Super Tuesday analysis with Eugene Robinson

Mar 07, 2012

Eugene Robinson chatted about Super Tuesday results.

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Hi, everyone. Yesterday was Super Tuesday, so I guess that makes this Super Wednesday. Opinion seems to be divided -- either Mitt Romney did well enough to lock up the nomination, or he didn't. What do you think?

Gene, three questions for you today: One, do you interpret (as I do) that in spite of Mitt Romney winning Ohio, he still has a long way to go to wrap up the Republican nomination? His victory there was so razor-thin, and when you total up the votes for Santorum, Gingrinch, and Paul, more people voted AGAINST him than for him--especially in the rural areas of Ohio, where it seemed to be a Santorum sweep. That says to me that Mitt Romney still has his work cut out for him connecting with Republican voters. Two, it strikes me that Newt Gingrich will remain in the race to the bitter end, seemingly out of pure ego. Wouldn't such a move ultimately hurt the Republican's chances for winning the White House? And three, what do you think the chances are of Ron Paul running on a third-party platform? For sure, he's got the following, and I think him running as a third-party candidate will more or less lock up a re-election for the president. Thanks!

My take is that basically a win is a win. Romney took six of the ten contests, including the Big Enchilada of Ohio. So it was a very good night for him. That said, we saw more proof of what we already know: Many conservative voters don't like or trust the guy. I don't buy the "I'm inevitable, get over it" argument Romney is making today. But his status as the favorite just grew, and everyone else's chances just shrank. Newt can only stay in the race until his money runs out, which will happen when Sheldon Adelson decides to stop writing the checks. I don't see Ron Paul striking out on his own, because he's carving out a much bigger niche for himself and his movement inside the Republican Party.

Mr. Robinson, Do you think that without Citizens United and the presence of Santorum and Gingrich's billionaires that the Republican Primary would have basically been done by now? It seems like without Sheldon Adelson and Foster Friess that Santorum and Gingrich would have had to drop out by now. Instead they are still in it and taking body blows at Romney and preventing him from attempting to center himself for the general election.

I think that's definitely true of Gingrich, and to a lesser extent of Santorum. If you were Santorum, you'd wonder why everyone keeps calling on you to drop out when you keep winning primaries. The effect, certainly, is to keep pushing Romney to the right. 

So it looks like Mitt is going to eventually get to 1144, but how long does it take him to get there? The next big races are Mississippi, Alabama and Kansas, which are likely to go to Santorum or Newt, and it isn't until Illinois that I see Romney getting a big win again (sorry Guam). Is he going to lock it up before June? I don't see it going to a brokered convention, but I don't see a landslide for him either...

You're right -- the next primaries look bad for Romney. He has a grind-it-out strategy, based on steaadily accumulating delegates. He'll get there, barring unforseen disaster, but it will take a long time. A contested convention is possible, one in which no candidate arrives with a pre-cooked majority. But I doubt there can be a brokered convention, because there aren't any brokers these days.

I doubt that Romney will be able to secure the nomination before Tampa. The divide isn't just about Romney but about an extremist faction (the Tea Party and the religious right) pulling the GOP even further rightward. Perhaps if there's enough of a fight at the convention, Santorum and his supporters may walk out and stage an independent run. He might see this as a chance to solidify his support for 2016, with his base either taking control of the GOP or dislodging it entirely. What do you think of this scenario? I should add that I dread the possibility of someone of Santorum's theocratic mindset in the White House.

I think the chance of an independent Santorum candidacy is approximately zero. But yes, the GOP is kind of a mess right now.

I consider myself a conservative Republican, but part of me wants Rick Santorum to win so when he gets demolished by 20 plus points to President Obama, we can finally tell the extreme right wing of my party to shut up....

You are not the first Republican that I've heard express this wish. 

As a conservative Republican, I am honestly speechless and disheartened by this whole process. Mitt Romney has been running for 6 years and has spent millions of dollars, but can barely win and really doesnt stand for anything. He is someone who is constantly changing his positions depending on the politics of the situation. Everytime Rick Santorum opens his mouth I want to throw up. If you look up the term "severe extremist" in the dictionary, there would be a picture of Santorum. This guy wants to take us back to the 12th Century. Newt Gingrich is simply an arrogant, pompous and delusional buffoon who has no concept of reality and a grandiose vision of himself. There is a reason that over 99% of people who served with him in Congress are not supporting him. No matter the nominee, I honestly dont see anyway any of these characters will be beat President Obama.

Obama will be favored in the fall. Still, it will almost surely be a fairly close election. The country is pretty sharply divided, and it would be hard for either of the major parties to receive less than, say, 46 percent of the vote. Odds are that it will be closer if Romney's the candidate. Santorum and Gingrich, yes, could lose by landslides. When Santorum goes all theocratic, he scares Democrats and many Republicans alike. And Gingrich is one of the most unpopular politicians in the country, judging by his approval ratings.

