South Carolina primary: Why no one can touch Mitt Romney

Jan 18, 2012

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Mitt Romney's rivals tried to shove one another aside Tuesday in an effort to consolidate support around a single conservative alternative to the former Massachusetts governor.

Who should be the alternative to Romney? Why can't anyone seem to put a dent in his campaign?

Chat with South Carolina primary expert Laura Woliver about how these issues are leading to an untouchable Mitt Romney in the race for the South Carolina primary. Submit your questions and opinions about this topic and the primary in general.

Welcome to the chat

How does Mitt Romney plan to gain support among the African American community in South Carolina (and African American general population) when his core religious belief is coming from the Book of Mormon, which teaches that black skin is the result of a curse from his God?

The race issue is very important for Mr. Romney.  I suppose his camp would respond to you that the Mormon church officials amended this years ago. 

Do you think that by the Tampa convention, no candidate will have enough votes for the GOP nomination, and that the reactionaries in the party will back an independent run by Santorum or Gingrich or possibly both? Romney is facing strong opposition from Tea Partyers and religious conservatives, and you noted that they have not coalesced around a single alternative candidate.

There could be a fight at the Tampa convention.  Most likely, though, that Romney will start adding up the delegate votes and be OK at the convention.  The Super PACs, however, are changing the usual dynamics of this because they can finance someone's campaign even if he is not winning many delegate votes.   An independent run would help President Obama's campaign and the Republicans would most likely try to argue that to any candidate thinking about an independent run.  It shall be interesting. 

So basically, since all of the other candidates are busy fighting each other, Romney gets to keep plugging along untouched?  Are the other candidates biggest enemies themselves?

Here in South Carolina the TV ads and mailings have made some hits on Romney.  But with Romney's Super PAC and other resources he is answering the challenges.  He can keep plugging along, yes.  However, he will be the target of his Republican colleagues for many more weeks most likely. 

Seems to me that all of the other remaining candidates are vying for the farthest right-wing wing nuts, not to be judgmental... Good golly - Mitt seems positively middle of the road! All of their sniping and nasty invective against him seems ill-advised at this point, given that they'll all have to chow down on their words very soon when he's the nominee! I can't comment on the issues, don't care enough to parse the statements, just have been watching what I can't miss of the hilarity.

Good points.  The Republican Party this round is experiencing what many Democratic front runners have endured in past elections.  The themes in the TV ads and mailings and social media from Romney's opponents now will not doubt reappear in the fall via the Obama campaign and Super PACs if Romney is the nominee.

He did say it wouldn't be okay for Iran to have nuclear weapons. If we invade, how will we pay for the war? With Iraq and Afghanistan we just increased the deficit (though you don't hear that mentioned much during the debates). What other options are there? War bonds? Sell off one of Romney's houses?

During the campaign Representative Ron Paul has made many comments about the deficit and the cost of war and our current foreign policy.  The other candidates have not directly answered the question about paying for a war.  The other candidates are, however, quick to point to Iran, as you mention, as a future problem that would possibly lead to conflict.  They have not distanced themselves from President Bush's build up to the wars and the incorrect information used to justify it.  To me as an academic, Ron Paul's statements are remarkable because he even mentions the issue of people and interests making profits from war.  Someone might ask the other candidates what they think about that in future debates. 

Do you think Rick Santorum will do well in SC?  He seems to have the religious background that those primary voters can identify with.  What's his biggest set back, you think?

Rick Santorum will do OK in South Carolina.  Paul and Romney's TV ads, flyers, and social media are hitting him, however, on earmarks.  Earmarks have been made a signature issue here by Senator De Mint.  In addition, Gingrich's campaign has a lot of ads and messages out about how according to them voting for Santorum is like a vote for Romney because Santorum is not viable.  We shall see.  Many independents participate in the South Carolina Republican primary and they might be more open to voting for Romney. 

Is Mitt Romney fast becoming the "John McCain" (i.e., generic) Republican candidate in the upcoming presidential race?

That is difficult to know because Mr. Romney's religion is an issue with many South Carolina Republicans.  In 2000 Senator McCain was viciously attacked in South Carolina during the primary by the Bush campaign.  In 2008 McCain didn't face the same attacks and did not have as serious a religious issue (to South Carolina Republicans) as Mr. Romney seems to have. 

Do you think that at least SOME non-Mormon South Carolina Republicans will form a backlash against the evangelicals who've been criticizing Romney's alleged insufficient Christianity, and vote for Romney in part to reject what they perceive as religious prejudice?

Some Republicans might do this.  It is more likely, however, that Independents participating in the primary might do so.  They also might vote for Romney out of a sense of pragmatism.  They want to beat Obama, #1 goal.

How does this year's primary compare to those in the past?

The primary this year is being influenced by the Super PACs in a unique way.  In the past, there were not this many candidates coming into the South Carolina Republican primary.  There was more winnowing after the Iowa  and New Hampshire results came in.  This many candidates, as other readers have pointed out, divides the evangelical and very socially conservative voters, which helps Mr. Romney stay a plurality winner.

During the last debate, Ron Paul got a tough question about what he'd tell South Carolinians who might lose jobs as a result of his proposed Defense Department cuts. Has Romney mentioned any such cuts? South Carolinians want to continue big government expenditures to save jobs? Are any of the candidates praising TARP? Can Romney call for tax cuts that won't be painful to anyone?

As far as I know, Mr. Romney has not mentioned Defense Department cuts.  He makes some promises about cutting waste in government, and I think he includes the Defense Department in that.  South Carolina has a lot of military personnel, civilians working for the military, and businesses supplying the military, I believe only Ron Paul has made such a direct commitment about cutting military spending.  As far as I know, not one Republican candidate has defended TARP.  In fact, they attack each other for voting for TARP or saying anything supportive of TARP on a talk show or print in the past.  Whether any candidate can specify tax cuts that won't be painful to anyone is a good question. 

Thank you for your interesting questions.  I need to go now.  Dr. Woliver

In This Chat
Laura Woliver
Dr. Laura R. Woliver received her Ph.D. in political science from the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 1986. She earned an M.A. and a B.A. (cum laude) in political science from the University of Colorado in Boulder. Her specialties are American politics, interest groups, social movements, and gender and politics. She joined the POLI faculty in 1985, and since the fall of 2007 has been a joint appointment in the Women?s and Gender Studies Program at USC. She is the author of two books, From Outrage to Action: The Politics of Grass Roots Dissent (University of Illinois Press, 1993), and The Political Geographies of Pregnancy (University of Illinois Press, 2002). In addition she has published dozens of articles, book chapters, and comments, a number of them with graduate students.
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