During most election years, the parties generally stick to themselves with the Republicans caring about their primaries and the Democrats caring about theirs. While the Democrats have less to talk about this year since they all know the candidate, you’d still be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn’t heard of the goings-on in the Republican race, regardless of party lines.
Even last year, people had some crazy expectations of the upcoming Republican primaries, and the first four have surpassed those expectations. Perhaps the best illustration of the chaos came in June with the cover of the Economist depicting miniatures of the Republican candidates in a brawl at the feet of Barack Obama.
Back in 2011, although no one knew exactly what to expect, the general consensus was that the upcoming year would be exactly what the magazine cover depicted. Would Donald Trump actually run? Would Herman Cain make history by being the first black Republican candidate? Would Michele Bachmann make a legitimate run at the White House?
The funny thing is these are now complete non-issues. All but four candidates have been weeded out, but the confusion remains. The party is just as divided as when all this started, with a seemingly equal amount of supporters behind each individual candidate. Ron Paul is the only candidate that hasn’t won a state, although he did place second in New Hampshire. Mitt Romney won New Hampshire and Florida, Newt Gingrich took South Carolina, and the oh-so-lovable Rick Santorum took Iowa.
So what has the first month of primaries told the Republican party? For the voters, the one repeated message has been simply to make Obama a one-term president. For the candidates, however, the close fights and almost perfectly-split primaries may be polarizing the party and making their goal of booting Obama unreachable.
While Romney and Gingrich are the early front-runners, there’s no telling what the coming months will bring. While it’s clear that Republicans want Obama gone, the fighting between candidates over who gets to be the one to do the honors is overshadowing the real issues. The message hasn’t been about social reforms or economic changes up to this point, and that’s really what people should care about. It makes it hard to say who will really be in front once these questions of policy come into the spotlight.
For the Republicans, the message that should be ringing loud and clear is to unite or lose all hope. Unfortunately, that’s not the message the candidates are hearing, although it’s hard to blame them. If you’re ever in a bar fight, try yelling for everyone to just get along. It will probably work just as well.
– Nick Minarik