Romney to Challenge Obama: First Mormon In The White House?

With a thumping win in his party’s primary election in Texas, former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney this week wrapped up the Republican nomination and the right to challenge Barack Obama for the US Presidency in November. Can he win?

To pose that question in November 2008 — even rhetorically — would have been to invite ridicule; Barack Obama had just been elected the first ever black President of the United States; elected in a thumping win over a respected elder statesman of the Republican Party, John McCain, and his aberrant running mate, Sarah Palin.

In the aftermath of the presidency of George W. Bush, it seemed the world, to use a tired phrase, was Obama’s oyster: the younger President Bush (the better President Bush) was viewed by his contemporaries as a failure; a renegade whose military misadventures intersected with some of the worst excesses of the US military, and whose presidency ended with a sickening thud in collision with the worst economic slump since the 1930s.

I had been a staunch supporter of “Dubya” since the day in 1998 the then-Governor of Texas announced he would run for the presidency; by the time he left office ten years later he had well and truly lost me, but I have always maintained that history — with the benefit of hindsight and the fullness of time — would judge him far more favourably than his peers did.

And so it has come to pass — not four years later.

Rather than the golden era of fresh hope and aspiration the 2008 result heralded, the Obama years in America have been years of heated debate, bitter dissent, and outright division.

Reforms in education and healthcare have consumed colossal amounts of money, delivered benefit to relatively few people, and left tens of millions of Americans disillusioned; the war in Afghanistan and military operations in the Middle East generally continue apace; the US military is effectively snookered on the question of what to do about Iran and its nuclear ambitions; and US prestige abroad is diminishing as Europe increasingly pursues its own divergent path, China begins to eclipse America economically and strategically, and Russian nationalism and rearmament see that country re-emerge as a power with increasing international influence — if based only on its own self-interest.

These factors and others have created and contributed to the perception of a superpower in decline; indeed, the Obama administration is implementing plans to drastically scale back the size of both its nuclear deterrent and its conventional military forces, and presides over an economy a mere fingertip from falling back into the crevasse of recession, stagnant, barely reformed since the collapse of 2008, and in which jobs aren’t being created and wealth is disappearing.

In short, America is in almost as bad a shape today as it was when Obama assumed the presidency in January 2009; and for the first time in decades the United States’ gaze has turned inward toward a more insular (and some would say isolationist) line.

In the final analysis, the socialist Obama — and that, readers, is what he is — ought to be completely unelectable by now. The fact that he isn’t, and remains a 50-50 prospect for re-election in November, has as much to do with his opponents in the GOP as it does with any lingering remnants of the promise that was the Obama Dream.

Following its hefty defeat in 2008 the GOP turned to the right; if there’s one thing the Republican Party has reliably done every time it has lost office in the last 60 years, it has been to present a far more conservative offering in the wake of its defeat.

This time around it was the “Tea Party;” the so-called party within a party, nominally headed by Sarah Palin, whose goal was to get hardline Republican candidates endorsed and elected as widely as possible across the United States, even at the cost of cannibalising existing GOP representatives in the process.

At the mid-term elections of 2010, Tea Party candidates were moderately, but not resoundingly, successful; yet the Republican Party as a whole regained control of the US House of Representatives, reduced the Democratic majority in the Senate to a whisker, and put Obama on notice that he was in real danger of becoming the first “oncer” since President George H. W. Bush in 1992 and only the second since WWII (Democrat Jimmy Carter being the other in 1980).

What about the other guy?

Mitt Romney is nothing if not persistent: a one-time one-term Governor of Massachusetts and born into something of a political dynasty (his father was Governor of Michigan), it is his second serious run at the Oval Office, having stood four years ago, and in addition to gubernatorial office in Massachusetts, he had also stood for other elective offices previously, most notably against the late Sen Teddy Kennedy in 1994. He lost.

Romney comes to the nomination after a robust primary series; whilst its culmination has proven an anticlimax it was, for many months, bruising.

