Hi, Konrad. To start: It’s the morning after Super Tuesday - who had a good night and who had a bad night?
Hi Chris: Let's start off in ascending order. Ron Paul had the worst night. He had staked everything on the caucus states, where turnout is far lower than in a primary, allowing for activists to flood the caucuses. But Mr. Paul came up short everywhere. He was as surprised as anyone.
Sorry about that....to continue...Mr. Paul will still mobilize his followers, but he will find it hard to compete as the race moves to bigger states like Illinois, Texas, California and New York. He was expected to be the last person to drop out of the race (other than Romney) but he may be the first of the final four to go.
Newt Gingrich had the second worst night. A victory in Georgia does not a comeback make, but the fact that he is staying in for a bit hurts Rick Santorum. The latter had a decent night, considering his campaign has none of the organizational strength of the Romney machine. But Romney proved again that he wins when he needs to. It's not pretty, or elegant. But he gets the job done. So, while there is plenty of discussion today about whether he can ever rally the party, he still ended Super Tuesday where he needed to be.
How does the state of the Republican race compare to years past?
It's not as dissimilar as some people make it out to be. Every Republican primary season has its share of insurgent candidates who strike a chord with the base but ultimately fade as the powers that be rally behind the presumptive nominee. Pat Buchanan, Fred Thompson, Mike Huckabee,even Pat Robertson were those people in years past. Now it's Rick Santorum. What is different this time is that it's taking a bit longer. Four years ago, John McCain (who was considered to the left of Mitt Romney then) effectively locked up the nomination on Super Tuesday, which was a full month earlier. But the calendar is far different this year, as is the formula for allocating delegates. There is still a small chance that this race could go to June or later. And just to stir things up, Sarah Palin suggested yesterday that she might be willing to be drafted to lead at the party's August convention.
Newt has nothing to lose, so it's hard to figure out what it would take for him to leave the race. Romney does not want him to quit, so he has no incentive to offer Gingrich a deal (such as input in Romney's official campaign platform or a promised appointment if he wins the White House). Gingrich's own campaign is running on a shoe string (it's his Super PAC that is doing all his advertising for him). But it really doesn't take that much money for Gingrich to get on Meet the Press and the other talk shows, which keeps him in the hunt. His immediate objective is winning in Mississippi and Alabama next week. If he fails, it would be hard to see how he possibly justify staying in the race. But if he wins there, there's nothing forcing him to leave the race before April.
This is certainly the fundamental conundrum of the Republican Party and everyone knows it. Its long-term future depends on building bridges with Hispanic voters, suburban women etc. But it cannot turn its back in the short-term because those older white voters are the ones who still turn out in the greatest numbers on election day. Between the Christian right, white working class and big business, the Republicans think they can build a strong enough coalition to win a few more elections.
Another interesting comment:
On the surface, that may be true. But never underestimate the fluidity of American politics. For all of Mr. Obama's foreign policy successes, he is still vulnerable, simply by virtue of being a Democrat. Despite the war weariness of Americans, a clear majority of them wants a hard line on Iran and even supports military actionsto halt its nuclear ambitions. And while the economy is looking better, there are signs that unemployment could edge back upwards as the year goes on, while Europe's debt crisis hangs over the global economy. Both parties use wedge issues. Was Mr. Obama's Keystone decision based on wedge politics? Two-thirds of Americans who have heard about Keystone support it. But the activist base of the Democratic Party does not.
Speaking of that, I was watching Fox News’s coverage last night - among other news sources - and noted they briefly talked about Keystone. How often has this come up recently?
Keystone is officially part of the national political conversation in the U.S. Every Republican candidate mentions it in his stump speech to illustrate how the Obama administration is hostile to fossil fuels. Mr. Obama is now touting an "all of the above" energy policy that includes more domestic oil exploration and drilling. He does not mention Keystone. But if Republicans are able to spin higher gas prices as partly the result of the Obama administration's hostility toward oil from a friendly neighbour, Keystone could be an election issue for average Americans who are seeing more and more of their pay cheque going toward filling up.
You may be right. But it is mostly pointless trying to predict the lay of the land in September (when the election campaign really gets going.) There are many signs that the recent drop in unemployment is not sustainable, but the forecasters have been wrong before.
(That refers to the number of delegates that candidates take with them to the national convention in August. 1,144 is a majority of delegates, and therefor a lock for the presidential nomination.)
That happens so rarely that there is no way to predict what would happen. The last time the race went all the way to the convention was in 1976, when then President Gerald Ford managed to fend off Ronald Reagan. I suspect the party would do everything to avoid a public confrontation. The most influential people in the party do not want Santorum, Gingrich or Ron Paul to win the nomination. They are largely resigned to seeing Romney get it. There is ongoing talk about drafting a consensus candidate -- Jeb Bush? -- but it really is just talk at this point. Besides, the Romney campaign's strategy is all about snagging delegates -- even when it loses as it did in Georgia and Tennessee. The breadth of the Romney machine still suggests they will amass the required delegates before the convention, but California, New York and Texas are still to come and they (for once) will be critical in determining this race.
Will a series of protracted primary battles hurt the eventual nominee?
History suggests it won't. But there is always a first time. Mitt Romney has been dragged far further to the right than he ever expected to be during this race. He always knew the social conservatives in the party were going to give him a hard time, but he never thought he'd have to talk about contraception simply to stay above water. You can be sure, the uber-sophisticated Obama campaign will use this against him in the fall. But the suggestion that all those Republicans now voting for Rick Santorum and Gingrich will not vote for Romney in the fall strikes me as far-fetched. Until Super Tuesday, I had been to every primary state except Arizona and never once did a Santorum or Gingrich supporter say they would not vote for Romney if he is the nominee. On the contrary, almost all of them said they would absolutely vote for him. Romney's problem in the fall will not be with the GOP base; it will be with the American centre.
Thanks a lot for joining us today.
Thanks for having me Chris and thanks to the readers for their interesting questions and observations. The race goes on....