Well, the votes are in (most of them, anyway). The delegates have been distributed (well, most of them, anyhow). After ten more states have cast their votes to determine the Republican standard-bearer, the definitive GOP winner is...uncertainty.
Back in January, when the field of GOP candidates consisted of eight men and women, I asked, Are these really the best America has to offer?.
Now, after Super Tuesday has run its course, America's Republicans are asking the same question.
The delegate math has Mitt Romney in the lead, followed by the astonishing run of Rick Santorum, followed next by Newt Gingrich, with Ron Paul bringing up the rear.
But the map tells a different story. The map tells a story of a front-runner who's more of a front-walker. Mitt Romney can't seem to capture the attention of the flyover states (with the barely-made-it exceptions of Michigan and Ohio). Rick Santorum has pretty much swept the Midwest. And Newt Gingrich (at least in his mind), is winning the South.
It's at this point in these articles I have to remind you that I'm an independent. I'm neither a Democrat nor a Republican, and I haven't decided who I'm going to vote for. I will admit, though, that if either Ron Paul or Newt Gingrich got the nomination, I'd probably have to vote for them.
I might vote for Ron Paul because I do have strong libertarian tendencies, a deep love of the Constitution, and believe our role in the current foreign wars is somewhat ill-advised and I find myself agreeing with much Paul says. On the other hand, I'd probably vote for Newt because I write about politics for at least part of my living and the man is a walking good-material generator.
That said, this isn't about my decision -- although the fact that I, too am undecided about the general election is telling in this election. It's the fact that the GOP is undecided. It's that the GOP is in a deep, angst-ridden identity crisis that's truly the most telling.
Let's face it. The idea that the super-rich, CEO, central-casting investment banker former governor can't seem to resonate with the rank-and-file GOPer means the GOP has really changed since the days of Ronald Reagan.
This makes it tough for us independents as well.
If the GOP were the old school, small government, money is good, fiscal conservative party, many of us moderately affluent independents might be willing to pull the elephant's tail. But the GOP is looking more like the super-religious, right-wing, in-your-face-and-in-your-bedroom party, where fringe issues like contraception somehow become more important than curing our economic doldrums.
Which brings us to the battle we saw yesterday. Let's run down the candidates again, shall we?
Not counting Alaska, as of last night CBS News gives Mitt Romney 299 delegates, more than three times that of any other delegate.
But Romney is having trouble "closing the deal". He doesn't connect with lower-income voters and he and his family continue to make off-key statements attempting to portray themselves as commoners when the indisputable fact is they're anything but.
Romney has tried to portray himself as the businessman with mad economic skilz, but that doesn't jive with the claiming he knows about how it feels to get a pink slip or his wife's claims they don't feel wealthy while owning a fleet of cars. Until he can make himself sound congruent with his personal financial reality, that connection is going to continue to be hard to make.
Romney also has one other issue, one that's been barely discussed, but is the true elephant to the elephant party. Mitt Romney is Mormon and while we in America celebrate religious freedom, many religious conservatives are still a little nervous about religions that, well, aren't theirs.
This may be why, in Tennessee and Oklahoma, where well over 70% of the population are evangelical Christians, Romney took under 30% of the vote.
As recently as January, I counted Santorum out. I considered him a rounding error on everyone else's election results. I, like most pundits, was quite wrong.
Although I am honestly quite freaked out by some of Santorum's social engineering agenda, I find I'm beginning to admire him as a person. Here's a guy, who pretty much out of pure willpower, went from rounding error to second place in the election. He's worked hard, spent far less than Romney, spoken from the heart (probably to his detriment), and kept on pushing.
Santorum's problem is that while he's been an admirable candidate, many centrists, left-leaners, and even moderate conservatives are worried by his almost fanatically right-wing social agenda. Not all Americans are uber-Christian conservatives, and yet he seems to want to remake America into a religion-first state.
When a candidate says he almost vomited when one of our most celebrated presidents in history talked about the separation of church and state, he's going to lose a lot of Americans.
Santorum still has a chance of winning the nomination, but unless far more Americans are far, far more religiously conservative than the demographics show, he probably can't win the general.
There is still a numerical possibility that Newt can make it all the way to the nomination. And, if you fling a pig in a punkin' chunker, pigs can fly.
Newt would have to sweep the entire South, and then go on to take states like California and New York to win the nomination. Right now, he has 79 delegates. That's a tough road. It's going to be hard for him to make a sale in, say, Alabama and Texas, and then turn around and close the same deal in California.
Newt wants to be president, and he's also having the time of his life. But while I might pay to watch him debate Barack Obama in a Lincoln-Douglas style debate, I doubt that marquis event will ever happen.
Ron Paul hasn't won a state. He won't win the nomination. Period.
Where do they go from here?
In the rest of March, we'll have primaries or caucuses in Kansas, Alabama, Hawaii, Mississippi, Missouri, Puerto Rico, Illinois, and Louisiana. If those elections follow the pattern of the recent primaries and caucuses, here's what we might see:
- Alabama -- If Gingrich has his way, Alabama will go to him. Otherwise, Santorum will likely take the state.
- Hawaii -- Tougher to call, but given the majority of the population is in Honolulu, this will probably go Romney. There's a chance there will be a Paul or Gingrich bump here, but unlikely.
- Mississippi -- Once again, Gingrich if he can maintain his southern "sweep," otherwise Santorum.
- Missouri -- Missouri's smack dab in the center of flyover territory. Missouri's weird, because it already had a "beauty contest" primary that awarded no delegates, but will now be having a delegate-awarding stream of caucuses. Since Santorum smoked Romney in the beauty, he's likely to repeat for real delegates.
- Puerto Rico -- So far, we haven't seen anyone resonating with Latino voters, but since Romney won Florida, let's give him Puerto Rico as well.
- Illinois -- Big, urban centers. Chicago. Romney.
- Louisiana -- Another Southern state, but it's also home to New Orleans. Will Gingrich be able to grab the Big Easy? If not, this could go to Santorum, but I'd peg this as a Romney/Gingrich fight
As you can see, this is a make or break month for Gingrich. If he can do what he claims, which is win southern states, then he needs to take Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
It doesn't look particularly promising for Santorum, unless Gingrich melts. If that happens and Santorum winds up scoring the Midwest and the South, this will be a messy, messy, messy primary season.
For those of you who are political sports fans like me, now this is a ball game!
ZDNet Government's coverage of Election 2012:
- So, seriously, do the Dems want to lose the election?
- Romney on fire, Paul pulls into second
- Paul's got legs, Romney feet of clay, and Santorum grew wings
- Are these really the best America has to offer? (Campaign 2012)
- Campaign 2012: Once every four years, I wish I lived in Iowa
- What was Mitt Romney trying to hide by destroying hard drives?
- Is there any possible way Jesse Ventura could win the Presidency?
- Ranking GOP candidates on tech savvy, craziness, and electability