In Tampa, leaders of the group seeking the Republican Party’s nomination as presidential candidate this coming November exchanged a series of blows during the last debate on Monday, January 23. With four clear candidates, out of the original seven contenders registered at their outset, the first Republican primaries offer a glimpse into the decision that conservative voters will make elsewhere.
Tim Pawlenty and Herman Cain dropped out of the race before the primaries began. Now, Rep. Michelle Bachmann, Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, and Texas Governor Rick Perry have officially ended their campaigns. Huntsman took the most votes of the three, with a total of roughly 44,000 to Perry’s 17,000 and Bachmann’s 7,000.
Pennsylvania Rep. Rick Santorum took the Iowa primary on January 3, although this result was not confirmed until days after the Party declared Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney the winner by five votes. Romney was the decisive winner in New Hampshire seven days later, with 39.3 percent of the votes, and Representative Ron Paul ended in second, with 22.9 percent.
To some surprise, Newt Gingrich’s favorability rose by a wide margin in recent polls and won the South Carolina primary on January 21, taking 40.4 percent in a state where Romney, Santorum and Paul received 27.8, 17 and 13 percent, respectively.
Debates held recently have shown the extent to which Republican contenders will ‘one-up’ one another on their harsh rhetoric. These typically deal with who would do best at keeping Iran from producing a nuclear bomb, preventing homosexuals from marrying, downsizing government, lowering taxes, restricting undocumented immigrants from accessing student loans, and maintaining the embargo on Cuba.
Audiences at debates have fomented the increasingly harsh prescriptions candidates offer to grapple foreign and domestic policy issues. Through booing, clapping, standing ovations and occasional interjections from their audiences, the Republican contenders have taken their rhetoric to unmeasured degrees of pungency.
These escalations might turn against the GOP. In Iowa, for instance, Santorum argued that he did not “want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.” Gingrich then one-upped him in New Hampshire, where he announced his intention to “explain to the African-American community why they should demand paychecks [instead of] food stamps.”
These statements might do more than elicit a louder cheer from regressive audiences; racist and demonizing rhetoric may be taken as evidence that the candidates are inapt to represent a multiracial nation in the 21st century.
As Joseph Lowndes argued in the Huffington Post, “Republican contenders realize they have little to gain in attempting to appeal to either black or racially moderate white voters.” The statement implies that the candidates must appeal to the ‘paleo-conservative’ or racist base of the Republican Party; therefore, intolerance is not only justified and acceptable, it is an integral component of its political discourse.
Commentators have estimated that Romney, whose rhetoric is qualified as “moderate” compared to his counterparts, and who has drawn the most support from Wall Street, will be the eventual challenger to President Obama in November.
However, the debate in Florida—the battleground of the upcoming January 31 primary—demonstrated that Romney is not taking his nomination for granted. His aggressive tone and demeanor reached a campaign high. Within his first speaking turn, he called Gingrich a Washington insider and “influence peddler” who had developed a profitable relationship with Freddie Mac, the infamous mortgage trader.
Romney’s narrative reminded voters that Gingrich “resigned in disgrace” from his position as Speaker of the House when “members of his own congressional team … voted to replace him” in the mid-1990s.
With composure, Gingrich said Romney’s attacks were “desperate” and “untruthful.” He responded that he had resigned out of “responsibility” towards his party. Paul, who was a member of the House of Representatives at the time, refuted this statement, saying that Gingrich “didn’t have the votes, that’s what the problem was.”
The primary in Maine will follow on February 1, and then 21 states will hold theirs on February 5, “Super Tuesday.”