The GOP’s Ménage à Trois Continues

March 14, 2012

Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. Photos by Gage Skidmore

The Alabama and Mississippi GOP voters delivered their verdicts on Tuesday.

While GOP voters sort of like Rick Santorum, they really don’t like Newt Gingrich nor Mitt Romney, and they consider Ron Paul a fringe candidate.

Mitt Romney is still the favorite to secure the nomination having a sizeable lead in delegates. The fact that they chose not to deliver Mitt Romney the needed wins tonight, shows a GOP electorate that is largely ambivalent.

Hawaii, the third state voting tonight, will not be declared for several more hours and is of second tier importance. The narrative tomorrow morning on the “Today Show”, “Fox & Friends”, “Morning Joe” and “Good Morning America”, is that Mitt Romney lost and Rick Santorum won.

Further, there will be renewed focus for Gingrich to drop out of the GOP contest having virtually no chance of winning any further races, other than the races he’s already won, South Carolina and Georgia. Gingrich’s electoral strategy hinged on winning the southern states and this strategy fell flat.

“The victories by Santorum came in the political backyard of Newt Gingrich and are likely to symbolically — if not literally — end the former speaker’s hopes in the race,” Chris Cillizza writes in the Washington Post.

Gingrich has vowed to fight onto Tampa, Florida, the site of the GOP convention.

This only undercuts support for Santorum and hurts his chances of defeating Romney. Although Gingrich’s main and only financial backer, Sheldon Adelson, has shown a willingness to throw good money after bad just to keep Rick Santorum from becoming the nominee.

Romney’s loss can be attributed to his northern ties, a former governor of a northern liberal paradise, Massachusetts, his inauthenticity, his campaign style, and his gaffs.

While southern voters will by and large forgive the occasional gaff, it was Romney’s awkward effort to connect to voters on the campaign trail in Mississippi and Alabama that had many of his supporters awestruck.

Romney’s proclivity to use “y’all” in addressing supporters in Alabama and Mississippi was viewed with suspicion as was his professed newfound love of grits and hunting, even though he admitted that he hadn’t a clue about how to fire a rifle.

“I’m learning to say ‘y’all’ and I like grits. Strange things are happening to me,” Romney told supporters in Pascagoula, Mississippi. At a later rally, Romney acquiredly asserted, “I got started right this morning with a biscuit and some cheesy grits. I’ll tell you! Delicious.”

When a candidate travels outside his/her comfort zone is often perilous. For example, then Senator Obama claimed that some voters cling to religion and guns in times of uncertainty.

“You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them…So it’s not surprising, then, that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations,” Obama told a crowd at a fundraiser in California in 2008.

Undoubtedly, Mitt Romney is more familiar with foie gras than grits, but when campaigning it is helpful to not make this glaringly obvious.

The GOP has another month or two to sort out who their eventual nominee will be.

The Missouri, Puerto Rico, Louisiana, Maryland and Wisconsin primaries and caucuses are coming up shortly only to be followed by New York and Pennsylvania.

The GOP’s best hope to unseat Obama is by settling what is ostensibly a two-man contest before the convention in Tampa.

While polls ebb and flow, they show a national race that would be competitive no matter who the Republican nominee is. However, the caveat is that the longer the long-slog to Tampa is, the weaker the eventual GOP nominee will be.

With the Illinois and Missouri contests later this month, it will be important for Romney to win in order to put to bed concerns that some in the GOP have that Romney might not be the best candidate among the four flawed candidates.

“It’s impossible for Romney to make the case that his nomination is inevitable when he keeps putting ‘L’s’ on the board. It’s equally difficult for Santorum to argue he can overcome Romney’s delegate edge unless he can win a big, delegate-rich state where Romney is favored. Still, Illinois will almost certainly be the first state where Santorum gets what he always wanted: a clear shot at Romney. Now he just has to prove he can hit the target,” Chris Cillizza writes.

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