Saturday, March 31, 2012

As Romney prepares to close the deal, what next?

It's not quite over, but the fat lady is warming up as I type.

Polls strongly suggest that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will win the Wisconsin Primary on Tuesday.  A Romney victory will effectively end what has been a longer than expected and very bruising campaign for the GOP presidential nomination.  No, Wisconsin won't put him over the top in delegates. But it will give him a mathematical lead whose margin is effectively insurmountable by any of the other candidates either alone or in combination.  In short Romney will become the nominee presumptive of the Republican Party.

Things to watch for after Tuesday:

First expect the so called Veepstakes to heat up with increasing speculation on who Romney will choose as his running mate.  The current front runner for that is Florida Senator Marco Rubio.  But a few other names have been floated as well including Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels (very popular with fiscal conservatives) and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who is famous for a personality almost as large as his considerable girth.  A few have suggested one of his two principal rivals for the nomination might be chosen.  I think this unlikely however.  The primary campaign has simply been too acrimonious. Both Santorum and Gingrich have said too many things about Romney that could not be glossed over in the general campaign.  Although it is widely reported that Ron Paul and Governor Romney are personal friends, they are ideologically too far apart for Dr. Paul to be considered.  Romney has been roughed up rather badly and is widely suspected of being a closet moderate or worse by the right wing of the party.  Rubio is the safe bet, but whoever he picks he will need someone with solid neo-con / social conservative credentials if he is to have any hope of rallying the party base going into the general election.

Next start looking for a gradual but incremental change in tone from the campaign.  It is a given that in primary battles candidates must tack to the right (or left for Democrats) and then as soon as possible heavily qualify or simply forget many of their more extreme statements from the primary season as they try to present themselves as a centrist to the broader electorate.  It was most impolitic of one his top advisers to actually admit this on national television with his now infamous "etch-a-sketch" comment.  But it absolutely is the way it's done by all nominees of either party, if they are serious about winning the general election.  In this respect President Obama has a significant advantage as he is not facing a primary challenge.

Finally the pressure on his two main opponents to bow out of the race is going to pick up quickly.  Will they bow out?  My guess is probably not immediately. But neither of them are idiots and both have some aspirations to holding public office again at some point.  That would be jeopardized by any perception of playing spoiler or a lack of party loyalty once the nomination has been clearly decided. At the very least I expect them to tone down their rhetoric.  And of course there is the simple fact that presidential campaigns require money.  Santorum has shown an ability to run on a shoestring budget.  But even that requires some money.  Who is going to give money to a candidate who has clearly lost?  A lack of money and rapidly dwindling media coverage will sooner or later bring an end to the campaigns of the "also rans."  Dr. Paul is the exception.  He has money and a loyal following and I expect him to continue to campaign at least until Romney actually locks down the last delegates needed for the nomination.

The first phase of the 2012 presidential election is now coming to an end.  Stay tuned for the next chapter.

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