As the Republican campaign Moves onward from Iowa to New Hampshire it becomes clear that there won’t be a definitive winner any time soon. Mitt Romney cannot break out of the first quartile territory nor is Ron Paul likely to pick up any more supporters than he already has. The only candidate at present gaining momentum is Rick Santorum which seems to be coming at the expense of Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich. It will be interesting to see where Michele Bachmann supporters wind up.
Absent a decisive frontrunner resulting in a candidate wrapping this up by February, the campaign now becomes one of attrition. This is a war strategy of slowly grinding down ones opponents until they hemorrhage enough resources to just collapse. The trenches of WWI or the cold war spending of the Reagan era leading to the collapse of the Soviet Union are examples. Military strategists claim though that this often leads to a pyrrhic victory. You may have won, but at a great cost.
In the case of the campaign, that means whomever has the biggest war chest of money. Now that Santorum pulled off essentially a tie in Iowa, expect his donations to rise. In fact, there are some reports that he already raised over $1 million the first day after the Iowa caucus. And with the Citizens United decision it appears that the Republican nominee will go to the highest bidder. Through the use of Super Pacs, campaign finance laws can be circumvented allowing corporations and individuals to funnel as much money into a campaign as they want (For an excellent explantation of how a Super Pac works, see comedian Steven Colbert’s episodes on how he set up his own Super Pac).
But each of the Republican candidates comes with their own set of negative baggage. Santorum is an over the top evangelical who was not a terribly popular Senator, Romney’s flip-flopping, Mormonism, and his past as a job destroyer, Newt Gingrich’s checkered political and personal past, Rick Perry’s constant gaffes and the apparent perception that he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer (though that’s historically never been a problem for Republicans unless they’re being critical of a Democrat, eg: Obama’s ‘inexperience’), and Ron Paul’s…well, Ron Paul.
It’s a lot like that old 1986 movie ‘Highlander’. There can be only one so defeat your opponent by wearing them down with negative campaign adds and then soak up all their supporters. Newt Gingrich has the distinction of being the first victim of the Citizens United decision as Romney’s Super Pac pummeled Iowans with an onslaught of negative ads reminding them about Newt’s past. Only when Romney tried to soak up all of Newt’s Quickening it actually had the reverse effect of going to the other candidates, most notably Santorum.
This isn’t to say that a few decisive wins could put Romney over the top. Romney is the heads up favourite to win New Hampshire. However, the citizens of New Hampshire are notorious for bucking convention. There are several early states that could prove favourable to Romney if none of the other candidates picks up enough momentum.
The American nomination process is a peculiar linear system fraught with inconsistencies and inequities. Early states such as Iowa; not exactly a culturally representative picture of America, are able to disproportionally influence the outcome while other states such as Oregon never participate in the process at all. There seems to be no logic behind the scheduling of primaries and caucuses as they stretch out from January to June. It creates opportunities for meddling by anti-party opponents (see Rush Limbaugh’s ‘Operation Chaos’ from the 2008 Democratic Primary). It’s a process that is easy to fix but over the years we have just made it more complicated and expensive. As author and former politician John Dean notes:
“It is has no basis in logic or reason. It creates all but impossible logistical problems for candidates. It increases campaigning costs, forcing candidates to rely on large campaign donors. A few small states benefit, at the expense of everyone else, and it is anything but conducive to finding candidates most suitable to become President of the United States.”
The individual campaigns know it, too, and it’s how they base their strategies. Sometimes it works, as was the case for then Senator Obama in 2007, and sometimes it doesn’t, as was the case for Rudy Giulliani’s Florida eggs-in-one-basket gambit. The process is unlikely to change any time soon as no one has a compelling reason to tackle the issue.
The prospect of an extended campaign does benefit one candidate, however, and that’s President Obama. While the Republican candidates wage this war of attrition they essentially do most of the President’s work for him by exposing all of the negative aspects of each candidate to the American public. The President could probably win the race by playing back Republican negative ads alone. The longer it takes to nominate the Republican general election candidate, the more time the President has to shore up his own campaign and coffers. As mentioned here before, it’s likely many Republicans already anticipated this scenario and remained out of the race.
Who will win the battle? Given the Republican machine’s penchant for choosing the next in line it likely means Romney if he can keep people from focusing on his negatives. That means there will probably be loads of ads focusing on everyone’s negatives all the way to June. Unfortunately for Republican voters, it means picking the least offensive candidate from the bottom of the barrel. That candidate might be so beaten up by then that Republicans might just vote for Obama.
- Newt Gingrich Caught In The Crossfire Of ‘Modern Politics’ (huffingtonpost.com)
- How Santorum Did It (huffingtonpost.com)
- Rick Santorum receives $1 million in donations in 24 hours (examiner.com)
- Gingrich Dismisses Citizens United After Big Loss (huffingtonpost.com)
- Can Rick Santorum Maintain His Momentum? (abcnews.go.com)
- Obama wins Iowa – without even campaigning! (thehill.com)