervent of the state’s Republicans gathering at 99 different locations for the quadrennial caucus. We roused ourselves out of bed and trudged over to the Century II Convention Center in downtown Wichita to take a look and cast a vote, and were mostly heartened by what we found.
With help from sunny skies and unseasonably warm temperatures the turnout was heavy enough that we were forced to find parking several blocks away from the event, which Wichitans usually regard as an outrage, but everyone we passed along the way seemed cheerful and gladly willing to make the noble sacrifice for the democratic process. Some idiot in one of those silly Guy Fawkes masks that the “Occupy” crowd favor was standing outside the building and holding a hand-lettered sign that asked the assembled Republicans “Are you rich or stupid?” Except for one fellow who growled that “You’re a product of the public school system” all of the caucus-goers we saw ignored the provocation and simply smiled and nodded as they walked by.
The crowd looked reasonably prosperous, for the most part, but one wouldn’t guess they were all rich. The attire was generally respectable but casual, except for the politicians and party officials in nondescript blue suits and some biker-looking types in Ron Paul t-shirts, and there wasn’t a top hat, monocle, or pair of spats in sight. Nor did the caucus-goers appear stupid, except perhaps for a few of them, and you’re going to have that in any large crowd. Not one of them looked quite so stupid as the idiot wearing the Guy Fawkes mask and waving his witless sign.
A small army of overly helpful volunteers registered us quickly despite the requirement of a photo identification card, a new law that has the Democrats here in high dudgeon but didn’t seem to annoy the Republicans at all, and we were soon settled into a back row seat to read an old P.G. Wodehouse novel while a few party officials blathered on about something or another. Soon the stage was turned over to the spokesmen for the various candidates still in the race, and we set the novel down to pay some attention. The speeches given at every caucus seem a superfluous tradition, since anyone who gets out of bed on a Saturday morning to vote has surely made his mind up already, but we do love a good oration.
A high school debate coach made the case for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, laying out the many strong arguments for his candidacy but not attempting to refute any of the arguments which have all but knocked him out of the race. A businessman spoke on behalf of Ron Paul, stressing the Texas congressman’s anti-abortion stance and friendliness to free market economics, but not mentioning the non-interventionist foreign policy, and while it made the candidate sound quite reasonable it didn’t do much to fire up the large contingent of voters bearing his signs and wearing his name on their t-shirts. Mitt Romney, the frontrunner nationally but a dark horse in the Kansas caucus, didn’t even bother to arrange a speaker, and instead a party official read a letter from the campaign. The reading was done with little enthusiasm, and one could sense that the caucus-goers in the state’s largest city felt slightly snubbed, but the reaction was determinedly polite, with ample applause and no booing.
The clear favorite of the crowd, judging from the large number of signs, t-shirts and other campaign regalia, was Rick Santorum, and speaking on his behalf was none other than his wife, Karen. Unaccustomed as we are to hearing a wife speak fondly of a husband, we thought the speech was surprisingly good. She spoke a bit about politics, stressing her husband’s staunch conservatism, but mostly talked about his personal qualities as a husband, father, and man of faith. The Santorum supporters, almost all of whom were accompanied by several children, were clearly moved, and when the speaker began to tear up so did many in the crowd.
We returned to Wodehouse while the overly helpful volunteers slowly led the crowd aisle by aisle to the ballot boxes. When our turn finally came we marked the ballot for Romney, affixed the yellow sticker they’d given us, and dropped our in the cardboard ballot box, satisfied that we’d done our part for the democratic process and hopeful that our guy would finish a respectable second or third. Nothing against Santorum, mind you, and we did like his wife, but we’re worried that he’d be too easily caricatured by the Democrats, and Romney has seemed the steadier candidate with the more impressive managerial acumen. In any event we’ll be voting Republican come the fall, and we suspect that so will everyone else at that caucus.
On the way out we stopped to chat with an old pal who was fretting that the Republican cause is already lost, and he was at least somewhat more hopeful after we noted that gas prices are rising, the economy is still weak, and all sorts of global crises are about to explode. Noting the large number of children accompanying the Santorum voters, a very fecund bunch, we also argued that demographic trends might favor the party over the long term.
