On Super Tuesday, after a blast of last-minute organization, Rick Santorum won the North Dakota caucus. I spent a strange and happy chunk of my kid-hood in the city of Minot, barely an hour from the Canadian border, and I attended the St. Leo’s parish school downtown, just blocks south of the Souris River and the giant red neon sign of the Bridgeman Creamery. Because this was also a time when my parents happened to be grassroots crusaders in the anti-ERA, anti-secular humanism textbook battles of the late 1970s, I feel a sense of déja vu to see Santorum win in North Dakota.
This is another way of saying I watch him win and feel about ten years old.
Mitt Romney is staking his presidential candidacy on his long business career and the values reflected in the photograph below, taken from a Bain Capital Christmas card in the 1980s. If recent polls are any indication, a majority of American voters might be ready to buy in.
Taking a gentlemanly, congratulatory phone call from Sen. John McCain after he stuffed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucus in January of 2008, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is reported to have chuckled — with a little too much venom — “I beat Romney here, now you take him in New Hampshire.” Which is exactly what happened. And Huckabee meant it, too. That shiv neatly sums up the animosity Republicans who run for president tend to feel towards the feckless Romney, now 1-0 in 2012, and on the verge of being 2-0 if his firewall in New Hampshire holds firm next week and new polls in South Carolina showing him with a strong lead there turn out to be correct.
But before New Hampshire votes next week and makes Romney 2-0 and the presumptive nominee, it’s worth asking one question: Can he be stopped?
Big answer: Maybe, maybe not, because the same five reasons Romney has the nomination locked up are the exact five reasons he could still lose.
He’s got so much money — that of his campaign, his Super Pac that spent $3 million destroying Newt Gingrich in a matter of weeks on Iowans’ TV screens, and his own private fortune estimated at over $200 million. After New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada comes Florida — an expensive market in which to campaign. And no other candidate can hit the airwaves with us much force or range as Romney.
He’s got the establishment falling into line behind his candidacy. The Tea Party has already put a noose around the House of Representatives, and establishment conservatives are desperate that it not do the same to the presidential standard-bearer, what with President Obama’s approval still stuck slightly below 50 percent. In state after state, governors and representatives are falling in line to support Romney with party stars like New Jersey’s bully of a governor, Chris Christie, leading the way. As Romney’s wins pile up, elected Republicans will endorse so as not to lose favor with their party’s eventual nominee.
The other candidates will continue to split the right wing vote. Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul divvied up some 75 percent of the vote in Iowa and, because of that split, they each lost to Romney — albeit by a “landslide” of eight votes in Santorum’s case. That might be Romney’s low ceiling, true, but if the other candidates continue to vie for three-quarters of the GOP pie, Romney’s 25 percent slice could be enough in state after state to rack up delegates and be crowned the nominee in Tampa. And 25 percent probably isn’t his ceiling.
Santorum and Perry want to be the Vice Presidential nominee. Gingrich and Paul couldn’t care less about their future in the Republican party (though Paul surely is interested in protecting his fringe of the nutty wing for a future presidential run by his son, Kentucky’s junior senator, Rand Paul). But Santorum and Perry both can hope to make an argument that they would bring right wing enthusiasm with them into a fall campaign (much as George Bush, Sr. made the same, but reverse, argument to Ronald Reagan in 1980, that Bush could bring the moderate and establishment wings to unite with the conservative Reaganites). Jack Kemp, Dan Quayle, and Sarah Palin were all figureheads for the right wing of a party that was simply holding its nose for the more moderate top of the ticket. Santorum or Perry could vie to be next in the VP in that fated line.
The GOP is full of amateur pundits. Even if they don’t like Romney, Republicans have told pollsters that they believe he is the most electable. Of all the GOP candidates, he still polls best nationally against Obama, trailing the president by just 2.2 percentage points, according to Real Clear Politics’ average of a dozen of the most recent national polls. And in state by state polling — because the only number that matters in the general election is 270, the number of electoral votes needed to win the presidency — Romney is running competitively against the president in the bell weather battleground states of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, all states Obama won in 2008 and needs to win in 2012.
