Menzies House U.S. Politics Editor Amir Iljazi gives an updated analysis of the GOP Primary
The 2012 GOP Primary has just finished what, in my opinion, would be classified as the “Three-Quarter’s Mark” if you look at the timeline of events. The first quarter was May 2011-July 2011, where you had the initial announcements of candidates that would be vying for the nomination and an early slew of debates. The second quarter was August 2011-December 2011, where you had the first “pseudo-vote” with the Iowa Straw Poll, the late entrance of perceived front-runner Rick Perry, and the rise and fall of several “not-Romneys” simply through the vehicle of debates without one single vote cast. Then you had the third quarter, which was marked by initial voting in early Caucus and Primary contests, several more debates, and a rollercoaster of statewide voting that saw uncertainty at every corner. We have now entered the final stretch and we do so at a point where Mitt Romney is still the presumptive front-runner, but he is facing a fierce and I must say somewhat surprisingly resilient challenge from former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. I was wrong in my earlier analysis where I declared that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich would be the final challenger to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and the reason for this is simple, yet at the same time very striking.
With all due respect to the supporters of Mr. Santorum, the fact of the matter is that Mr. Romney has failed to do in 2012 what he failed to do in 2008… sell himself to the bulk of the GOP Primary electorate. This is the reason that ever since the night that President Obama was sworn in, the GOP was “looking for someone” to run against him in 2012. Though Mr. Romney had always assumed it would be him (because that has been the M.O. for the GOP for several decades), he failed to recognize that the dynamics had changed (the Tea Party and President Obama himself being the driving forces) and that his apostasies are still something that the base has trouble getting over.
Mitt Romney (above) has been looking to November 2012 since early 2008
Mr. Santorum’s success in Iowa is definitely attributable to his hard fought retail politics that saw him practically living in the state for nearly a year… but what about everything after? If Mr. Santorum was truly the conservative, family values, true-blue (well, Red) Republican that won over Iowa voters who were looking for an alternative to Mr. Romney, then why didn’t he win in South Carolina? South Carolinians saw that Mr. Santorum had defeated Romney in Iowa (even though he hadn’t yet been declared the winner there, it was clear he was the winner on many levels), so why did they not vote for him? The answer lies somewhere in between Iowa and South Carolina and what happened there… New Hampshire. Mr. Romney’s convincing victory in the Granite State showed the GOP base that Romney was for real this time and that he could very well be the nominee and so in South Carolina they looked to channel their frustrations with Mr. Romney and they did so by giving a resounding win to Mr. Gingrich.
This is the tale of the 2012 GOP Primary, it is all about Mitt Romney, the loyal few that support him, the others that have settled for him, and the rebellious group of GOP voters who still believe that no matter what, he has not earned the right to be considered conservative enough to carry the mantle for the Party against President Obama in 2012. These rebels don’t believe Mr. Santorum has earned it either, but he is the vehicle through which they have been (and unfortunately for Mr. Romney will continue) channeling those frustrations. This is not to say that individuals who have voted for anyone but Mr. Romney in the 2012 Primary are doing so purely as a protest vote against the former Governor, because to say that would be idiocy. However, for the most part (with the exception of Congressman Paul’s fierce supporters) those voting other than Romney are doing so because they are remiss to giving him the support he needs to wrap this nomination up. When more than 70% of GOP Primary voters believe that Mr. Romney will be the eventual nominee, yet he can’t get 50% in most states, I feel that there is great legitimacy to my analysis. This is the reason we are where we are in this process, Mr. Romney is unable to close the deal with much of the base and they have no alternative to support except for Mr. Santorum (and to a lesser extent Mr. Gingrich) even though they concede that Mr. Romney is likely to be the nominee no matter what.
So what happens now? This week, the state of Illinois will hold a Primary vote and most polls show that Mr. Romney will win the state with a slightly comfortable margin, but Mr. Santorum is fighting there because he knows he needs a signature upset in order to convince voters that he is NOT just a “not-Romney” of the moment, but someone who can compete with Romney to win the nomination and possibly defeat President Obama in November.
Rick Santorum (above) is still searching for a breakthrough victory
I suspect Mr. Romney will win Illinois, and this fight will continue on for next few months with delegates being the message from the Romney camp (1,144 needed to secure the nomination), and “he can’t close” being the message from the Santorum camp. Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich will continue to be minor players in this process picking off a few delegates from various contests, but neither garnering enough to make a difference either way. There are a slew of contests that Mr. Romney appears to have the advantage in, and some will be winner take all (several North Eastern states), and he also has the advantage of having Texas vote so late, that it may not matter at that point. Mr. Santorum MUST WIN his home state of Pennsylvania on April 24th and I believe he will, but he must get organized there fast because they have a ridiculously complicated process that even I don’t understand at this point.
The talk of a “contested” or “brokered” convention was gaining steam for a while and I was even slightly buying into the possibility for a moment… but after seeing Mr. Romney win every contest he has absolutely had to, and knowing it will likely continue on Tuesday with a much needed win in Illinois, I am now more certain that there will be no untraditional process when we reach the convention. Mr. Romney will be the GOP Nominee in the 2012 Presidential Election in November; the only question that now remains is when will he have the necessary delegates needed to claim that distinction?
Santorum (center) is all that's standing in between Romney (left) & Obama (right)
I surmise that it will take more time, more so than most political observers had initially thought it would, but four years ago Senator Clinton did not suspend her campaign against Senator Obama until June of 2008 and it looks like that same timeline will probably ring true for Mr. Romney and his opponents. They feel no need to give up for two reasons: Mr. Romney is not yet officially the nominee, and they know there will still be voters willing to go against his inevitability… so long as there is a candidate who can they can channel that opposition through.
Amir Iljazi is the U.S. Politics Editor of Menzies House. He earned his Master's Degree in Political Science at American University in Washington, D.C. and currently resides in Tampa, Florida. Before relocating back to Florida, he specialized in longitudinal campaign tracking and voter trends for Federal Races nationwide while working for a Washington DC based center-right political advocacy organisation. You may follow him on Twitter@Michi83