While chatting we were interrupted by a fellow with a Ron Paul button who explained to us that presidents are actually chosen by the Council on Foreign Relations, and that it hasn’t yet made up its mind if it would re-install Obama. We asked why he had bothered to come to the caucus when the fix is in, rather than sleep in and watch basketball, and after a moment’s thought he admitted he didn’t know. When he started to explain how the Federal Reserve had been responsible for the Lincoln, McKinley, and Kennedy assassinations we excused ourselves and headed home for a nap.
— Bud Norman
The race for the Republican presidential nomination has come to Kansas, where Saturday’s caucus will actually have an effect on the race for the first time in memory, but thus far you’d hardly notice.
Except for a couple of robo-calls from the Rick Santorum campaign, some e-mailed announcements of a pair of pre-caucus events, and the incessant Newt Gingrich ads that air nationally on the talk radio shows, there are few reminders that a caucus is about to occur. The only campaign yard sign we’ve spotted here in Wichita is the black-and-red Ron Paul number planted in a lawn down the street, and that’s been there for a couple of years now. The local paper and television stations have devoted a few stories to the caucus, but the success of the Wichita State basketball team has been getting much more attention. Even among our most politically-minded friends and acquaintances, the caucus has not been a frequent topic of conversation.
Giddy Democrats will point to this apparent lack of interest as proof that Republicans are unenthused about their candidates, and they’ll be right to some extent, but count on them to overstate the case. The state’s complicated, time-consuming, and excruciatingly boring caucus system deliberately discourages the participation of the casual voter, and Kansas Republicans just aren’t a very excitable lot.
Nor have the candidates made much of an effort to whip up enthusiasm, and for good reasons. Kansas has only 40 delegates at stake, and the winner won’t necessarily take all of them, so it doesn’t make sense for a candidate to spend large amounts of time or money here. Rick Santorum recently paid a visit to Lenexa, one of the endless sprawl of Kansas City suburbs, and he and Newt Gingrich are scheduled to make other appearances in the state, but that’s been the extent of the campaigning.
National frontrunner Mitt Romney has chosen to wage his campaign elsewhere, and is smart to do so. Most of the people willing to endure the rigors of a Kansas caucus are members of the state’s fervent and well-organized anti-abortion movement, and the state usually chooses the candidate that most outspokenly shares their views. The last time around Kansas went for Mike Huckabee, months after John McCain had wrapped up the nomination, and this year Santorum is the obvious favorite. Romney can expect to carry the state if he does get the party’s nod, so there’s no reason to fight a losing battle here.
— Bud Norman
Mitt Romney had a pretty good “Super Tuesday,” all in all. He didn’t clinch the nomination with a convincing romp, but it was a good night. The former Massachusetts governor won six of the 10 states up for grabs, including one considered crucial to his campaign, while none of the losses were devastating and one of them was actually a boon.
The most important victory came in Ohio, which has 66 delegates and an intimidating reputation as a bellwether. Although Romney eked out a miniscule win against Rick Santorum, it’s still a good a win. The former senator from neighboring Pennsylvania has an manufacturing platform and homespun image perfectly suited for Ohio, and his loss there should be considered a damaging blow.
Romney’s victory in Virginia was made easier by the fact that only he and Texas Rep. Ron Paul were on the ballot, but it should be noted that his other opponents’ inability to deal with Virginia’s Byzantine ballot requirements speaks poorly of their managerial skills, so we also count that as a good win. An apparent Romney victory in the Alaska caucus should dash the hopes of Paul’s most quixotic supporters, who couldn’t even win the most libertarian state in the union. The victories in Massachusetts and Vermont don’t mean much, but they still go in the win column.
