With Mitt Romney’s victory in the Florida primary, it’s clear that large swaths of the Republican establishment have rejected the Tea Party; it’s similarly clear that the Tea Party has largely rejected Romney and his backers. While Republicans hope that the party will unite behind Romney in opposition to President Obama, that hope seems strained. Democrats, optimists think, fought a brutal Hillary vs. Obama battle in 2008, then united to defeat Republicans. They forget, however, that the Hillary vs. Obama battle was not so much a battle over message as a battle over messenger. More than anything, it was a fight over whether to push for the first black president or the first female president. When it came to ideology, however, Obama and Hillary were virtually identical.
I disagree with Ben’s analysis of Florida, though not his political objective of seeing Newt Gingrich mount a stunning, inspiring comeback to secure the GOP nomination. (See my reasons for shifting from Romney to Gingrich in my Tatler post yesterday.) Consider the exit polling Reuters reported:
Exit polling data showed Romney beat Gingrich in one of the former House of Representatives speaker’s core conservative constituencies, a sign that Republican voters may be coalescing around the man they think can best win the general election in November against Democratic President Barack Obama.
Out of the 66 percent of Florida voters who said they supported the small-government Tea Party movement, 41 percent cast their ballots for Romney and 38 percent for Gingrich, according to the data compiled for U.S. news organizations.
Tea Party support is fragmented. It’s divided because people have different ideas about what strategies are necessary to defeat Obama. All the personal discussions and debates I have with my friends usually boil down to that. It’s that simple and benign — not some great ideological contest that will rip the party in two. (That Gingrich, Santorum, and Romney are all mostly in agreement on the fundamental issues is further evidence that ideas aren’t the problem.) I’ve seen this vividly over the past 6 months amongst the dozens of Tea Party writers, activists and bloggers whose work I edit. Everyone’s all over the map and most people have changed their mind at least twice or more. But exit polling data confirms anecdote and personal experience:
Fifty-eight percent of Florida Republican voters who said an ability to defeat Obama was the most important quality they were looking for in a candidate cast their ballots for Romney, according to the exit poll data. Only 33 percent of those voters said they supported Gingrich.
These facts really should put to rest the claim that this is a contest about ideology. The question that matters most on voters minds is actually focused where it should be: which candidate has the political skills to win?
This is not as straight forward a question as it appears. Actually the number of variables to factor in when answering it is too high to count. Just what is the Republican Party going to say to the voter this Fall? What will be the case made for why Barack Obama has failed as President? What will be the secondary narratives and which independent swing voters in which purple states will they be targeted to inspire? (I hate the way people generalize about “independent voters” and “moderates” as though these are homogenous groups who can be reached with some broad message.)
Is it too soon to start actually thinking strategically and breaking down the path to the 270 electoral votes needed for victory?
Here’s a good question to start the discussion: how does the number of competitive states change if Romney or Gingrich wins the nomination? Are there states that Romney or Gingrich brings into play which the other does not?
David Swindle is the associate editor of PJ Media and writes a post each day on news and politics at PJ Tatler and culture and entertainment at PJ Lifestyle. He can be contacted with feedback and story tips at DaveSwindlePJM[@]gmail.com and on Twitter @DaveSwindle. He enforces commenting guidelines on his posts — rude, off topic and ad hominem comments will be deleted.