Frontrunners came and went — Hermann Cain, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, the conservatives Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum all came and faded away — yet Romney ended up the frontrunner of questionability; for whilst he did win several early contests on a simple plurality of votes, the fact Gingrich and Santorum ran second and third, taking 50-60% of the vote between them in many cases — made some of these Romney wins look shallow.

And Romney comes to the nomination with many questions hanging over him too; his record in business — proudly trumpeted as a wealth-creating, job-creating period of dynamism — is widely derided as an illusion by his detractors, who spent much of the primary season looking for holes in Romney’s story and the evidence to substantiate them, and who continue to do so.

If elected, Romney stands to be one of the wealthiest US Presidents of all time, with a net personal worth rumoured to be as high as USD500 million; this is also a point not lost on those seeking to undermine his prospects from within.

Romney is derided by more conservative elements in the GOP as too left-wing, too moderate, and not adequately committed to the core conservative values at the heart of the Republican Party’s base. Indeed, the fact he was Governor in Massachusetts, a state synonymous with the Democratic dynasty of the Kennedys, and with “north-east liberalism” generally, is an undisguised insult and a barb flung at Romney with relish.

He faces even more questions over his role and faith in the Church of Latter-Day Saints of Jesus Christ, better known simply as Mormon; again, many allegations and a lot of material found its way into the media during the primary season, yet on this account the US public — and the world at large — is largely none the wiser.

And so — at the point the nominating contests are over, and the nominating conventions loom ahead of the start of the race proper, the USA finds itself faced with a choice: the great hope who has proven an abysmal failure as President in Obama, and the undeniably clever, telegenic challenger who candidature poses significant and real questions in Romney.

Early polls are a seesaw; some point to Romney, others to Obama. Weighted against each other to eliminate error margin, their results cancel out completely to predict a dead heat.

It’s worth remembering that the best of the candidates from the Republican primaries (Gingrich) and the best candidate the GOP had who didn’t even stand (former Governor of Florida, son of President George Bush Sr and brother of President George Bush Jr, Jeb Bush) have been eliminated from contention; if Romney falls short this time and opts to stand again in 2016 Gingrich is unlikely to face off against him, but Jeb Bush could be expected to, as could defeated 2012 candidate Santorum. This is probably Romney’s first and only opportunity to face the American people in search of the presidency.

As an early tip — barring a scandal (there’s always scope for those to jump out of cupboards) I expect Mitt Romney to win against Barack Obama, albeit narrowly; should this occur, it remains to be seen what sort of President he would make.

As readers know, I would be happier and far more comfortable endorsing Gingrich; in the circumstances, I am not going to endorse either candidate in the coming US election.

In the absence of evidence to the contrary, this election shapes as the most mediocre presidential contest since Gerald Ford squared off against Carter in 1976.

I will say, however, that the USA desperately needs to rid itself of the socialist yoke Obama has placed around its neck; what sort of improvement — if any — Romney might represent is for him to now show.

This is a story we will continue to revisit as it unfolds in the coming six months; it is a contest of real importance to the USA at a difficult and perhaps existential crossroads in its history, and it has spillover consequences — good and/or bad — for many, many other countries around the world, and not least here in Australia.

Gingrich Easily Wins South Carolina Republican Primary

In a stunning two-week turnaround, final figures from the Republican primary election that took place overnight, AEDT, show former House Speaker Newt Gingrich trouncing purported frontrunner, Mitt Romney, recording about 41% of votes cast to 28% for Romney.

Former Congressman — and ultimate winner in Iowa — Rick Santorum was next, with 17%, and libertarian Ron Paul bringing up the rear on 13%.

Having finished a distant third in both New Hampshire and Iowa, this contest was something of a make-or-break for Gingrich; he was expected to poll more strongly — or top the field — in South Carolina, but the strength of his win in that state’s primary is a bolt from the blue.

