Post-Michigan State of Affairs (R)

The results are in and Mitt Romney is the clear winner of the Michigan Republican primary. Beating rival John McCain by a healthy 9 points, Romney finally won a "gold medal" (people often ignore Wyoming). Independent and Democratic voters simply didn't turn out for McCain in large enough numbers this time. People are often quick to minimize Romney's victory by reminding everyone that Romney was born there and that his father was a popular state governor. McCain referred to Romney at least twice as a "native son" in his concession speech. These are convenient excuses, but I think the main reason why Romney won is because he paid the most attention the the economy, which was certainly weighing heavily on the minds of Michigan voters.

However, Romney's victory did not wound McCain as much as it wounded Mike Huckabee, who finished a distant third. Huckabee has now placed first once and third twice. Thus, the onus is now on Huckabee to win South Carolina. Given the religious conservative bent of the state, Huckabee should be able to eke out a victory there. If he fails to do so, he will be hard pressed to win elsewhere. He could easily rationalize not winning in New Hampshire and Michigan because they are moderate Northern states with a smaller Christian conservative base. That excuse won't fly in South Carolina, however.

An ominous sign for Huckabee is that Michigan's evangelicals did not flock to him the way they did in Iowa. This may illustrate the problem Huckabee has with appealing beyond his religious conservative base. Consider these remarks from a campaign event shortly before the primary:

"[Some of my opponents] do not want to change the Constitution, but I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God, and that's what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards."
(You can view the YouTube clip of this here.)

Did these remarks doom him among nonevangelicals? Or was Romney's focus on the economy what allowed him to run up the score among what was supposed to be Huckabee's base? Regardless, this is the second time of note that Huckabee has said something that could really ruin his appeal among moderates and independents. Back in October, he compared abortion to a "holocaust" and even tied aborted babies to illegal immigration. Part of Huckabee's appeal has been that he came across as a Christian conservative with a smile. He went against the stereotype of a polarizing, Bible-thumping firebrand like Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson. Basically, like the way Barack Obama has been able to bridge the gap between Blacks and Whites, Mike Huckabee had the ability to appeal to both Christian conservatives and more mainstream Christians. Should these latest remarks gain widespread play in the media, voters and the media may fall out of love with him as fast as they fell in love with him.

Because of the way the races have broken down so far, it's as if the Republicans are playing a game of hot potato in that the person who loses at the wrong time faces a must-win scenario in the next primary. The onus was on McCain first in New Hampshire. His victory there shifted the onus to Romney in Michigan. In light of Romney's victory there, the onus is now on Huckabee, as I mentioned earlier.

Also, although nobody is really talking much about it, the onus is also on Fred Thompson, who is treating South Carolina the same way Rudy Giuliani is treating Florida. Simply put, Thompson only has one shot. Win and survive or lose and go home. A blunted McCain, a Huckabee whose star is no longer shining as brightly, a Romney who pulled his campaign ads, and a Giuliani who is keeping his powder dry until Florida have given Thompson his opening. South Carolinians may like McCain's support of the surge in Iraq and his positions on spending and taxes, but they are still seething over the immigration "compromise" he previously supported. Huckabee's appeal among nonevangelicals is still suspect. And Romney was positioned to capitalize on his Michigan victory by winning South Carolina a few days later, but his decision to drop his ads here have essentially ceded the state to his rivals. Thompson has been working South Carolina hard and he still seems to be the "authentic, consistent conservative" that so many Republicans had been waiting for--at least to South Carolinians. But not being at the forefront of the political dialogue may have rendered Thompson irrelevant.

It is worth noting that Ron Paul beat both Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson in Michigan. This means Paul has beaten these candidates twice (Giuliani in Iowa and Michigan and Thompson in New Hampshire and Michigan). The fact that this supposed fringe candidate who was often mocked and marginalized in the debates has beaten two popular candidates known nationwide twice should serve as a warning that Paul is a potential spoiler candidate (or even a kingmaker) who represents a very real and very angry slice of the electorate. What effect will losing to Ron Paul a second time have on Giuliani's fundraising in particular? And is it safe to say that Paul is running stronger than some of these supposed "major" candidates? South Carolina may eliminate McCain or Huckabee. If McCain is forced out of the race, where will his supporters go? McCain has a libertarian streak and is very much against wasteful government spending, just like Paul is. Thus, could Paul absorb a disproportionate amount of McCain's supporters?

Romney's win is a mixed bag for Giuliani. While he's happy to have his rivals divided and duking it out to be his conservative alternative, he probably would have preferred to have Romney fold up his tent and withdraw from the race. Romney is the only GOP candidate who can finance his own campaign. Thus, as long as Romney is still competitive in Florida, he will be able to seriously compete on Super Tuesday in about three weeks.

