This piece uses Anglosphere political terminology… that is, he doesn’t use “liberal” for “conservative”, or “conservative” for “nationalist”. That’s rare in a Russian writer, and it bespeaks Mr Makarkin’s familiarity with the American scene. His conclusion is interesting. However, I doubt that the GOP’s going to turn away from its lemming-like march to the cliff (you can’t respect any group that adulates Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin). Most foreign observers see President Obama winning handily in November… you can’t rip yourself apart in internecine conflict and then regroup for the general election.
A week before the Republican primary in South Carolina, Mitt Romney was everyone’s favourite to win the upcoming primary. However, in a matter of days, the situation flip-flopped. Newt Gingrich was the clear—cut winner of the election…
I must say that in the period between the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries, Romney had no luck at all. A more accurate count of the votes in Iowa showed that he lost that contest, being 34 votes behind former US Senator Rick Santorum. Thus, the victorious march of the favourite stopped in its tracks… Romney suffered a severe psychological blow, at the most inopportune moment. Fact is, Romney’s momentum led to a strong vigorous mobilisation of the most conservative Republican voters, who want another Reagan in the White House, not someone who made concessions to liberals during his tenure as Governor of Massachusetts; they want a regular Christian, not a Mormon.
The conservative wing of the party winnowed its list, consolidating its forces. After her failure in Iowa, Tea Party-favourite US Representative Michele Bachmann backed out of the race, and, after New Hampshire, another loser, Texas Governor Rick Perry, dropped out, throwing his support to Gingrich. It seems that the exit from the race of John Huntsman, the former US Ambassador to China, balanced out these moves, as he urged his supporters to vote for Romney. However, in South Carolina, Perry was popular enough (he had the backing of 6 percent of the Republican voters), whilst the more-liberal Huntsman didn’t really bring Romney all too many additional voters in that state.
Thus, conservative voters coalesced around two candidates… Santorum and Gingrich. No one really takes libertarian Ron Paul very seriously, he’s only interested in advancing his ideas in a public forum; he’ll stay in the primaries until the bitter end. In the last week before the primaries in South Carolina Santorum made a bid for the religious faction, as 150 leaders of influential American Evangelical Christian organisations tapped him as their choice for the Republican nomination for president. However, this “anti-Mormon” initiative didn’t fill up Santorum’s war chest. Big-money backers, in contrast to Iowa voters, don’t believe that Santorum, an uncompromising opponent of abortion and gay marriage, has a chance of success even in the Republican race, not to mention the November election, where the Republican nominee will face Barack Obama.
The Gingrich Factor
Unlike Santorum, before the primaries in South Carolina, Gingrich received strong financial support. US billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a close friend of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the owner of the newspaper Yom Yisrael, donated 5 million dollars (154.8 million Roubles. 3.85 million Euros. 3.2 million UK Pounds) to the Super-PAC Winning Our Future, which backs Gingrich’s campaign. Adelson agreed with Gingrich’s statement that Palestinians were an “imaginary people”, saying to those who disagreed with him that they had to “brush up on their history”, to see where the name of Palestine came from, and to find out who has the right to call themselves Palestinians. Conservative Israeli politicians want to help Gingrich to “punish” Obama, whose relations with Israel soured recently. President Obama approached Arab régimes, being cool towards the Netanyahu government, which is too far to the right for the Democrat Obama.
In South Carolina, Gingrich received 40 percent of the vote (Romney had 28 percent, Santorum got 17 percent, and Paul brought the rear with 13 percent). In his campaign, he relies on an image of a “man from the heartland”, which he contrasts with an American élite that he considers too liberal and too self-absorbed. This is in spite of the fact that he spent two decades in the US Congress, and was the Speaker of the US House of Representatives for four years (1995-98). However, Gingrich’s political career didn’t exactly follow the career path typical for a professional American politician. He isn’t a lawyer or an economist, but a historian; he has a PhD, and he taught at a small-time college in Georgia. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress twice, but finally won election in 1978, when he was 35-years-old. Two years later, Ronald Reagan became the US President, and Gingrich became one of his advisors, but didn’t hold any formal executive office, so, now, his opponents reproach shim for a lack of managerial experience.
In 1994, Gingrich led a very successful electoral campaign; the Republicans won a majority in both houses of Congress for the first time since 1952. Gingrich put forward a conservative alternative to the “modernist” proposals of the Clinton administration, but his activities as Speaker were disappointing, as he was found guilty of using tax-free funds for political purposes, he had to pay a large fine. In addition, Gingrich faced accusations of adultery, which was especially frustrating for a conservative Republican politician. As a result, Gingrich left Congress, and he left politics, to which he returned only last year when he announced his intention to be a Republican presidential candidate (before that, he was engaged in consulting and teaching). Over time, the accusations against him lost relevance (after his divorce, Gingrich married his girlfriend), but before the primaries in South Carolina, he was reminded of it. Gingrich’s ex-wife televised revelations about their family life, but they didn’t perceptively affect the results of the voting.
Emotions and Rationality
Gingrich won in South Carolina, riding on a strong emotional tide of conservatives who don’t trust Romney and who’re looking for a new Reagan. Nevertheless, a rational approach suggests that Gingrich is too conservative for “swing voters” who decide the outcome of national elections. These voters voted for Reagan in 1980, but that was in an extreme crisis, not only economic but moral as well. Today, Obama’s popularity is down, but it hasn’t yet collapsed, there hasn’t been a “New Reagan” yet. In addition, no one has been elected US president after leaving political office due to scandals, which will come back more than once during the election campaign. Finally, even during the primaries, a negative factor for Gingrich may well be his religion. He was born in a Lutheran family, for a significant part of his life he was a Baptist (including during his political career), but his current wife persuaded Gingrich to convert to Catholicism. Not surprisingly, evangelical preachers prefer Santorum to him. In US history, there was only one Catholic elected president, a Democrat from the East Coast, John F Kennedy (however, no Mormon has ever been elected President).
Now, Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum and will compete in the Florida primary on 31 January, one of the most important states in the American South. Then, it may be clear which tendency will prevail… will it be “the vote of rationality” (for the not-much-loved, but more promising Romney), or, will it be “the vote of the heart” (for one of his conservative opponents). In the meantime, the continued sharp controversy amongst the Republican Party weakens it, which, therefore, benefits Barack Obama, the single candidate of the Democrats.
23 January 2012
Voice of Russia World Service