It comes at the end of a horror fortnight for Romney; the former Massachusetts governor had fanned the flames of expectation that his campaign would clinch a win in this third of three Republican primaries thus far to make it “three in a row.”

But he didn’t win in Iowa at all; a recount there showed religious conservative Santorum clinching that state’s vote by 34 votes; he won in New Hampshire, of course, which is where he lives anyway, and now has been thumped in South Carolina.

Compounding the woes of the Romney campaign is the fact that serious questions are now being widely asked about his record in business, and about eye-raising and highly disturbing stories beginning to emerge from his record as a senior leadership figure in his Mormon church.

The latter of these considerations is already a latent source of disquiet to many in the Republican Party, and to independents and Democrats that whoever ultimately secures the Republican nomination must win over if Barack Obama is to be defeated in presidential elections in November.

Far from “clinching the nomination” or being “unstoppable” after three state primaries, the South Carolina result stamps a serious question mark on the viability of Mitt Romney as a presidential candidate, and provides Gingrich with much-needed momentum as the Republican nominating contest moves to another southern state — Florida — in a little over a week.

Florida, like South Carolina, is another state where Gingrich can be expected to poll well in Republican primary votes, and quite feasibly win; should he do so, it will be Gingrich with a head of steam moving towards “Super Tuesday” a few weeks later, and Romney scrambling to stay afloat.

From a Romney perspective, it didn’t have to be like this so soon: rolling in money, resources and endorsements from the Republican establishment, he has ruthlessly attacked Gingrich with negative political advertising, which initially drove Gingrich from the top of the pack to third place.

Now — as Gingrich responds with advertising material of his own, focused on the questions surrounding Romney’s past in religion and in business — coupled with stellar performances in the most recent candidates’ debates — Romney has received a dose of his own medicine, and his numbers have sagged accordingly.

One win in one primary, under the system used to nominate presidential candidates in the US, does not win the battle.

Indeed, all three of Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are sitting on one win apiece after three outings.

But what might have been viewed as a lay-down misere for Romney as recently as a week ago is now an open, serious contest.

We will of course continue to monitor the happenings in the Republican primary race; after all, events in the USA have a direct influence on so many issues that affect us here in Australia.

This column has previously made it very clear that it endorses Newt Gingrich to secure the nomination of the Republican Party to stand against Barack Obama in November’s US presidential election, and to win the Presidency at that election.

That endorsement stands, and it is to be hoped that the Gingrich campaign takes heart and courage from the excellent performance it recorded in South Carolina overnight.

Florida comes next, and as America’s fourth-largest state, is a much bigger prize. A win there — especially on the scale of the one achieved in South Carolina — and Gingrich will be well on his way.

Republican Primary In Iowa: More Questions Than Answers

The long, convoluted campaign to select a challenger to US President Barack Obama in November’s election was kicked off in earnest by the Republican Party in Iowa this week; the results of that first primary throw mud into the water, and provide no clarity.

Former one-term Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney — supposedly the frontrunner in this race, and the undisputed darling of the Republican Party hierarchy — eked out the slenderest of wins in Iowa, beating former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum by just eight votes, and collecting just 24.6% of the vote in Iowa in doing so.

We’ll come back to Mitt Romney.

The ageing Republican rebel, 75-year-old Ron Paul, finished third in Iowa with 21.4% of the votes, in what will most likely prove to be his best finish in the Republican primaries this year.

Former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich was next with 13.3%; Texas Governor Rick Perry with 10.3%; Tea Party favourite Michelle Bachmann with 5%; diplomat and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman with 0.6%; and there were a couple of also-rans and disqualified or withdrawn candidates who polled a few votes.

The first observation I would make is that there aren’t too many elections like this one that card this sort of result; it took five candidates to account for 80% of the votes cast.

US elections generally have their raging favourites; in 2012, that favourite is Mitt Romney, who hauled in all of 24.6% of the votes in Iowa.