Last night I was watching Ron Paul's post primary speech. It went on for about 15 minutes and he made some very good points. I was surprised that he was talking so long and then I realized that I was watching the French news channel. A quick click away revealed that he was not on any of the political chat stations. I'm at my wits end listening to these candidates talk about their narrow moral visions, their muscular desire for war (any war) and their complete lack of concern about the health care disaster in this country. I'm no fan of Obamacare (what is it? where is it?) but like most Americans I'm terrified of losing the health care I get from my job. Why doesn't anyone ask Rick or Mitt how ordinary people could afford to pay for health care if their child or spouse were similarly affected by the illnesses they have in their families. Newt should be asked about the health care options his ex-wives have now that he's drifted off into a Tiffany credit line world. I'm sick of all these people taking up the airways talking nonsense week after week. We have real problems to talk about.

The candidates seem to think voters prefer posturing, chest-thumping and empty rhetoric.

Much has been made of Mitt Romney's difficulty in connecting with blue-collar workers and with evangelical Christians. But come November, is there much doubt that current Santorum supporters will fall in line and vote for Romney, even if they don't care for him, in order to beat Obama? Do Democratic strategists consider them persuadable? In general (and for reasons I can't discern), they seem to be the folks who most ardently resent the president and his policies.

There may be some Republican primary voters whose disdain for Mitt Romney is such that they just stay home. That's a more likely scenario than defection to the Obama camp.

Given the current obsession with attacking Iran, I would like to ask you this question to test your knowledge of current events: Which recently-retired head of which intelligence agency said publicly last summer that attacking Iran's nuclear facilities is ""the stupidest thing I have ever heard"? Answer: Meir Dagan, former head of Israel's Mossad. Quoted in Haaretz (May 7, 2011). So why has this not caught the attention of the GOP candidates, Obama, and the US media (such as the Post)?

The Post and other papers have given considerable space and prominence to the voices of reason in Israel that warn against an attack. The president is well aware of the debate within Israel. One asumes the GOP candidates are similarly informed, although it's hard to be sure.

African Americans for Obama PAC? How tasteless and inflammatory. No doubt Whites for Mitt would get you in an uproar. So should this, but no doubt will not.

I guess you'd like to see the NAACP disbanded, too. This country has more than two centuries of history, and much as some people wish that history could be instantly erased or blithely ignored, it can't. For most of that history, African Americans did not enjoy the rights and privileges that white Americans enjoyed. Since the triumph of the civil rights movement, we have made enormous progress. But to pretend that African Americans haven't been a disadvantaged minority, and that whites have 't been a privileged majority, is dishonest.

Hi Eugene -- thanks for taking questions today. Romney has been criticized for his tepid response to Limbaugh's comments about Ms. Fluke, with some commentators claiming that had he taken a more forceful stand, he'd be doing better with women in the polls, and, by extension, would have had a better showing yesterday, his wins notwithstanding. What's your take on that?

I think the bigger potential impact will come in the fall. I believe Santorum's moralizing, all the talk about contraception, and the candidates' tepid response to Limbaugh have conspired to potentially drive independent women voters away from the GOP. That would mean real trouble.

I really do not see how Romney is not the nominee. That's been the case for weeks if not months, no matter how much the media wants to keep the horse race going. Not that it really matters, because in the end it's impossible to see him winning the general. There's no enthusiasm for him. Even the crazy right that wants to see Obama fail at any cost isn't thrilled with Romney. Most of them will vote for him anyway, but the loss of all the independents will be the most damaging thing for him. And since the GOP seems to have decided that suicide by contraception is a good idea the Dems could make some real gains elsewhere too.

I disagre. Not to defend the media -- always an unpopular stance -- but the reason we're covering the horse race is that we keep seeing horses running past. Santorum and Gingrich don't quit, and in fact keep winning primaries. If and when it seems mathematically impossible for anyone to catch Romney, the race is over. Oh, and as I stated earlier, I disagree that the election will be a cakewalk for Obama. I think he's likely to win, but presidential elections are usually close.

How big of a gender gap is the GOP facing in the fall? This last week has not helped their chances with the constant talk of contraceptives

I'm not sure how big the gap is, but it's bigger than it was a couple of weeks ago.

It pains me to say this because I'm an Obama supporter from (gasp!) Massachusetts, which conservatives hate as much as Hollywood liberals and scientists -- but our former Governor will win the nomination and Democrats, sitting on the rears contentedly watching the three-ring-ciircus GOP primaries, won't participate as much this time around thinking Obama has it wrapped up. Bottom line? Willard will be our new president come January 20, 2013. Do you agree this is a very strong possibility?

It's a scenario I'd worry about if I were running the Obama campaign. But I'd be comforted by polls showing that the "enthusiasm gap" has not only been closed but inverted. A few months ago, Republicans were much more enthusiastic about voting in this election than Democrats. Now, it's the other way around.

Is Ron Paul ultimately a stalking horse for son Rand?

Ron Paul isn't a stalking horse for anyone. He's an evangelist for libertarianism and Austrian economic theory. But I've heard speculation that the reason he won't run a third-party general election campaign is that he doesn't want to ruin his son's GOP career.

How are ANY of these candidates going to credibly pivot in the general after this extremely radical and bizarre primary"

It will have to be a pirouette worthy of Baryshnikov.

And with that, folks, I'm going to spin out of here -- my time is up. See you again next week!

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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