Was that the king, that spurr'd his horse so hard
Against the steep uprising of the hill?
I know not; but I think it was not he.
opening lines of ACT IV: Scene I of LOVE's LABOURS LOST by William Shakespeare
With the three delegate selection events, on the Republican side of things, held this past Tuesday (7 February) now behind us, the first Act of the quadrennial drama that is an American Presidential Election cycle is now over.
We have now already entered a three-week period of relative quiescence: not really a hiatus, mind you (for there are still, albethey [admittedly] relatively minor, delegate selection events going on in the meantime: Wyoming begins holding a County-by-County sequence of caucuses and Maine continues to hold a sequence of its Municipal Caucuses [the results from the earlier of these being released this coming weekend]) but there are no big events- no 'Tuesday Night Fights'!- to grip the mind of the observer of the 2012 Republican presidential nominating process until Tuesday 28 February, when Arizona and Michigan hold Presidential Primaries and we are, by then, but a mere week away from the first 'Super Tuesday' come 6 March.
This past Tuesday was certainly a very good night for former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, as he came in first in all three States holding such events that day- Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri. But one must be careful, while assessing the meaning of what just transpired, to not engage in two counterpoised fallacies:
1. We must keep in mind that- technically (as was also the case in Iowa's caucuses 5 weeks earlier)- Senator Santorum really didn't win anything of real substance as regards the presidential nomination at this year's Republican National Convention itself. After all: it's still the delegates, stupid [;-)] and no National Convention delegates were actually pledged to GOP presidential contenders on Tuesday (Missouri's Presidential Primary was absolutely non-binding [if only to keep the Show-Me State from facing the punishment (loss of half of the originally allocated delegates) already meted out by the national Republican Party against New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida]; Minnesota held what amounts to nothing more than the quintessential "straw poll" while its caucuses were underway; and in Colorado, while delegates to higher-tier conventions chosen at its caucuses are allowed to state their presidential preference, there is no requirement that they do so).
2. Having said this, it would also be a mistake to suggest that Senator Santorum's achievement this past Tuesday- coming in first in all three States with their voters deciding, that day, just which Republican presidential contender they would most like to see head the Party's ticket come November- is not of any real significance when, in fact, it is very significant!
The trick here is to strike just the right balance between the two competing views ('Santorum getting a BIG win Tuesday' versus 'Santorum not really getting much of a boost at all')... what follows is my own "two cents plain" expended in an attempt to do just that!:
At first glance, it might appear that we have just gone back to an as yet unfinished "I'm not Mitt du jour" phase of the Republican presidential nomination campaign (through which we've already had Bachmann- Perry- Cain- Gingrich in that order "popping up" as potential alternatives to a former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney the Party, as a whole, seems rather reluctant to nominate going back some six months now. Santorum (who never really gained the momentum-generating benefits [such as they might be!] from what turned out to be his narrow "win" [in quotes because, again, no National Convention delegates were actually pledged] in the Iowa caucuses back on 3 January) might, as a result, then be seen as just the next "pop up" 'who can we get to try and keep Romney from being the nominee' to now be more closely examined by the Grand Old Party rank-and-file yet to participate in delegate selection events.
And examined the Pennsylvanian will be over the rest of this month, no doubt!
But might there be something else going on here?
Might the quintessential "protest vote" already have emerged within the 2012 Republican presidential nomination contest (that is: something akin to a Ted Kennedy gaining strength [as well as late-in-the-game Primary and caucus victories] against a Jimmy Carter only once Carter's renomination by the Democrats in 1980 seemed, more or less, inevitable; much the same thing had been seen, on the Republican side of things, four years before- in 1976- during Ronald Reagan's then-unsuccessful run for the presidential nomination against an unelected President Gerald Ford)? Might the fact that the conventional wisdom of media and Party alike seemed to already- in the wake of Romney's trouncing of Speaker Gingrich in Florida- be concluding that the former Massachusetts Governor will, indeed, be the eventual nominee have well fueled support- come this past Tuesday's voting- for an alternative (if only so that there might even be- for as long as possible before the National Convention itself- such an alternative [regardless of who that alternative to Romney might actually turn out to be])?
[NOTE: Keep in mind here, dear reader, that Congressman Ron Paul is not that "alternative"!
Again, the libertarianism of the faction Paul's candidacy most represents is not- and never has been- a controlling element within the Republican Party nationally; and it is most clear that the leadership cadre of the GOP would, very much, like to keep things this way!]
Missouri, which alone held a Primary this past Tuesday, is most instructive in this regard: for former Speaker Newt Gingrich wasn't even on its ballot! Thus, how many votes for Santorum were, in essence, votes not for Romney? Put another way: how many votes did Santorum get that might otherwise have been cast for Gingrich? We, of course, don't really know (exit polling aside) but this cannot be completely discounted.
Meanwhile, we have to also note that Colorado and Minnesota held precinct caucuses-- and Santorum's only "first place ribbon" prior to Tuesday was in Iowa's caucuses. It may simply be, in addition to that I have opined in the preceding paragraph, that Santorum (whose more socioculturally-based conservatism is the stuff of better organization of the "faithful" [in more ways than one?]) does much better in caucuses than he appears to be able to do in primaries (indeed, in the Caucus/Convention system, the candidacy of Senator Santorum may well have found its own sanctum sanctorum!)
So, then is Governor Romney's candidacy in trouble now?
No, not really.
He is still the "front runner" (for even Santorum is still "coming from behind") and there has been nothing this past Tuesday to really derail the (rightly or wrongly) perceived eventuality of Romney's being the nominee. As already noted, Michigan and Arizona are the next two big events on the Primary calendar: Michigan is Romney's home State (his own father was once its Governor) and he won handily in the Presidential Primary there four years ago, while Arizona is- in many ways- a western 'Florida' (a State full of transplanted "snowbird"s).
And, despite Senator Santorum having just "spurr'd his horse so hard against the steep uprising of the hill" that is Romney's seemingly still-inevitable nomination for President come the GOP Convention, in answer to the obvious question: is Rick Santorum now the real alternative to Romney in this race? I can only answer:
"I know not; but I think it is not he" ;-)
Although, and truth be told: the candidacy that seems to be in more trouble right now is, indeed, that of Newt Gingrich!
But I will, likely, have more to write about that as we get closer to those Arizona and Michigan Primaries (when the curtain will, once again, rise and we begin ACT II).