He’s got so much money — but the populist revolts that gave rise to both the Tea Party in 2010 and the Occupy movement in 2011 have hardly abated. And rich white guys are their target. Santorum is hitting hard the Tea Party, Buchananesque, blue collar argument that government is ruining industry, manufacturing, and the social fabric of America. Romney’s personal wealth and what he represents as a corporate businessman running for high office may be the very totems of ultra-affluence that work against him — especially if he makes another bizarre statement like “corporations are people.” This is why Gingrich has taken to saying that Romney is trying to buy the nomination. It’s an argument that may take hold if the race tightens.
He’s got the establishment falling in line — but the leading figures of that endorsing establishment are George Bush, Sr., Bob Dole, and John McCain, who combined lost three out of the last five presidential races. And none were favored by the conservative-I-hate-you reactionaries in the Republican party. If the reactionaries rally behind a single candidate — say, Santorum — and ditch Gingrich, Perry, and Paul, then Romney’s 25 percent threshold will not hold against a party eager for a happy, reactionary warrior to run against Obama.
Santorum and Perry want to be the Vice Presidential nominee. Unless one or the other is the Presidential nominee. In 2008, pundits were certain that Barack Obama was only running for — and could only win — the Vice Presidential nod against Hillary Clinton. What they didn’t know was that Obama’s campaign had developed a February strategy to sweep the caucus contests that immediately followed Super Tuesday. Santorum could quickly become the darling of the right — and Perry has the fund-raising chops to stay in the fight — so if the campaign drags on past Florida and Romney can’t sew it up and no surprise candidate enters late, then playing hard but respectful in order to get the number two spot may fall away. In its place? Playing all out for the win.
The GOP is full of amateur pundits — but only a very few predicted Santorum’s amazing Iowa finish. So for all the windbaggery, attention must be paid to the voters, no? And God love them for that. Given all the loopy twists of the 2012 primaries so far, and knowing that GOP voters down the line just don’t seem to like Mitt Romney, anything could happen.
July 15, 2010
Michael Steele, former bass player for the eighties pop group The Bangles, released a statement this afternoon informing the world at large that due to recent and negative events in the world of politics she has made the decision to formally and legally change her name. Below is the transcript of her statement, read live to a moderately attended group of fans and reporters on stage at The Canyon Club in Agoura Hills, California.
Steele: Fellow Citizens, Seekers of Truth and Peace, STAR-FM Promo Department… thank you for gathering here today.
(She pauses to adjust her bass strap and decides to swing her guitar back behind her so it stops hitting the mic stand as she holds her notes out in front of her.)
Steele: I come before you today to ask a question. (Squints at paper.) When our freedom is compromised, what are we to do?
(…crowd mutters, sound of glass breakage in background, and a Barback yells, ‘Sorry!’…)
Steele (to crowd): I can’t heeeear you!
(Crowd quieter, more confused.)
Steele: I’ll rephrase. When something impedes upon our freedom, we have no choice but to act. Am I right, people?
She covers the mic with her hand in an attempt to mute it but is still audible, though muffled.
Steele (to someone in the wings behind her): Can somebody bring me my reading glasses?
A roadie pulls out his own pair from his t-shirt pocket and runs them over to her. He also offers her his vent brush from his back pocket, but she declines. Almost immediately, she covers the mic again and yells after him, “Why? Do I need it?” He shakes his head no, gives her a double thumbs up. She continues.
Steele: There comes a time in everyone’s life when the fork in the road ahead is bent in such a way that you can’t quite see beyond it to where it leads…and you have to make a decision.
She looks up to assess the crowd.
