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THOMAS: What now for Republicans?

Rick Santorum deserves credit for his impressive primary victories in Mississippi and Alabama. Newt Gingrich led us to believe he would win both states. He didn't, but he has vowed to fight on as the "real" conservative candidate, as opposed to Mitt Romney who only "says" he is a conservative.

Romney still has a substantial lead in delegates, but lags in one vital category: enthusiasm. If candidate Barack Obama gave his supporters the political equivalent of a sugar rush in 2008, Mitt Romney is broccoli. It's his Mormon faith; it's his perceived liberal tendencies while governor of Massachusetts; it's his inability as a very wealthy man to connect with average voters; it's all of the above and probably more.

Rick Santorum is the Latin Mass in an age of contemporary Catholic worship. He is an Underwood typewriter, not an iMac computer. He is the U.S. Postal Service, not email. Santorum believes deeply in God when many others either do not, or focus more on themselves than on any higher power. He is a family man in an age of divorce, cohabitation and out-of-wedlock births. In short, he may be too good for us; too picture-perfect; too religious and too much of a scolder.

Voters want to know where the country has gone wrong, but they don't want to believe they are responsible for steering it in that direction, or that they made a mistake four years ago in putting so much faith and trust in President Obama. They want more of John F. Kennedy's 1960 slogan "we can do better" and less of "you could do worse than elect me."

President Obama's latest slide in the polls -- from 50 percent approval to 41 percent, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll -- presents a delicious opportunity for the eventual GOP nominee. But if the candidates continue to squabble and divide the vote, the president could eventually get his act together, perhaps approving a slightly diverted Keystone pipeline, causing gas prices to lower or producing a stunning foreign policy success, though that is less likely given that so much of the Middle East seems beyond his control.

Nothing is predictable this political season and what seems true today may flip and become less true, even untrue, tomorrow.

Santorum's latest victories tell us nothing about the general election. Any Republican can expect to win Alabama and Mississippi. Equally, Mitt Romney's victory in Hawaii tells us nothing, because that state is mostly Democratic and can be expected to vote for Obama in November.

Newt Gingrich vows to fight on until the Republican National Convention in Tampa Bay, but he can only be a spoiler now. The calendar does not favor him and the voters seem to have decided that while he may have some great ideas among the flood of them he regularly disgorges from his fertile mind, for him, there appears to be no clear path to the nomination. Gingrich hasn't won a primary since Georgia, the state he represented in Congress, and he probably won't win another.

It's down to Romney and Santorum and with no new debates scheduled -- the last formal debate was Feb. 22 -- voters are likely to remain divided, which delights the Obama campaign.

As of now -- and one must always qualify -- Mitt Romney still seems the likely Republican nominee. But the real question for Republicans is this: If Romney is having such a difficult time beating Rick Santorum -- and to a lesser extent Newt Gingrich -- how will he marshal the forces necessary to beat President Obama in the fall? Next week's Illinois primary will say a lot about Romney's rebound strength. If he doesn't win there, he could be in serious trouble.

Republican opposition to the president could be enough to overcome their lack of enthusiasm about Romney, but it's a poor campaign strategy and it could well backfire. At least the Obama campaign is hoping it will.

Email nationally syndicated columnist Cal Thomas at tmseditors@tribune.com. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/calthomas.

Comments

FordGalaxy 2 years, 5 months ago

It's not like the GOP lacks political firepower against Obama. All you really have to do is play clips of his campaign promises from 2008 and show the realities of today and it would make a rather strong message. He promised to close Gitmo and last I heard we were actually improving facilities there, not closing them. His administration promised that, with the stimulus, unemployment would not top 8%. It's 8.3%, last I checked, and 9.2% here in Georgia. More debt has been added to the national deficit in three years under Obama than in eight years under Bush. He stated that Bush requesting to raise the debt ceiling was a "failure of leadership," yet he's requested the debt ceiling be raised multiple times. And his energy secretary said that the administration isn't really focused on easing the people's burden at the gas pump.

The problem is we have a field of incredibly lackluster Republicans. Mitt Romney would appeal to the nation better than Gingrich or Santorum. He's conservative by New England standards and moderate by national standards. Former colleagues of Gingrich claim that he should not be in power, and I tend to agree. And Santorum is far too focused on the bedroom habits of the nation. You cannot legislate morality, but he seems determined to try.

The only GOP candidate that made fiscal sense, to a conservative, was Ron Paul. But his isolationist foreign policy and laissez faire attitude towards a nuclear Iran turned off a lot of voters.

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kevin 2 years, 5 months ago

I agree with Ron Paul. However, as it looks, Rick is the only "real" conservative left in the race to win. Romney is never going to be a fully conservative President and the establishment wants to push him down our throats because of his full pockets with cash. Once he runs into money problems, Rick is going to really take over the lead. He will be on even terms with Rick. I like Ron the best but yes, his foreign policies have turned off people because they are so scared of the Middle East. Why? Because Obama made us a second rate nation now and the rest of the world knows we have our tail between our legs.

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