Americans say: enough God (in politics)

March 27, 2012

The Republican race has been over since Super Tuesday, really. Santorum’s successes in the South artificially prolonged the sense that somehow he might sneak it.

So now we’re into what The Post’s Chris Cillizza cheerfully calls the ‘walking dead’ phase of the campaign, recalling memories of Hilary’s limp to the finish line in 2008.

Pointing to Santorum’s angry defence of his equally angry ‘Romney is the worst Republican in the country’ speech, Chris says ‘This is how primary campaigns end, not with a bang but with a wimper. Or, more accurately, a whine.’

Standing back from the fray, what deeper trends did the GOP battle reveal? One that caught my eye – reported in the NYT yesterday – centres on the role of religion in politics which ‘regular readers’ (hello mum) will know to be a topic of ongoing (if not eternal, ho ho) fascination to me.

The Times piece – primarily about the fact that Santorum did peculiarly badly amongst Catholics (who, it turns out, probably unsurprisingly on reflection, do not vote as one bloc) – included coverage of a study by the Pew Research Center that suggests a big increase over the last decade in the proportion of US voters who think there’s too much religion in politics.

The nationally representative poll of 1500 Americans found that about two-fifths (38 per cent) felt there was ‘too much’ by way of ‘open expressions of religious faith and prayer by politicians’, more than a threefold increase since the question was first asked by the Pew Center in 2001 (when 12 per cent agreed there was ‘too much’ religion on display amongst politicians).

This would seem to explain why Romney’s Mormonism – which every bugger thought would be a major issue for Republican voters – simply wasn’t a big deal (apart from for loony Evangelicals, of course).

It will be interesting to track whether the changing demographics of the States – I’m thinking in particular here the rapidly increasing size of the Latino population – will have any bearing on the downward trend in Americans’ willingness to tolerate God in politics.

But for now… onto the big race.


Hounds of love meet Mitt’s mutt

March 15, 2012

Dogs have, remarkably, taken centre stage in the race to become the next president of the United States.

Not as candidates, mind you, but as the defining mammalian metaphor in a contest usually dominated by elephants and donkeys.

First we have the leading Republican candidate with his image further tarnished by the story (which refuses to go away despite having been first aired years ago) of cruel treatment meted out to Seamus the family pet, an Irish setter. I was as shocked as I’m sure you were or will be by the surreality and meanness of the image of the Romneys’ dog being penned on the roof of a station wagon over a long distance journey, with the torture only stopped once canine vomit began to seep into the car itself.

If that weren’t bad enough for Mitt, our very own prime minister is at it too! As a result of the bromance on display at the recent state visit Dave has become – the Post’s Dana Milbank suggests – the current president’s attack dog, where a predecessor could only hope for poodle status:

British Prime Minister Tony Blair famously became President George W. Bush’s “poodle” after he followed the United States into Iraq. Now it’s the opposite relationship — an American politician from the left and a British prime minister from the right — but a similar dynamic is developing. This time, Cameron seems to be serving as Obama’s guard dog, defending his American master against the Mitt Romneys and the Rick Santora.

Which just leaves Newt Gingrich who, after failing to win the only remaining primaries he possibly could, must be feeling as sick-to-the-stomach today as poor Seamus did all those years ago.

Wishful thinking continues as Romney’s businesslike campaign does just enough

March 7, 2012

So: Super Tuesday played out much as expected. Romney snuck Ohio – the biggest prize of the night – and won four other contests easily, Santorum took Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota, and Gingrich was the comfortable Georgia victor.

A number of early comment pieces attempt the tricky balancing act of pretending that Romney might not win the race (no Super Tuesday knockout!) whilst accepting that, er, there’s no way Romney cannot win the race. I have absolutely no idea what BBC North America editor Mark Mardell is actually saying in this, for example.

(Incidentally if you’re not convinced that Romney will be the eventual nominee, then go quickly to the ever-excellent FrontloadingHQ blog written by psephologist Josh Putnam.)

Slightly more interesting is this piece in the New York Times which suggests that Mitt’s campaign has ‘always resembled a detailed, methodical business plan’ and makes an indirect comparison between this race and Obama’s own ‘winding path’ to the White House.

That the Obama campaign was businesslike is an inescapable conclusion of reading campaign manager David Plouffe’s utterly absorbing and even thrilling The Audacity to Win. The memoir works just as well as a management textbook – on effective delegation, strategy vs. tactics, personnel management, risk-taking and lines of command – as an election-winning guide. The Plouffe campaign was consummately businesslike.

But there are few other similarities. Romney has millions in the bank, Obama had to generate his funds largely through grassroots donations. Obama was up against the colossal might of the Clinton machine, Mitt faces a motley crew of half-baked nonRom contenders. Perhaps most pointedly: Obama had a clear and positive mission, which he communicated consistently, so that voters knew what he was for. Romney chops and changes, beats his opponents with wave after wave of negative advertising, and fails to enthuse.

There is, however, one further similarity that will certainly be to the forefront of Mr Plouffe’s mind as he looks to support his boss triumph again (from the safe distance of the White House this time, and as a senior adviser rather than campaign manager). Once the primary tousle was over in 2008, Democrats unified solidly behind their candidate, brought together by the common over-riding goal of getting rid of a hated commander-in-chief.

No-one should pretend that beating Obama won’t have a similar edifying effect on Republicans, whether ultra-conservative, liberal, from the North or from the South. And the GOP on the march is a fearsome prospect.

Super? Tuesday… meh

March 5, 2012

The note of triumphalism in my preceding post may or may not have been misplaced.

On the one hand it seems almost certain that Santorum’s Surge is over, with the nonRom’s numbers having shrivelled in the last week in the biggest Super Tuesday states.

On the other hand, assuming Gingrich (a) gets the massive win he looks set to enjoy in Georgia and (b) is as mad and self-indulgent as he clearly is, Santorum’s plea for the race to narrow to two candidates has no chance of being heeded, and this ragtag bunch will carry on sniping at each other for many weeks yet.

And that, as recent polls confirm, is an increasingly good thing for Mr Obama.

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