On Politics On PoliticsOn Politics
Analysis and perspective about what's happening in the political realm.

Right and Wrong

ARCHIVES

The practical effects of Rick Santorum’s sweep of the Colorado and Minnesota caucuses and the Missouri nonbinding primary are that it moves his long-shot candidacy marginally ahead while undercutting Mitt Romney’s argument of inevitability. The Romney campaign decided to expend minimal money and candidate time (the scarcest of commodities) on these contests, instead investing time and resources in more-important states that will vote later. This decision will prove to be a prudent one. Santorum will certainly get a boost in money and attention from Tuesday’s trifecta but probably not enough of either to make up for Romney’s huge financial and organizational advantages.

Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich’s dark-horse candidacy only got darker. His effort, although long on mind and spirit, is short on money and organization. Gingrich has gone three weeks without a debate -- the oxygen that has fed his candidacy so far. The debate dry spell has contributed to the growing irrelevancy of his bid. But the longer Gingrich stays in the race, the longer he divides the conservative voting bloc with Santorum. The former House speaker attracts voters who will support Romney as their nominee only when he is unopposed.

Ron Paul, meanwhile, goes on his merry way. He has the financial fuel that Santorum and Gingrich lack, but the hard ceiling on his core of supporters keeps him from gaining significance. Although most conservatives agree with Paul on one issue or another, they disagree with him on many more. Such is the life of a candidate with an exotic libertarian-populist-isolationist-conservative blend of positions. Certainly, Paul takes away some voters who might otherwise go to Santorum or Gingrich. He also draws some who simply wouldn’t make the effort to turn out for a more conventional candidate.

In my view, Romney will almost certainly win the Republican nomination. The question is how far to the right he will need to move to get it. At some point, he will have to pivot back toward the middle, toward the swing and independent voters who will ultimately decide the general election. The longer the primary campaign goes, the further from the middle Romney gets. The rightward pull makes it more difficult for him to connect with the swing voters who aren’t fretting so much about President Obama’s ideology as they are about the economy. These voters have grave misgivings about Obama but find the strident Republican rhetoric off-putting or even alarming.

The selection of a vice presidential running mate is a bit overrated, I believe. Voters usually base their decision on the top of the ticket, not on the No. 2 slot. Running mates make more of a difference in their home states than anywhere else. But the vice presidential choice does give voters a clear look at how a nominee’s mind works. Nominees who have significant problems within the party sometimes do some awkward ticket-balancing—trying, in effect, to spackle over gaping holes in their support. I don’t think such odd-couple pairings help a party.

A strong running mate reinforces the nominee’s central message. Just as Bill Clinton’s objective in 1992 in picking Al Gore—a youthful, Southern, centrist Democrat—was to underscore his message of moderation and generational change, I think Romney will look for someone to project his theme of mainstream competence. Picking a current or a former governor or someone with extensive executive-branch credentials, rather than just some random person on Capitol Hill, would be most likely to reinforce that message. Those who come to mind include Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, a former U.S. trade representative and budget director.

But if strong pockets of resistance within the party persist—among evangelical Christians, those uncomfortable with Romney’s Mormon faith, or simply conservatives needing more reassurance—might Romney pick former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee? He fits the mainstream competence message but also appeals to the party’s social conservatives and rural voters. Or will Romney need to move much further to the right to spackle over holes, even if doing so takes him further from the swing voters? That’s where a longer and uglier nomination fight, even with the same outcome, becomes very important.

In the first three quarters of last year, when unemployment was at 9 percent and the economy seemed to be stalled, Republicans had some justification for thinking that they could nominate a strong, undiluted conservative and still have a good chance of winning the middle and the general election. Now that unemployment is down to 8.3 percent and gross domestic product growth is at 2.8 percent, (even though future trends are unknowable), this race looks much closer.

Some analysts say that the danger of a long, drawn-out nomination battle is that the candidates simply have more time to beat one another’s brains out. I would argue that the greater danger is that the longer the nomination fight goes on, the more likely it becomes that the ideological detour takes a party further toward the flanks. That is the danger for Romney. He started out as a candidate very well positioned for a general election. Will he end up that way?

FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.