So Newt Gingrich won the Republican Prinary in South Carolina. Which means that three of the four remaining candidates in the race for the Presidency has won a “State”.
Gingrich has won in South Carolina (he is from neighbouring Georgia) and Mitt Romney has taken New Hampshire (he is from neighbouring Massachusetts). Rick Santorum has belatedly been awarded Iowa.
I do not think too much can be read into New Hampshire which was always going to prefer an urbane North Easterner or South Carolina which was also going to prefer one of their own. Iowa perhaps more clearly showed that the “Right” (the combination of votes for Gingrich and Santorum) is in the ascendancy in the Republican Party.
To some extent, these early primaries set out the landscape. It is almost an accident of geography that the choice now seems to be between Gingrich and Romney.
Of course the European view of American politics is that it is a choice between Democrat sanity and Republican insanity. And of course nothing quite shows Republican insanity as much as a Primary campaign.
There is an irony. That in choosing a candidate who really reflects Republican values…..Romney’s capitalism, Gingrich’s anti government doctrine or Santorum’s religion……..Republicans are actually choosing a candidate who cannot possibly get enough middle ground votes to beat President Obama. I think Democrat supporters would be stupid to believe that Obama is unbeatable……there is the economy and there is an anti-Obama racist undertone to everything the Republicans do…….and Democratic supporters themselves can feel that Obama has lost a little of the lustre.
In 2012, Mormonism is the new Catholicism. In 1960, John F Kennedy became the first and only Catholic President, fighting a latent nativism that doubted that Catholicism and being American are compatible. Romney is a Mormon…..dismissed by evangelicals as a “cult” rather than a religion and a great irony of American public life is that the seperation of Church and state is enshrined constiutionally but it would be impossible for a non-Christian to become President.
Romney is therefore “suspect” in bedrock Republican territory. Misconceptions about his religion …..polygamy for example…..overshadow the fact that Mitt Romney has been married for over forty years.
Contrast this with the evangelical position on Newt Gingrich. He was born Lutheran, was Baptist and is now Catholic. And three times married. And a man who publicly advertises his marital shortcomings in the certain knowledge that evangelicals love their sinners.
Santorum is also a Catholic, a cradle one…..but paradoxically perhaps believes that the Kennedy doctrine of distancing personal faith from public policy is a betrayal of conscience.
Santorum’s problem seems to be Money. Going into Florida, he knows that a poor performance will mean withdrawal as Finance dries up. Hawkish on Iran he will be hoping to connect with Florida’s large Jewish community and connect with Catholic Hispanics. But increasingly it looks like Santorum and Gingrich are competing for the “religious vote” and that Romney can only rely on “fiscal conservatives”.
And that is the problem. A reasonable Republican could provide a counter economic argument to Obama….but the only Republican with a sense of “reason” is Romney who cannot get the nomination without pandering to the very worst elements in the United States.
Be careful what you wish for…….that should be engraved on all Democrat hearts. Obama will be hoping for Gingrich as it puts a lot of big states such as New York, Pennsylvania and California firmly in his camp. But Gingrich is no fool.