Mitt sets the scene for another Super Tuesday

Mitt Romney with his wife and son. Credit: Yana Paskova for the New York Times

It was Super Tuesday in America yesterday, and Mitt Romney was the winner.

Wait a minute, you say, it’s not Super Tuesday until next week when ten States hold their primaries and caucuses in the Republican presidential race to choose a nominee to take on Barack Obama in November.

Yes, but that’s a different Super Tuesday – a political contest. In the US yesterday, the ESPN sports network was showing a basketball extravaganza, involving six college teams vying for the national championship coming up in March. In typical American fashion, they call it Super Tuesday every week. The Ten Network, in the usual Australian TV way of copying their US cousins, have called their Sunday night lineup Super Sunday.  Frankly, I’ve had enough of this naming business. It should be reserved for things really super like the Super Bowl.

Back to politics, where Republican front-runner Mitt Romney was finally able to put together two credible victories in one day, taking out the Michigan and Arizona primaries against the conservative Catholic Rick Santorum. I figure it’s okay to use the term Catholic because Santorum has been running a religious race.

Last Sunday, Santorum told George Stephanopoulos of ABC’s This Week program that religion and conservative principles were at risk on college campuses and the public square. Here’s a link to that story:  http://nyti.ms/wsPD7T. He also defended his views about John F. Kennedy’s 1960 campaign speech in which he asserted the separation of church and state should be absolute. It was a speech that helped Kennedy get elected president later that year as he proved that a Roman Catholic leader would not take orders from the Vatican – a claim some critics were making, believe it or not. There was still a fair bit of bias against Catholics in 1960 in the US (I was attending a Catholic high school in Philadelphia at the time.)

Santorum went to Houston in 2010 to mark the 50th anniversary of the speech and say how wrong he thought Kennedy was. Here’s a link to Santorum’s speech if you want to see how conservative this candidate really is: (http://bit.ly/zSk8ZU). And it didn’t help his campaign.

But Romney’s narrow victory in his home state of Michigan does not knock Santorum out of the race, nor does it mean that the front-runner is going to secure the nomination.  Romney had 41 per cent of the vote to 38 for Santorum, and under the state’s primary rules, the candidates get two delegates for each district they win, so it’s not winner take all. With those delegates in Michigan and 29 in Arizona, Romney now leads Santorum 139 to 76, but the magic number to win the nomination at the Republican National Convention in August is 1,144, so there’s still a long way to go.

While Santorum suffers from a surfeit of sanctimony, Romney’s woes can be attributed to a penchant for telling poor people how rich he is. During a debate in Iowa, he challenged then candidate Rick Perry to a $10,000 bet, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the average punter has no chance of matching a bet that big. Read more: http://nyti.ms/xBVG30

Then he said: “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me,” referring to his belief that people should be able to sack insurance companies that don’t provide services. But the “provide services to me” bit never made prime time until he tried to explain himself to the media, and he didn’t do that very well either!

But Romney’s predilection for flaunting his wealth really came to the fore during a speech to the Detroit Economic Club last Friday: “I like the fact that most of the cars I see are Detroit-made automobiles. I drive a Mustang and a Chevy pickup truck. Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs, actually.” His wife’s luxury vehicles did not go over well with the many jobless who can’t afford one car, let alone two Cadillacs.

FOLLOW THE LEAD OF HARRY TRUMAN

Romney would have been better off to follow the lead of President Harry Truman, who refused to accept a free car from Toyota after the war, a story told in David McCullough’s wonderful biography, Truman. He says Truman wrote a letter to the firm’s public relations office in the US, responding “that there was no possibility of his ever driving a foreign car of any make. He believed in driving cars made in America.” This was from a former president who at the time had no income or support from the Federal government other than his Army pension of $112.56 a month.

Mitt Romney can’t appeal to the ordinary American because he doesn’t consider himself to be one. To make matters worse, he’s not willing to change, despite his gaffes and his inability to appeal to conservative Republicans: “I’m not willing to light my hair on fire to try to get support.”

And so on Super Tuesday – the political one — he has no hope of winning over Tea Party supporters in states like Georgia, Tennessee,  and Oklahoma, and therefore, little chance of taking out their primaries. But some political analysts, like the respected David Gergen of CNN,  think he can win at least four states, and possibly five, with Ohio being his most crucial contest.

Rick Santorum, meanwhile, will play the conservative and moral card for all its worth, hoping to take some of those states ready to have a tea party to celebrate Romney’s defeat. One state that is likely to go to the conservatives is Georgia, where Newt Gingrich, the suddenly quiet man of the Republican race, will be making a noisy comeback. Gingrich held a press conference yesterday at the University of West Georgia where he taught during the 1970s, skipping the primaries in Michigan and Arizona, telling self-deprecating tales about college professors. He’s pinning his hopes next week on the South to revive his flagging campaign.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul, the libertarian who’s opposed to American foreign and monetary policy and US military involvement overseas and who’s described as “the intellectual godfather of the Tea Party,” is hanging in there until the convention, trying to squeeze all the delegates he can out of the Caucus states.

Harry Truman holding the famously wrong headline.

So who’s the winner in all this? It has to be President Barack Obama, like Tony Abbott, enjoying the way the opposition is tearing itself apart, while his campaign managers are recording all the gaffes and jibes, saving them for the real campaign which begins in September. That’s when the President is nominated as the party’s official candidate at the Democratic National Convention.

And the National Football League will bow to politics, by playing its season opener on Wednesday, September 5, to avoid a conflict with the President’s speech at the convention the following night. It’s the first time the NFL has played on a Wednesday since September 22, 1948 when Harry Truman was president, campaigning for his second term.

Many Democrats thought Truman couldn’t win against the popular Republican candidate, Thomas E. Dewey, and the morning after a long election night in November 1948, the Chicago Daily Tribune published this headline: DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.

The only problem was that Harry Truman had won the election in one of the biggest upsets in US political history, to the surprise of just about everybody, and the supreme embarrassment of the Chicago Daily Tribune.

And so far this year, there’s not a popular Republican in sight.

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