Tuesday, April 10, 2012

We have finally reached the inevitable conclusion...

Rick Santorum officially suspended his campaign today, citing his daughter's health problems and other family issues among the factors that lead to his decision.  Now, I'm not so callous as to say I think that Santorum is just using his daughter's health problems as an excuse to exit a race he should have left months ago, but I do think that, if he was doing better in the polls, if he had won more states - especially his home state of PA - and, basically, if he was a frontrunner in the race instead of just another angry dog nipping at Romney's $10,000 heels, he would probably still be in this thing.  

Santorum delivered his farewell speech surrounded by his family, as he has delivered all of his campaign speeches - from his 11 primary victory speeches to the 2 dozen or so optimistic non-concessions.  To his credit, Santorum is a really good speaker.  I may disagree vehemently with most of what he says and the constant mischaracterizations he casually throws around, but the guy knows his audience, he understands the mentality of the socially conservative voters he speaks to, arguably better than any of his fellow candidates ever did, or will.  I did find some great ironic moments in Santorum's speech, though.  First was his claim that his campaign "never" ran negative attack ads against his opponents, a lie that is THIS EASY to disprove.  Next was a great line where Santorum said his campaign used optimism, not fear, to motivate their base of support and then his very next sentence was literally about our weakening national security and the threat of a nuclear Iran.  Santorum has played on white, conservative fear more and better than any other candidate, whether it be the aforementioned fear mongering over nuclear Iran or portraying the Obama administration as an amoral, God-hating cancer upon our democracy.  Hell, Santorum even said that he believed Satan was waging war against America and only he could save us from certain doom.  For Santorum to claim he never used negative campaign tactics or fear mongering to push his agenda is laughable to say the least.

But, despite his valiant efforts to scare conservative America into making him the Republican presidential nominee, Santorum came up short.  Really, he never posed a significant challenge to Romney at all, at best he was little more than a spoiler in the most conservative states and a thorn in the Romney campaign's side, helping the Obama campaign to chuck rocks at Romney's credibility without them having to pony up the cash for it.  In a very real way, it's unfortunate that Santorum is bowing out now.  If he stayed in until the primary - as he and Gingrich both pledged to do in better times - the constant attacks against Romney would only further weaken his position going into the general election and create even more voter apathy among conservatives as they realized, regardless of how much they dislike Romney, he's still going to end up being their nominee.

And that's where we are now.  The Republican base is realizing that the inevitable is now upon them.  While it was basically understood for a while now that Santorum couldn't possibly beat Romney and no one else even stood a chance and Romney was going to end up the nominee, there was always a hope that someone else would enter the race or that Santorum or Gingrich might find some angle to garner more broad-based appeal than just the extremist conservative fringe.  Hell, people were even starting to hope that Ron Paul would start to sound a little more "traditional Republican" instead of his quirky mix of Libertarian youth appeal and shockingly ignorant social conservatism.  Alas, no knight in shining armor came along to rescue the GOP from having to just vote for the guy who's time had come.

It is an old saying about the two ruling political parties in America, "Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line".  Never has it been more true in my lifetime than now with Mitt Romney as the inevitable nominee.  Democrats get swept up in voting for the candidate that they fall in love with, when they love their nominee, he wins.  It was true with Clinton and Obama and just as true with Gore and Kerry's defeats.  However, the Republicans ignore what they want in favor of what they have.  If a Republican nominee doesn't electrify them, so what?  What are they gonna do, vote for the Democrat?  Not likely.  Republicans are thus more immune to the voter apathy of having an uninspiring candidate than Democrats are.  This is pretty much the best thing Romney has going for him right now - the fact that the Republican base will literally vote for a ham sandwich instead of Obama.

It will be interesting to see how the road leading to the general election begins to lay out now that the primaries are essentially all over.  I'm more than a little curious to see how the atmosphere is at the RNC convention.  I predict there will be a lot of forced enthusiasm for Romney and the usual glut of upstart Republican "rising stars" looking to "Obama" their political careers by giving a great speech.  What I'm wondering about though is what will happen with the Ron Paul campaign and their plan to subjugate the delegates.  My guess is that the RNC convention will be remarkably unremarkable.  It will be an expected, by-the-numbers rally to drum up support for their entitled nominee.  Since so much of the GOP is lukewarm at best on Romney, I also predict most of the convention speeches and sentiments will be more anti-Obama than pro-Romney.  That's how this election is going to be for the GOP though, less of a "let's help Romney win!" election and more of a "let's make Obama lose!" instead.  Historically, that doesn't usually work out so well.  It didn't help Gore against Bush, nor did it help Kerry against Bush.  It also didn't help Dole against Clinton.  That's the problem with nominating an uninspiring candidate, there's just not enough of a "vote against the incumbent" sentiment among independent and swing voters to make that a really effective strategy - at least not when the incumbent president isn't the worst president ever.  I know conservative voters might disagree that Obama isn't the worst president we've ever had, but conservative voters alone won't defeat Obama.  They need independents and swing voters and those guys don't despise Obama as all-encompassingly as conservatives do.  

There's also the fact that the nomination of Romney cripples one of the most effective conservative weapons against Obama - the Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare.  Romney's health care plan in Mass. was the blueprint for ObamaCare and that significantly weakens the ability of the Romney campaign to attack Obama on it. This is great news for Obama on a couple of fronts.  First is the obvious strength they will have arguing the effectiveness of ObamaCare when Romney's plan in Mass. has been such a success so far and the second positive is that it gives Obama more resilience against a potential SCOTUS ruling to strike down the individual mandate portion of ObamaCare.  Making Obama/RomneyCare a sore subject for Romney to go after Obama on takes much of the wind out of any possible negative ruling by the SCOTUS, as any attacks against Obama have to be tempered against his ability to flip RomneyCare right back at them, not to mention Romney's own contradictory and well-documented flip-flops on other key party issues.

Certainly, though, there is a great deal of dissatisfaction with the way things have been going in this country for the last 3 years.  Obama is not going to have an easy campaign ahead of him by any stretch and I think that any over-confidence on the part of Democrats is completely unjustified at this point.  The economy still sucks for a lot of the country, home prices still suck for a lot of the country - including myself - and the job market still sucks for a lot of the country - again, including myself.  Obama has a tough row to hoe as he tries to earn a second term.  Romney being the nominee gives him a much softer opponent to fight his uphill battle against, but it's still an uphill battle.

For now though, I guess it's time to celebrate the fact that the guy with the most money and the greatest sense of personal entitlement to the Republican presidential nomination has managed to outspend and outlast his numerous challengers to ultimately be the guy that Republicans are obligated to vote for because he's not the Democrat.  If that's not a shining example of democracy at work, then I don't know what is.

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