And then nothing turned itself inside-out

Seeing as no-one really seems to know what is happening in the US Republican nomination race, I thought I'd chip in my $5 million Super PAC worth of thoughts.

So a couple of weeks ago I was pontificating away on National Radio's "On the Radar" slot about this, that and the other thing. In the course of my extended monologue, I told the world how excited I was about the (then) upcoming South Carolina Republican primary, as Mitt Romney's likely win there would virtually guarantee him the party's nomination and a match-up with President Obama in November.

Except having proclaimed my status as a political junky and an afficianado of US presidential matters, I forgot Mitt Romney's name. And then this happened.

So, following Newt Gingrich's win in South Carolina, I started fantasizing about a world in which the Republican Party is insane enough to make him their candidate for President of the United States. Newt, whose baggage has baggage? Could it be possible, I wondered, for a sitting President to win more than 90% of the popular vote? 

And then the Florida Primary happened.

Back on track, then. While Mitt may be the equivalent of Hi Bran breakfast cereal for many Republican voters - in that they only are swallowing him because they are told he will be good for them despite the lack of flavour and the distinctly unpleasant texture - he's got the money, the organisation and the opinion makers' backing. Those things tend to pay off in the long run, and Republican primary voters aren't stupid. Disproportionately fixated on issues like abortion, illegal immigration, and the creeping socialist takeover of private enterprise, yes. But stupid, no.

So Nevada rolled by, which always was Mitt's territory. But his win there started to lead to stories like this. And so on into Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota. 

Now, these always were trickier territories for Mitt. Minnesota and Colorado's contests were caucuses, for one thing. That requires motivated supporters prepared to give up a few hours for their man. And as I said before, for all his campaign's organisation and cash, Mitt isn't a candidate that inspires that kind of love in anyone beyond his immediate family. Missouri's primary also was a non-binding "beauty contest", so again you need to care a bit more than average to bother taking part in a vote with no binding force.

Furthermore, Minnesota and Missouri have large rural areas where Mitt's come-lately conversion from moderate Taxachussetts liberal to the true path of conservative righteousness doesn't play well. In fact, like they say in those parts, you can put antlers on a pig but it still won't quack like a duck. Or something.

All of which means Mitt probably expected to lose one, maybe even two, of these contests to one of his more conservative rivals. But still, I don't think anyone - much less Mitt himself - could have expected this result. Rick Santorum, the apparent flash-in-the-pan winner of the first caucus contest in Iowa, cleaning up all three states.

Who, you may well ask? Well, I'll wait while you google his name - Santorum. Now you're properly informed, can we start to imagine a world where this man challenges to be the next President of the USA?

No. We can't. For one thing, Santorum won not because lots and lots of Republicans like him, but rather because those Republicans who couldn't really get excited by Mitt decided not to take part. The Republican turnout in Colorado was about half that of Democrats, who caucused the same night to nominate Barak Obama as their candidate come November.

Of course, that fact is itself a real problem for Republicans. Remember that theirs is meant to be the party that is energised and motivated to take back the White House this year. And Colorado is going to be a crucial state in that battle - so if the Republican base there can't be bothered to even chose a candidate whilst Democrats turn out in twice the numbers to support their guy, then that augers poorly for their chances.

For another thing, a number of news stories happened to come together to generate a perfect storm of conservative christian angst. The 9th circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court case that had struck down a voter-initiated ban on gay marriage in California. An executive at a foundation that combats breast cancer resigned over her part in a decision (since rescinded) to stop giving money to fund breast cancer screening to Planned Parenthood (which also provides abortion services). The Obama administration sought to impose a rule that would require all health insurance plans to provide contraception as a part of their coverage.

Santorum is the poster-boy candidate for people who think such things really, really, really matter. And there are enough of them in the Republican Party, especially in places like those holding caucuses this week, to swing the decision towards him. But such issues won't continue to dominate the campaign. And beyond being the most christian and socially conservative candidate on offer, Santorum is still just the guy who lost his Senate seat in the crucial swing state of Virginia [ed: make that Pennsylvania] by some 18 percent -  the largest margin of defeat for an incumbent senator since 1980 and the largest losing margin for an incumbent Republican senator ever. Oh - and his name isn't even on the ballot for the Virginia primary, because he failed to get enough support to qualify.

So, we're back to the fact that Mitt has more money, better organisation and the opinion makers' backing. While the race may not always go to the swift, or the battle to the strong, you'd be a mug to bet against it. Yet the fact that every time he seems to be pulling away as the prohibitive frontrunner, something occurs to drag him back down, just goes to show how distinctly unimpressed large numbers of Republicans are with the prospect of him as their next President.

Combining this tepid-at-best support for Romney offsetting many Republican's near-visceral dislike of Obama's presidency with a slowly improving economic climate and the winding down of the US's recent military adventures, you start to think that the odds are beginning to look pretty good that Obama will see a second term in office. Hell, he even seems to have Clint Eastwood coming out to root for him. And anyone want to mess with that guy, even if he's about a million years old?

But hey - what would I know? I can't even remember the Republican frontrunner guy's name ... .

(One last thing - I mentioned in passing the recent appeals court decision striking down a ban on gay marriage in California. You'll probably read a bit about this in our media in the next couple of days. But it isn't as big a deal as will likely be made out. The court's ruling was on a pretty narrow basis ... not that there is a general right to gay marriage in the USA, but rather that because gay marriage had been legal in California (due to an earlier court judgment on the issue) it is unconstitutional to then take that right away from just gay people. Point being, it isn't a ruling that can help (say) a gay couple in Arkansas or Missouri get hitched ... and because it has minimal relevance outside of the California context, the Supreme Court may decide to leave it untouched. 

That said - hooray!!!!!)