March 2, 2012

Hit the elect button

Republicans need to keep their eye on the prize—unseating President Obama.

The United States has an unemployment rate of 8.3 percent. President Barack Obama’s approval rating is around 47 percent or 43 percent, depending on who you ask; it’s definitely low. Election projections show that President Obama is tied with a ‘Generic Republican’ candidate. Despite this, polls show that President Obama is still beating GOP front-runner Mitt Romney. Even with Romney’s two wins in Arizona and Michigan, the chance of a brokered or contested convention remains high. This is extremely disappointing, as it seems that the anybody-but-Romney Republicans may have succeeded in securing a second term for our sitting President.

Mitt Romney once stood as a bastion of conservatism in the liberal state of Massachusetts. He has strong ties to electorally crucial areas like Michigan. He has been married (to the same woman) for 42 years and has held important jobs in both the private and public sectors. Romney has across-the-aisle appeal, and is a genuine American success story: he managed to create a very successful and profitable business. Additionally, he has a professional campaign that has been tested, can raise large sums of money, and effectively utilizes Super PACs and 501(c)4 institutions.

Yet, despite all of these plusses, there is still a division in the Grand Old Party. The Republicans have flitted from one alternative to another, leading to an all-time high of 10 different front-runners at different times in the campaign. New York Times pollster Nate Silver has claimed that this is the most volatile election in recent memory. Though there has been a plethora of less-than-suitable alternatives, Romney has remained a solid candidate throughout.

The major issue with the Republican party currently seems to be short-sightedness. Similar to the primary processes that nominated Sharron Angle in Nevada and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, there seems to be an inclination among more conservative-minded Republicans to choose ideological purity over electability. While none of the candidates fits the profile of a true conservative, Romney should not be more offensive to conservative voters than the thrice-married Gingrich or big-government Santorum. However, for some reason, Republicans seem intent on making a faux stand, producing an ideologue who does not appeal to the center, yet eschews true conservative values, and who is, most importantly, unlikely to win.

Despite his many advantages, Romney has been unable to pull ahead of his competitors, especially former Senator Rick Santorum. Santorum’s most recent surge came after a hat-trick victory in Minnesota, Colorado, and a non-binding victory in a poll in Missouri. This netted Santorum only 23 delegates out of 2,286, but still gave him a large momentum boost.

Santorum considers himself to be strong on social issues but has a very poor record when it comes to pork-barrel spending and earmarks. Also, many of his stances call for excessive government control over people’s private lives with regard to social issues. And then there’s his penchant to support unnecessary projects like the “Bridge to Nowhere.” In short, he is not the small government conservative he claims to be.

Perhaps most importantly, Santorum is a former senator; he was unable to win re-election in 2006 against Bob Casey, Jr., a relative unknown. Pennsylvania has since elected another staunch conservative, Pat Toomey, to fill its other Senate seat. Given all these issues, Santorum is simply not a good option for Independents or even many Republicans and will not be able to reach across the aisle to woo right-leaning or blue-dog Democrats like Romney could.

Currently, Romney has 153 Republican delegates, Santorum 70, Gingrich 33, and Paul 26. If Romney and the rest of the candidates split delegates based on current polling numbers, there will be a contested convention. While this situation is unlikely, it is likelier to happen now than at any point in the last 44 years. It would result in the Republican candidates spending money on the primaries that they could spend on the general election. Attack ads from each candidate will likely undermine the eventual nominee and provide fodder for when the race becomes one-on-one after the Republican National Convention. While primary elections can do little to raise the profile of a candidate at this point, the disapproval ratings of each of the primary candidates have risen steadily throughout the contests. The debates have made for good television—but the only true winner when the various Republican candidates go at one other is President Obama.

The Republicans should collectively be trying to win this election. It is heartening to see Romney’s recent wins in Arizona and Michigan, but unless these are accompanied by a nationwide shift in support toward him, they will be for naught. Every anti-Romney alternative sates a specific segment of the Republican party’s big tent. However, Mitt Romney is a better nominee than any of the alternatives not because of his niche strengths, but because his broader appeal gives him the best chance of winning. The nightmare scenario for Republicans should not be Romney winning the nomination, as some within the party have deigned it to be. Instead, it should be four more years of economic incompetence and foreign policy ineptitude under President Obama.

Eric Wessan is a second-year in the College majoring in political science.