Blood, sweater-vests and tears: The April 24th showdown that never was

The utter lack of coverage that last night's primaries received is an indication that the race is effectively over. Time for Mitt to look to November?

Sweater-vests have enjoyed a short-term boost but the race is now over
Dr. James Boys
On 25 April 2012 10:36

Over night voters went to the polls in five American states in an effort to decide who the Republican candidate for the presidency will be. (Here’s a hint, he'll be a Mormon from Massachusetts.) One of those states was New York. Did anyone notice?

The utter lack of coverage this event has received is an indication that the race is effectively over and threatens to end with a whimper rather than a bang. That’s both good and bad news for the Republican Party: Good news since it means that they will finally be able to coalesce around a single candidate, but bad news as the lack of excitement threatens to reduce media coverage and whatever public interest there was in the story or in their candidate.

Until recently, the April 24th primaries promised to be a showdown, showcase event as the Republican front-runner came face to face with his closest rival in his home state in what would almost certainly have been a knockout for Mitt Romney had he defeated former Senator Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania. 

But then the former Pennsylvanian Senator threw in the sweater vest just days after promising not to disenfranchise the remaining 50 percent of U.S. states that had yet to hold primaries or caucuses. His decision to suspend his campaign was not necessarily unexpected as Santorum appeared to have chosen to get out ahead of the vote and before a potentially devastating defeat in his home state. As a result, Romney swept the board last night in Connecticut, New York, Delaware, Rhode Island and in Pennsylvania.

The results were fascinating. Romney romped home in all five states, securing between 56-67 percent of the vote. Ron Paul came in second in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island, whilst Santorum secured second place in Pennsylvania despite having suspended his campaign.

The big loser on the night was the former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich. He had bet the farm on a strong showing in Delaware of all places, though quite how this was to fit with his previously declared ‘Southern Strategy’ is anyone’s guess. Delaware proved to be the only state where Gingrich received more than 13 percent of the vote, coming in third in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island and a dismal fourth in Pennsylvania. How he explains this result to his ego will be interesting to see. Surely he must now suspend his campaign, for which the Secret Service detail alone is costing a reported $40,000 a day.

So after all of this campaigning, what has Rick Santorum achieved other than a short term boost to the sweater vest-manufacturing sector? He has, unexpectedly, emerged as a national candidate that will have helped erase memories of his crushing defeat in his 2006 bid for re-election that he lost by over 700,000 votes, receiving only 41 percent of the vote to his opponents 59 percent: the largest margin of defeat for an incumbent senator in 26 years. A future career as a Fox News Contributor may be his just reward.

Santorum emerged as the true winner of the Iowa Caucuses, and won 11 of the first 25 states to vote. But for a degree of luck and the momentum that could have emerged from having been awarded Iowa on the night instead of later in the process, he may still be in the race today. Lady Luck has clearly smiled on Romney and been unkind to the former Senator from Pennsylvania.

Importantly, Santorum has succeeded in pulling Romney to the right, keeping him honest, perhaps, but honest to whom? Honest to Conservative values? Barely. Honest to Romney's convictions? Far from it.  It is apparent that Romney has little in common with mainstream Republican sentiment, belief or tradition. No one gets elected Governor of Massachusetts by espousing Conservative values that would be embraced in the heartland. He is, it would seem, the epitome of a RINO: Republican in Name Only.

By forcing Romney to challenge him for the more traditional Republican vote Santorum may well have done more harm than good for the eventual Republican nominee heading into the general election against Obama. Romney’s campaign has already stated that they intend to say one thing in the Primaries and then essentially re-set these policies for the general election, giving rise to the allegation of being an ‘Etch-a-Sketch’ candidate, prepared to say or do anything and utterly unconcerned with investing in a set of irreversible policies.

This lack of philosophical commitment to a cause will be taken apart by Obama as the election heads into the autumn, and the knives are sharpened on all sides.  The president has spoken this week of not having been raised with a silver spoon in his mouth, a non-too subtle reminder of Romney’s great wealth and the divisions that clearly exist in the United States between those who have and those who do not. The White House has clearly decided which side it is going to campaign on this year, irrespective of the Obamas’ own personal wealth.

Romney told his supporters in New Hampshire last night, “It’s still about the economy. And we’re not stupid,” paraphrasing James Carville’s 1992 campaign advice for Bill Clinton. That may be the case, but Romney still trails Obama 10:1 in fundraising, ensuring that he will spend this week seeking to reverse that trend in Manhattan, Connecticut and New Jersey in a desperate effort to increase the Republican war chest for fear of being outspent by the White House.

With issues of race, international tensions in the Gulf and an economy that is still sluggish at best, this should be one of the most contentious and closely run presidential elections in living memory. It would be all the more so if the Republican Party had a candidate that could appeal to independents, the mainstream party faithful and Tea Party activists, which in Mitt Romney, they do not. Right now, re-election by default would appear to be the most likely result in November for an un-loved but begrudgingly returned to office, Barack Obama.

Dr. James D. Boys is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator and an Associate Professor of International Political Studies at Richmond, the American International University in London. Visit his website and follow him on twitter @jamesdboys

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