Steele: You. (She points to someone in the darkness.) There with the ripped Go-Go’s t-shirt. You made a decision to wear that shirt here today. Perhaps you chose to go down that road because it was the only side of the fork that still fit or was clean. But if you would have done your homework, you’d have known it brings up bad mojo. Remember 1987? The Jane Wiedlin comes on to my boyfriend incident? If you would have considered other roads, made an informed decision — a metaphorical pink and black striped spandex mini-dress, say — who knows where it would have led?
Someone in the crowd: Where’s Susanna?
Steele (steeling herself): But I digress.
She adjusts her guitar strap.
Steele: I have arrived at my fork. And I choose to take the road yet traveled.
Someone else in the crowd: Are you going to walk like an Egyptian on it?
Steele (ignoring): In recent weeks, nay months, an unrelenting nag on my psyche has forced me to a decision that will forever alter my sense of self and others’ sense of me.
The crowd is quiet, seeming genuinely interested in what she’s going to reveal.
Steele: Some might think that my parents naming me ‘Michael Steele’ was a burden from the start. Those people would be right. As a young girl, growing up with a boy’s name, I was constantly teased and chastised. I dreamed of the day I would develop breasts and could show them off to my tormentors. ‘Feast your eyes on these!’ I would say. And they would step back in awe and reverence to my luscious mounds.
Audience member: Ah-oooo-gaaa!!!
Steele (reading): But that day was not to come. I took after my grandmother on my father’s side, and grew into an extremely tall and thin thing, who eventually gained favor with her peers by being able to hide joints on the tops of door jams and paint apartment room walls without the aid of a ladder.
Possibly the same audience member: Show us your mounds!
Steele: My point is that I overcame this burden. Time, and the natural cycle of the mystery of the developing body healed some of it. And by locking down my heart so no one could penetrate it and hurt me further, my transformation was complete. I was Michael Steele. Michael ‘I Wouldn’t Fuck With Me If I Were You’ Steele.
A door opens in the back of the room, and daylight is emitted. A silhouette of a man is visible along with a dolly with boxes piled on it. The silhouette says loudly, “Where should I stack the toilet paper?”
Steele (visibly unnerved): Despite my past, and the adversity I have reconciled, in recent weeks the hardship of sharing my name with Republican Chairperson Michael Steele has become too great. The accumulation of his blunders and the imminent firing, forced resignation, or muzzle wearing that inevitably will become part of his story has landed me here. I have been mistaken for him via email, via regular mail, via Facebook – even though I have my actual face as my picture, not a photo of my cat, or the actress most people tell me I look like, or a kitschy shot of some candy I liked from childhood—
Another audience member: I like Abba-Zabas!
Steele: So even though my Caucasian, female image is displayed prominently on my Facebook wall, according to my fan page administrator, Barkley, I’m still getting messages for the black, male politician Michael Steele.
Audience member/possibly a reporter: Is it true you’ll be taking a trip to Afghanistan next month to assuage the concerns of our troops over your statements against the war?
Steele: Can you see me? (Back to her notes.) And so, just as my parents made the decision to name me Michael Steele, setting me on the arduous path that would become my life for lo this many 40 something years, I have made the decision to take back my name… and make it my own. From here forth, thanks to the jackassery of both my parents and the politician Michael Steele, I present you with the new me… the me of my choosing… Michelle Steele.
Number one fan: Hi, Michelle!
Steele: I thank you for your time. And I thank you for respecting my and my family’s privacy during this transitional stage.
Yet another audience member: Do we have to re-like you on Facebook?
Steele: I’m honestly not sure how that works.
Audience member: Can we expense our drinks to the Republican National Committee’s tab?
Questions from the audience were taken for another five or so minutes. When the press conference was officially concluded all in attendance were treated to a sound check by Ms. Steele’s newly formed band Rush Limbaugh.
Author’s note: The “Ms. Steele” depicted here is a figment of the author’s imagination. The real Ms. Steele simply had the misfortune of sharing a name with a current political figure. Which got the author thinking. And it devolved from there.