On Tuesday, Republican voters in Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota all overwhelmingly picked Rick Santorum in their primaries and caucuses. Santorum has now won more states, with four, than any other contender, including Mitt Romney’s three.
Unfortunately for Santorum, these victories came in states that have unbound delegates, which means he hasn’t won anything meaningful. So, despite winning almost 50 percent of the vote in all three states that voted Tuesday, he’s really no closer to the White House now than he was Monday morning.
Which is to say, he’s very far away. All signs still point to Romney eventually winning the nomination. Romney continues to hold a significant advantage in national polls of Republicans — averaging 34 percent in polls taken in the last week, with Newt Gingrich second at 23 percent — and he still has enough money to compete in every state in the nation.
According to RealClearPolitics, Romney is also the Republican candidate with the best polling numbers head-to-head against President Barack Obama. In polls taken in the last month, Obama beats Romney 48-44 percent. Obama beats Santorum 50-41 and Gingrich 51-40.
Despite Romney’s status as the front-runner and still the likely eventual nominee, things still aren’t looking good for him. The fact that Republicans have repeatedly tried to find someone more conservative to rally around suggests that if he wins the nomination, many of them will stay home rather than vote in November.
Romney is starting to look a lot like John Kerry in 2004: nominee by default.
If and when we move to a general election campaign that pits Romney against Obama, we’re not likely to see many important differences between the two candidates. Romney may back off some of the conservative positions he’s touting now, since moderates and independents change the outcome of general elections.
Romney is fairly conservative, but Gov. Romney was a Massachusetts moderate. Obama’s health care reform looks a lot like Romney’s Mass-Care, as judged by Politifact, and while Candidate Obama talked a very good game about civil liberties and reducing executive power, President Obama has done little to back away from the Patriot Act and the Transportation Security Administration.
The one significant difference is in foreign policy. Obama has generally stayed true to his promise to use diplomacy as long as possible, is following timetables removing American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and has pledged to reduce the size of the military. Romney, following the Republican Party’s neoconservative base, has criticized Obama for being weak on foreign policy.
So if Romney isn’t likely to win the general election, and might not do things much differently if elected, and Santorum and Gingrich don’t stand up to Obama head-to-head, what are Republican primary voters to do?
Vote for Ron Paul.
I want to make it clear that I’m not endorsing Paul for president; I’m endorsing him as a Republican nominee who would make general-election debates interesting.
Paul hasn’t won a single state in the primaries and is losing to Obama in polls by an average of 48-42, just worse than Romney (but better than Gingrich or Santorum). He doesn’t pose an electoral threat to Obama any more than Romney does.
However, his presence on the national stage next to the president would make for an interesting and honest conversation.
Paul’s economic views are anathema to most liberals and some conservatives: He supports eliminating five of 15 federal Cabinet departments, drastically reducing regulation and cutting federal spending by $1 trillion. He is vehemently opposed to stimulus spending — such as the bailouts of 2009 — and wants to lower tax rates.
I don’t agree with Paul’s opposition to environmental regulations or his steadfast emphasis on lowering taxes, but I don’t believe he would mischaracterize Obama’s economic plan to win votes — we would get an honest debate about the merits of regulation and progressive taxation.
Paul also supports drastically reducing the size and mission of the military and advocating the use of military force only under a Congressional declaration of war, which we haven’t had since World War II. We wouldn’t have to listen to ridiculous accusations that either candidate is somehow “weak” on defense.
Most importantly, Paul would force Obama to discuss the Patriot Act, the assassination of American citizens and laws allowing indefinite detention of citizens. Paul is a staunch defender of civil liberties, and no other candidate will press the president on the issue — they’re liable to accuse him of not going far enough.
While I disagree with many of Paul’s views, his presence in the general election would lead to a frank discussion about how to fix the economy, protect civil liberties without compromising security and reduce the military to a reasonable size.
If we had a campaign based on facts and ideas rather than charisma and personal attacks, we would all benefit.
Mike Emery is a fourth-year sociology student. His political columns will appear every Thursday.