This year, Mitt Romney is the choice of the party establishment. They practically ordained him in their straw polls. The GOP’s caucuses and primaries passed as a free and fair representation of the party’s electorate.
These things, compacted by Republican-led efforts to restrict who can vote in over a dozen states, would seem to suggest that Romney would be well on his way to being the President of the United States or at the very least, the Grand Ole’ Party’s nominee. Happy days would be here again – at least for the 1% and their cronies.
However, like the Arab spring a funny thing has happened in the Republican party. Romney has yet to rack in a plurality of Republican voters. His usual take is 30% or less. The other Republican voters clearly want anybody but their current front-runner.
In fact, a Pew Center Research poll conducted in February of this year found that 30% of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters favor Rick Santorum, while a mere 28% favor Romney. Throw in the 17% behind Newt Gingrich, and 12% for Ron Paul, and Romney is way behind amid Republican voters.
A New York Times/CBS poll released Tuesday had even worse news. Last fall, 46% of all Republican primary voters declared themselves satisfied with their choices. Tuesday, only 34% of Republican voters declare themselves satisfied, while 62% want more choices.
So why is the establishment candidate in such decline? Perhaps in part because a quarter of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters have annual family incomes under $30,000, according to another Pew report. And well over half of these voters say the government does too little for poor people. Romney famously proclaimed “I’m not concerned about the very poor,” later insisting his remarks had been taken out of context.
What’s more, in a December 2011 poll 70% of these lower-income Republicans agreed that, “A few rich people and corporations have too much power in the U.S,” their opinion echoed by 39% of Republican voters with annual incomes of $75,000 plus.
This intra-party dissension would be little more than a ripple in ordinary times. The crushing dollars and political “IOU’s” behind the Romney machine would blow his opponents straight out of the water. Although Romney is still expected to win, here is where it gets interesting: Challenger Rick Santorum, like Newt Gingrich, is now taking direct aim at the megabucks Republican establishment – and with good reason.
Let us not forget that the Iowa Republican party proclaimed Romney the winner of that state’s caucuses before, under media glare, it reported that Santorum had actually won. The effect of this alleged incompetence was to cripple Santorum’s momentum as winner of the nation’s first caucus.
Then came the Nevada caucuses, where the number of ballots the Republican party counted in several counties exceeded the number of registered voters. This faux pas was in addition to the religious restrictions enforced by the party at a Saturday night caucus, as I previously reported. Hosni Mubarak himself would have been embarrassed at the clumsiness of his party apparatchiks.
There was, of course, a trifecta of Santorum wins in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri followed by the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) straw poll last week which, like the party’s Iowa and Nevada caucuses, put Romney in first place.
When CNN's "State of the Union" host Candy Crowley said she was surprised Santorum didn't do better with party conservatives, he shot back: "Well, you know, those straw polls at CPAC... I don't try to rig straw polls."
Was Santorum accusing Romney of rigging them?
"You have to talk to the Romney campaign and how many tickets they bought. We've heard all sorts of things," Santorum said. "We didn't pay them to turn out."
So there you have it. Well-funded Republican candidates can buy votes – only they don’t call it buying votes. Rather, the candidates are paying the costs of registering their voters in straw polls. Don't call it one man, one vote. Call it one dollar (or substantially more), one vote. Only now, now those well-funded candidates are being called out on it – by their fellow Republicans.
The sure fire tool with which the Republican establishment has doused nominal dissent – unlimited quantities of money – had now been called into question by fellow Republicans. No longer is it “our” Republican party guy vs. “their guy” – Democratic incumbent Barack Obama. Rather, the question is, are our (Republican) straw polls, caucuses and primaries run fairly, or are we, the Republican electorate, being bought off and lied to, a la Mubarak, Gadaffi, et al.? Should heretofore nominal Republican dissenters somehow overturn the will of the Republican party establishment, it may well prove the Republican equivalent to Tahrir Square. And not just Republicans, but the entire national electorate will benefit. Finally, we will have an election featuring not merely who has the better funded attack ad, but in which real ideas get debated. Isn’t what elections are supposed to be about?
So, do conservatives have some good ideas? I am no Santorum supporter and appalled by many of his ideas. Then again, our country is at a crossroads in which the 1% has cooked the books and then been allowed to get out of jail free. Correct that; those 1% types who held our economy and wellbeing hostage to their dishonesty and greed have not even visited the inside of a jail cell for a single day. Why don’t we debate why this is so, and what could be done to change this?
Likewise, we have other issues to consider. Should we confront the Iranian dictatorship, by all means necessary, on its nuclear ambitions? (A Pew poll released Wednesday shows that 58% of Americans say it is important to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, even through military action; 30% prefer to avoid conflict). How quickly should we withdraw from Afghanistan? (Some 53% of Americans say President Obama is handling the U.S. troop withdrawal there about right; 22% say he is not removing the troops quickly enough while 20% say he is removing them too quickly).
Similarly, how do we strengthen family and community while also enhancing the rights of minority groups, including gay families? Or do we prefer to discriminate? Do we agree with Romney that “Corporations are people, my friend?,” or do we prefer people to be, well, real people?
How do we reverse the megabucks corroding our political system thanks to the Citizens United ruling, rammed through by five Republican-nominated Supreme Court justices? Presumably Santorum, who has been the butt of megabucks super-PAC spending might have some ideas here. (As of Wednesday, the pro-Romney super-PAC spent $700,000 for ads in Michigan, in addition to the $1.2 million booked by the Romney campaign – versus the Santorum campaign’s $42,000 pittance).
Romney, who had to be dragged kicking and screaming to reveal his income tax records, is not a man to debate ideas. He is more like a weather vane, showing which idea is prevalent at the time in whatever electorate he is competing in. American voters needs more than a weather vane candidate – and after debating our priorities, we need to reach a fair verdict in November. In short, do Republican leaders have ideas worthy of consideration, or have they dedicated themselves to obstructionism in the interest of their 1% patrons?
And if Santorum becomes the Republican nominee and loses in November, the Republican party will not be able to say that it lost because it picked a candidate whose weather vane somehow broke down. Rather, party leaders will have to go back to the drawing boards and figure out just who they are, and who they really represent.
In Mubarak’s and Gadaffi’s case, who they represented were clearly not the people. So too, perhaps, the Republican party. And that, too – real political parties debating real issues and proposing real solutions for the benefit of real flesh and blood people - would serve America well.By Joseph Hanania, Aslan Media Columnist