I recently mentioned that Romney could win the Republican nomination by consistently placing second with a few first place showings sprinkled in as long as long as no other candidate kept winning. This would cause him to emerge as everybody's second choice, but nobody's favorite. Romney is now winning the delegate race and will probably win the Nevada caucuses that nobody is talking much about even though Nevada is offering more delegates than South Carolina. Romney hasn't gotten much respect in this campaign, but his Michigan victory forced McCain and Huckabee to follow suit with victories of their own in South Carolina. So in other words, Romney now controls his own destiny again, and for that reason, he has probably overtaken McCain as the new frontrunner with McCain second, Huckabee third, and Thompson and Giuliani tied for fourth. Ron Paul remains too difficult to quantify at present.

Needless to say, such chaos is a political junkie's dream come true. Could we really be headed for a brokered convention?


Steve Mueller said...

I wish the media would give Ron Paul some un-bias interviews. Even without the benifit of extensive media coverage, and despite some rabid fans, He has impressive support. I like some of his ideas. I don't think he is the hardcore libertairian that some people make him out to be.

Nikki said...

Hey great post. I found the quote by Mike Huckabee and the constitution a bit spooky. I shutter to think what the media would do to Romney if he were to say something like that......Mike Huckabee is reaching out to "his kind" and I think that is going to hurt him in the long run. interesting stuff. thanks for the great read.

Jessica said...


Whoo- I have to agree with everyone-nice post! I really appreciate your analysis of what is taking place. And you are right, people seem to bypass the fact Romney won Wyoming. I was pretty much born and raised there, so despite what people say, Wyoming matters. Anyway, keep of the good work!

Also, I have some good news. Remember the film I told you about? Article VI: Faith, Politics, America (which I saw last night-very thought provoking), well Friday the film will be showing On-Demand in the Greenville Market, no cost associated! Yeah. The film will be broadcast on WJNI-TV 52 at 3:30 pm and 5 pm. The Film will also be broadcast on Knology Cable Channel 44 at 3:30 pm and 5 pm. Finally-the film will be live streaming on www.article6themovie.com, no cost associated with any of these. Hopefully you can see it.

Itamazesus said...

Hey Anthony -

Great post, just one thing I disagree with. Why would McCain drop out after SC? That's ridiculous. It's a southern state, and as Dick Morris said, people who have no accent (Huck and Fred) tend to play better there. A loss could easily be chalked up to home-court advantage for the Southern guys.

Itamazesus said...

Oh, I think I see your point. Richelieu in the Weekly Standard said "pity the poor candidate who finishes third there and winds up in the political electric chair. If McCain drops to third, he'll be labeled president of New Hampshire, but little else."

Anthony Palmer said...

Thank you all for your comments.

Regarding McCain, I wouldn't expect him to drop out if he loses SC. After all, Huckabee needs SC more than McCain does. But Richelieu expressed what I was trying to say, but only more eloquently. Republicans are so desperately looking for a sign that they have finally found their nominee. With each successive primary victory, the worse the sting of a disappointing third place finish becomes. Also, McCain may have good polling numbers, but he is still not flush with cash. He'll need Huckabee and Romney to keep softening each other up so he can stay above the fray and appear presidential. But Huckabee might not be around after SC in light of those remarks he made about amending the Constitution.

And Jessica, thanks for the information about the documentary. If I get the chance, I'll check it out online.

Schenck said...

Palmer, nice post. When I first saw that Huckabee quote, it scared the crap outta me. Under what conditions could Ron Paul win the nomination at this point?

tbuzz41058 said...

I am a proud veteran of our great country, so I respect Jonn McCain for his service to our country. However, he is not the strong tiger on national security everyone thinks he is. I mean the man would not even consider water-boarding a terrorist to get info that could save countless American lives; a terrorist now, not a uniformed soldier fighting in a specific country's army. His argument against it is if we did, then the enemy would start torturing our soldiers. Start? John, let's look at the facts. Our enemies are already cutting heads off, hanging and burning bodies, dragging them behind vehicles, and God knows what else. Look at all the tortue rooms found. Surely he knows this is going on, so what is really the true story on his position?

When it comes to illegal immigration, all you can say is his true stance and past history in dealing with this issue is dismal.

Taxes? I know he was against the Bush tax cuts even though it put some money back into my pocket, along with several million other people. Some say there were no spending cuts to go with them. Well, all I can say is a large portion of that money was poured back into the economy through consumer spending.

Well, then you've got Mike Huckabee with his record on illegal immigration, higher taxes and bigger government, and belief that our foreign policy is arrogant instead of necessary. Plus now he's been bragging in Michigan about his close ties to the unions. It does all kinda sound like something a Democrat would campaign on.

Now this remark from him. He needs to be reminded that the Constitution is based on God's laws, and about that little part of it called the first ammendment. Our forefathers included this from their experience with the overbearing influence of the Protestant Church in England's government.

You know, I have to put my trust for the future of our national security in a man who speaks with substance, who stands on his principles, who looks you in the eye and tells you straightforward what's on his mind. Fred Thompson is this man. He's well thought out, a great communicator, and rock solid on his principles. Go to Fred08.com and look around at his white papers and speeches to make up your own mind. Then tell me who you think should lead us through these dangerous and uncertain times as President and Commander-in-Chief for the next 8 years, Fred Thompson.

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