By Barry Casselman
This presidential campaign season is showing more and more signs that it is going to be a watershed event. It is breaking certain patterns from recent elections while at the same time confirming other patterns associated with past electoral turning points. Moreover, its calendar journey through the primaries and caucuses, on the Republican side is becoming less like a prearranged political soap opera, and more like the complicated society it is supposed to reflect.
If you are a Democrat and a partisan for the reelection of President Obama ,there a numerous short-term pleasures to be obtained from the week-to-week, state-to-state antics of the Republican as they take turns to throw water balloons at their own frontrunner and probable nominee Mitt Romney while dunking him routinely in a pool of water as if he were the target at a booth in a carnival midway.
Many of these same Democrats believe that the delay in the Republicans coalescing around Mr Romney also greatly enhances Mr. Obama’s chances to win in November. The problem with this view is that Mr. Romney keeps surfacing out of the pool, white sideburns intact, always a bit stronger than before, all the while continuing to accumulate delegates.
These Democrats also forget their own extended nomination battle, perhaps even more bitter, in 2008 when the final determination of Mr. Obama came very late in primary season, even as the Republican had settled on Mr. McCain much earlier. There was some disappointment in, and resentment of, newcomer Obama after he had finally defeated Hillary Clinton, and many of Mrs. Clinton’s women supporters were thought by some Republicans not to be willing to vote for him only a few months later. But this did not happen.
If you are a supporter of Mitt Romney, and impatient for the Republican Party to rally around him as their standard bearer, the Alabama and Mississippi primaries were frustrating events. No matter that he virtually tied two opponents with much more natural appeal in the region, and that he walked out of the day’s voting with more delegates than those opponents (when the night’s full count from Hawaii and American Samoa were tallied). You have also done the simple math, and know, clever anti-Romney posited tallies aside, that your candidate will almost certainly go into Tampa with about 1200 committed delegates.
If you are a social or religious conservative who supports Rick Santorum, you feel warm and toasty all over, having thwarted once more time the schedule of the party “establishment“ and upset the celebration of those who think your concerns are not as important as you think they are. the fact that your candidate is an electoral disaster waiting to happen in November (should he be nominated) is of much less consequence to you than feeling warm and toasty.
If you are a supporter of Newt Gingrich, you feel that your candidate just missed a clear opportunity to make another political comeback. But two second-place finishes, both ahead of the despised Mr. Romney, were no small prize for the evening, especially with potentially fertile territory in Texas and California ahead.
You greet the predictable calls for your candidate to withdraw with appropriate disdain. “Why should the smartest candidate, the most experienced in government and the best debater withdraw?” you ask with your best incredulous face at what you perceive as obviously self-serving gambits of Mr. Santorum and his supporters.(Of course, it was not so long ago, after South Carolina, that Mr. Gingrich was asking the same of Mr. Santorum.) No matter, you know that Mr. Gingrich is going to Tampa.
If you are a supporter of Ron Paul, all of this posturing leaves you feeling it is so much about nothing, since your candidate is the only one making any political sense this year, notwithstanding his relatively tiny percentage of support in primary after primary, and his even lower percentage of support in the polls. YOUR candidate is also going to Tampa, and that’s all there is to it.
As noted, then, partisans of all stripes and colors are making recent developments fit their personal expectations and desired outcomes.
But what of the voters, perhaps at least one-third of all those who will cast a ballot in November, who do not yet have a favorite horse in this race? What of those who belong to neither major political party, nor even to a third party. What of those who feel they are so far only uninvited spectators to s sporting event which neither excites them nor overwhelms them with dread?
In my view, these are the true beneficiaries of the “protracted” contest for the Republican nomination for president. Neither Mr. Obama nor any of his Republican rivals have yet put forward to this critical group of voters a coherent plan for getting the nation out of its long-lasting slump that is frankly attributable to actions of both parties, their recent presidents, as well as both houses of Congress. Mr. Gingrich has come the closest to presenting such a plan, but he has had to turn away from this recently to restore a positive relationship with the voters. Mr. Romney has been so busy attempting to convince GOP voters he is truly a conservative that he has not yet presented a persuasive overall plan. Mr. Santorum has been preoccupied with social and religious issues in spite of many years in Congress, and has no plan at all. Mr. Obama’s presentation so far is that he will offer more of the same (of 2009 to the present), including fairly radical changes in the economic system that have very little appeal to the political center.
Having exhausted themselves contriving to make themselves loved and adored by voters in their respective political bases, the nominees will now have to turn their attention to the large number of uncommitted voters, and that will mean their hardest work lies ahead.
So what was changed by Alabama, Mississippi and Hawaii? Very little. Thedelegate trajectory remains the same. The media, both the liberal Old Media and many in the conservative New Media have a self interest in trying to suggest that their preferred candidates have new hopes and dreams to be fulfilled. But the true innovation of this campaign season, yesterday notwithstanding, is that 2012 will not merely be about political personalities, nor about parochial ideologies of one flavor or another. It seems to me, that 2012 is increasingly about transforming the model of the presidency and the legislative branch through an historic election.
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