Tennessee was Santorum’s most impressive win and Romney’s most embarrassing loss, and will no doubt to lead to much pontificating about Romney’s difficulties in southern states, but otherwise the outcomes are not likely to affect the rest of the race. Santorum’s win in Oklahoma was predictable, given that the state is so blessedly conservative Barack Bema lost 15 counties on Tuesday in the Democratic primary, and his win in North Dakota yielded only a few delegates.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich reminded voters that he’s still in the race by winning Georgia, his home state, but that was also good for Romney. The Georgia win will keep Gingrich in the race, clinging desperately to a “southern strategy” that was largely discredited by his loss in Tennessee, continuing to split the stubborn anti-Romney vote with Santorum.
— Bud Norman
William Shakespeare almost always gets the credit, but it was William Congreve who came up with the line that “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” He put it more poetically, too, writing in “The Mourning Bride” that “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”
We wanted to set the record straight on poor Congreve’s behalf because his classic observation is bound to be endlessly misquoted in the wake of Marianne Gingrich’s raging and furious remarks about her ex-husband, former House Speaker and current Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.
In an interview aired Thursday night on ABC’s “Nightline,” the former Mrs. Gingrich recalled her ex-husband’s six-year affair with the woman he’s now married to, a fact that has long been publicly known and which Gingrich frankly admits, and claimed that he asked for a sort of “open marriage” that would allow him to continue the affair with her permission, a new twist on the story and one that Gingrich denies. In a separate interview with the Washington Post, she said that Gingrich asked for a divorce within days of giving a speech to the Republican Women Leaders Forum in Erie, Pennsylvania, on “The Demise of American Culture.”
We sat down to watch the television interview, our first visit to “Nightline” since Ted Koppel was counting off the days of the Iranian embassy hostage crisis, and for what it’s worth we found Marianne Gingrich to be bitter, vindictive, and completely believable.
The truth of her allegations will matter little to Gingrich’s many bitter and vindictive critics on the left, who are always eager to pounce on any Republican who preaches family values in public but acts quite differently in private. Gingrich, who was engaged in affair while he called for impeachment charges against the left’s beloved Bill Clinton for lying about the Monica Lewinsky scandal, is an especially tempting target and unlikely to be given the benefit of the doubt.
Alas, Gingrich’s defenders on the right don’t seem very concerned with the truth or falsehood of his ex-wife’s allegations, either. The talk radio hosts, who had been alerted to the story by a Drudge Report scoop on Wednesday, spent much of the afternoon railing against the double standards of a national media that ignored Democrat John Edward’s cheating on a cancer-stricken wife, recalling the left’s rationalizations for the serial indiscretions of Clinton, Ted Kennedy and numerous other liberal icons, and noting the left’s lack of outrage about the hypocrisy of wealthy and privileged liberals waging class warfare the self-made rich. All of this is true, of course, but none of it is a defense for what they would surely consider abhorrent behavior if it were committed by a Democrat.
The other argument popular among Gingrich’s defenders is that the scandal is old news, as if a person’s moral failings are somehow unimportant once they’re known to the public. The argument makes some sense if the behavior in question occurred long ago, has since been repented, and won’t be repeated, but we’re not convinced that is the case with Gingrich. While we don’t worry that the 68-year-old grandfather will wade into another dispiriting and distracting sex scandal while in office, á la Clinton, we do see the latest allegations as yet another example of a self-centeredness and arrogance that appear to remain very much a part of Gingrich’s character. Gingrich has lately been presenting himself as a true conservative while making leftist attacks on rival Mitt Romney for being a venture capitalist and paying his taxes at the legal rate, which is at least as inconsistent as speaking about moral values while carrying on an extra-marital affair.
Attacking the media messengers, who truly are as hypocritical and arrogant as Gingrich, seems to be working so far. Gingrich won yet another standing ovation in Thursday night’s debate with a fiery response to a question about the interview, and it might even put him on top in South Carolina’s crucial primary on Saturday. We expect the squeaky-clean and thoroughly conservative Rick Santorum will pick up a few votes from the crucial disgruntled ex-wife bloc, though, and that many more Republicans will ponder how the Gingrich scandals might play with a general electorate.
— Bud Norman