Far Right pundits are beside themselves with the looming prospect of a Romney candidacy in the November presidential election. The tirades overflow with the hated characterizations; “moderate”! “Bay State liberal”! “flip flopper”!, “centrist”! and of course the ultimate condemnation, “RINO”! Certainly Mitt Romney has not emerged as the ideal candidate. He does indeed lack charisma, is prone to inexplicable gaffes, and has failed to excite the Republican base. However there has never been a “perfect candidate” and unfortunately, the previous Republican “front runner”candidates, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain, were all fatally flawed. As the flaws became apparent , Republican voters kept shopping, leads in the polls changed rapidly, and early primary victories were spread among the three survivors, Romney, Gingrich and Santorum. Ron Paul is still running but it is a fringe candidacy based on a coterie of stubborn libertarian supporters, which does nothing but further divide the Republican vote.
Leaving aside the first few labels, the overused pejorative “RINO” needs an explanation. What is a “Republican in name only”? Voters become Republicans by registering as such for purposes of voting in primaries. Do registrars require background checks, loyalty oaths to fixed principles like opposition to abortion, balanced budgets at any cost, or opposition to gay rights, before accepting a Republican registration? Of course not, but then who determines what a “real Republican” is? Certainly not the talk show hosts, bloggers and opinion columnists. The Republican Party is the conservative party. Conservatism as a political philosophy is about small (in relative terms), less expensive, and less intrusive (than liberal) government. Political conservatism is not the same as social conservatism. A person can be an advocate of small government etc. and not support the mostly religious based social conservative agenda in its entirety. Nor does conservatism require self defeating purism in the face of complicated economic and political realities. Individuals, registered Republicans and independents decide their own positions along a conservative leaning spectrum based on specific issues.
So, keeping with the zoological metaphor, who are the alleged RINOs and who are the allegedly “real Republicans”? If Rick Santorum is the accepted example, then the latter are the GIRAFs i.e 'Genuine Ideological and Religious Anti-government Fundamentalists. But what are the important policy differences between the RINOs and the GIRAFs? Which of the Republican candidates espouses reductions in federal spending and the federal deficit? Answer: all of them. Which of the candidates supports reducing federal regulations on business? Answer: all of them. Which candidates support lower taxes on businesses and individuals and simplifying the tax code? Which support a strong military and an end to world-wide apologizing for pursuing America's national interests. Answer: all of them.
So Romney is a “RINO” based on the orientation of his past support or opposition for legislation as governor of liberal Massachusetts, the most egregious political apostasy being the Massachusetts health care program. He has said repeatedly that he opposes Obamacare, the national version, and there is simply no way, if elected president, that he could “flip flop” to support it. But the larger issue in the primary race is: should the race be determined by simple minded labels and contrived divisions of the Republican Party into two political sects, the RINOS and the GIRAFS?
According to those on the far right who declare themselves the only “true conservatives”, GIRAFs must conform to the beliefs of the Tea Party, which itself is an amalgam of people with different views but with respect to the economy, generally agree with the above mentioned components of conservative theory. However, the movement's public identity has been created by the opinions of self appointed “leaders”. Added to this, it appears that the “true conservative” GIRAFs must also identify as part of the religious right, who in the current primary contest insist on candidates campaigning on social issues largely settled, or soon to be settled, by the courts i.e. abortion, (Row vs. Wade: 1973), gay marriage, “intelligent design” vs. evolution.
Thus Rich Santorum, actively competing with Newt Gingrich to become “head GIRAF”, thinks he can win the presidency in a national election by campaigning against recreational sex, gay rights, college education and iconic president, John F. Kennedy. His vision for America's future is somehow stuck in the past. Thrice married and one time “player”, Newt Gingrich wants to be a GIRAF but may actually just be an angry FOWL, (“ Fool-around Out of Work Lobbyist”).
In any case, the 59 million Americans who voted for John McCain, another alleged RINO, are looking for a common sense candidate who will appeal to the multitudes of disappointed moderates and independents who regret their vote for Obama in 2008.
Since there are no objective qualifications to be a Republican except for self identification, “RINOs” are mythological creatures like unicorns, but GIRAFs actually exist as a subset of the GOP. Assuming that Santorum is their standard bearer, these creatures are on a path to great disappointment as the nomination struggle is currently unfolding. Currently (3/8/12) Romney has won 14 of 23 states primaries or caucuses. Santorum has won 7 and Gingrich 2. Of the 3.9 million votes cast for these three candidates, Romney has won 46%, Santorum 28% and Gingrich 25% (rounded). The trend is clear. Electability in the general election remains the fundamental concern of most Republican voters. Santorum's bizarre social views have overshadowed his economic conservatism and have little appeal to the wider national electorate.
But the remaining states present an even more bleak picture for Santorum. His political base so far has been those states in which religious evangelicals represent a significant percentage of Republican voters. Thus he won in IA, CO, OK and TN. He also won in ND a low population state that Romney did not campaign in, and MN with help from economic conservatives. Of the remaining 31 states as well as Puerto Rico and U.S. territories, only six offer similar voter profiles: KS, AL, MS, MO, WV AR, and four of these state allocate delegates to the Republican national convention on a proportional basis. This means that even if Santorum wins the largest number of popular votes, Romney will still get delegates based on his percentage of the vote, even in Santorum's home state of PA. While Santorum will get delegates in the other 25 states that select delegates based on a proportional basis, these states do not fit the voter profile that so far has provided Santorum with his somewhat limited success, so in each case Romney should continue to build his lead. Santorum will have to win very big in these states just to catch up in the delegate column.
Thus, barring a complete melt down on Romney's part, he should achieve the necessary 1,144 committed delegates by late June. He will however emerge as a weakened candidate, with the hoof prints of the GIRAFs and the peck marks of the FOWL, all over his body and with the Obama campaign eager to exploit the wounds.