The Republican primaries: looking forward

Courtesy of newyorker.com

The results of the primaries in South Carolina and Florida brought about what will be the decisive fight this primary season. Either Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich will end up at the top of the Republican Party ticket to take on incumbent President Barack Obama in this fall’s general elections. That is not in any way to brush aside the other two remaining candidates, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul. Since most states in this cycle call for the proportional allocation of delegates (not winner-take-all), Santorum and Paul should rack up sizable amounts of delegates throughout the process should they decide to stay in the race; although a win for either is very difficult to envision.

Last Tuesday, after winning the Florida Primary by a wide margin, Romney snatched the frontrunner status just as fast as he had lost it to Gingrich in the last primary. In the two debates leading up to election day, along with ten days of carpet bombing Gingrich all over the state with negative (although true) advertising beforehand, Romney seized all fifty delegates available in Florida, diminishing Gingrich even further.

The Florida campaign and win sent a signal to the Obama Administration that this man is not a simple paper tiger, but a politician with lots of fight in him. Romney and his campaign put the proverbial foot on Gingrich’s neck, chocking him to submission, and will now look ahead to shape a more positive message for the general election. The sooner he starts to focus on the flaws of Obama as President, the better it is for Republicans looking to take back the White House and maybe even the Senate. The best bet for him or any Republican is to run against the president’s record and sufficiently portray him as incompetent on the economy.

However, Romney is still a candidate with fundamental flaws that would be detrimental in a general election effort. His stance on immigration and his always-calculating persona might turn off a big chunk of independents. He also seems to be uncomfortable talking about personal issues, a practice that has become common place in today’s political arena. Romney represents a throwback to a bygone era in politics, a time when a president was not always in our living rooms during the evening news.

He looks like a man who just stepped out of the ‘50s and ‘60s, or in contemporary terms, a man that could pass as an actor who came right off of the set of Mad Men. His business and political career somewhat reflects that of the main character of the show, Don Draper. Those who watch the show know that Draper is actually an imposter, a phony, and a rather effective one at that. For the vast majority of conservatives around the country, this is the primary problem with Romney.

It is not his Massachusetts healthcare law, his business practices at Bain Capital, his Mormon faith or even his vast wealth and bank accounts at exotic locales. It is the terribly odd feeling that Romney is not to be trusted.  They view him as a political charlatan, a man with absolutely no foundation to define him. He has all the ruthlessness, smarts, smug and cold-heartedness of Draper, but none of the charm, suavity or womanizing tendencies that the Mad Men character has.

Counting out Newt Gingrich after Florida would be an exercise in futility. Speaker Gingrich ought to be declared the Rasputin of American politics, complete with his own Tsar in the form of billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. The former speaker’s campaign has been pronounced dead three times already this cycle, and each and every time he has come roaring back to life. His cause is certainly not helped by his tendency to rant and rave about how much he loathes the national media elite or promise outrageous things, such as a lunar colony by the end of his second term.

His grandiose, phenomenally extreme, blatantly audacious rhetoric and pie in the sky ideas mirror the ego of the man who has staked the false claim that he is the heir of Ronald Reagan, a former president who had little love for Gingrich.  In fact, Gingrich was an outspoken critic of the foreign policy of the Reagan administration, once comparing Reagan to Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister who appeased Hitler. Clearly, even if Gingrich miraculously managed to get past Romney, he would have little to no hope of beating the president, his billion dollar war chest and his no holds barred Chicago operatives who will have no problem bringing to life the skeletons in the former speaker’s closet.

Although they chose not to compete in Florida, the race’s other two candidates will have a big role to play in the upcoming states. Ron Paul, though he has a tremendous base full of young people and veterans alike, would be a catastrophic president. He has promised to cut a trillion dollars in spending in his first year. That would mean draconian cuts to Medicare and Medicaid that would hurt the elderly and the poor as well as significant cuts to defense spending at a time when Israel is preparing to launch strikes on Iran that could escalate violence throughout the Middle East.

Rick Santorum’s problem is that, although he is the most consistent social conservative left in the race, he simply has no funds to mount a serious bid against Romney. Not to mention his hard-as-iron stance on many issues will win him few independents in the general. His best bet is to attack Gingrich hard, siphon votes from him and send out a clear message that he is the best bet for conservatives looking to topple Romney.

Despite recent, encouraging job numbers, the economy is still weak, and the president is ripe for an upset. The Republicans ought to elect a person who can debate him with respect, not bitterness. They need to send a clear message that President Obama is not an outsider, someone to be feared, but merely a man completely out of his element. The president had his four years, the first two with absolute majorities in both the House and the Senate, and despite this he has failed to turn the economy around. This will be the winning argument that the Republicans have to make.

Out of the cast of characters Republicans have to choose from, there is only one viable candidate capable of taking on the president and staying on message: the Don Draper of Republican politics, Mitt Romney. Yes, it is quite difficult to trust a man with no core. But, like Draper, Romney has proven time and again, in nearly every endeavor he’s ever taken part in, that he gets results with spectacular efficiency. He demands productivity, and he is a true behind-the-scenes artist. In this trying economic environment, in this atmosphere of stark political and social differences wherein not even the message of hope and change could heal the wounds that this country suffered during the Bush years, it is time for a turn-around specialist to be our leader. Nothing else matters.

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