Most opinion polling in the US shows that, in a straight head-to-head contest with Barack Obama, Romney would win the Presidency.

Certainly, the US economy has consistently stalled and deteriorated on Obama’s watch; his supposed legislative triumphs have, in practice, been debacles; and most of the soaring, rhetorical dreams of the Obama presidency — if you’re that way inclined — have failed utterly and miserably to materialise.

But even then, it’s not so simple.

Mitt Romney — whilst the darling of the insiders of his party, with his telegenic good looks, self-made fortune, and brilliance in communication — is widely distrusted by most of the rank and file of his party.

Some of this can be explained by reading the excellent article that appeared in Vanity Fair magazine last week, which can be viewed here http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/2012/02/mitt-romney-201202 .

It’s a cruel fact, but part of the problem is his religious life as a member and leader of the Mormon church; rightly or wrongly, tens of millions of Americans, along with a majority of Romney’s own GOP fellows, object to his suitability as a candidate for the Presidency of the USA on account of his religion.

But even then, the Romney story is too hard to pigeonhole: the man is branded as too liberal and permissive to appeal to the conservative core of the Republican Party, yet all accounts of his religious and business dealings are suggestive of the exact opposite: that Mitt Romney, in fact, is the most conservative candidate in the field.

As a mainstream conservative of great drive, I must say that I would shudder to have to work for Mitt Romney on a campaign or to try to achieve his election, were he to be endorsed, hypothetically, in my area of Melbourne.

So what of the rest of the field?

Santorum is a good man and a God candidate (by his own admission) who won’t matter a can of beans once the Republican show finds its way into the states that really matter — the ones disproportionately heavy with voters.

Ron Paul, aside from being too old for the American electorate to feasibly elect for a first term at 75, is a good man committed to politically lunar policies: no intervention in global hotspots, for example, even when America is provoked, is a recipe for God-alone-knows-what.

Fortunately, he too is likely to fade away after a creditable result at the polls in Iowa.

Bachmann has already quit the race; Huntsman will likely do so after the next couple of rounds of the battle; and Rick Perry — someone who probably should have had an easy run to the nomination, but stuffed it up by appearing…slurringly…at early campaign rallies will likely follow in short order unless the coming contests in New Hampshire and South Carolina yield something the rest of us can’t see happening.

I would add that merits and baggage considered, it’s a shame “America’s Mayor” — former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani — isn’t standing in 2012; but that’s how it is, and as such, we can only focus on the men left in the field.

To me, it leaves one name as a challenger to Mitt Romney: Newt Gingrich.

It’s very true Gingrich finished fourth in Iowa; it’s also very true his tenure leading the House of Representatives ended in a whimper and tears, and not with the type of bang he and his people might have hoped.

But alone in the Republican field, Gingrich knows US government; he has experience, ability and contacts; and he has the sort of charisma and political smarts that have led him to trouble in the past, but which could equally lead to greatness in the future.

Returning to analysis, it’s difficult to know what to make of the Iowa results, except to say that over 75% of the Republican Party’s voters in that state voted against the supposed lay-down misere candidate for the Presidency, Mitt Romney.

The observation must be made that after nearly six years, one comprehensive (failed) tilt at the Presidency in 2008, years of campaigning, millions of dollars in expenditure  and an awe-inspiring campaign machine later, the fact Romney garnered just 24.6% of the Iowa Republican vote, and struggles to garner more than that in nationwide opinion polls, is both an indictment on Romney as a potential Republican nominee and on his prospects as a putative Presidential candidate.

This column, based as it is in Melbourne, Australia and written by an Australian citizen, does not have a vote in the GOP primaries.

Nevertheless, The Red And The Blue will follow the US Presidential race in 2012 very closely.

And as a conservative — of great zeal — I believe that the best thing my American readers and friends can do is to endorse Newt Gingrich to contest the Presidency against Obama this November, and to elect Gingrich as President of the United States.