John Baer: Not looking super for GOP

Posted: March 07, 2012

THE CLEAR QUESTION the day after a smash-mouth Super Tuesday is whether the Republican Party emerges from the wreckage intact enough to compete in November.

Rick Santorum scored wins in Tennessee and Oklahoma, despite a campaign that runs under fire with little money and less organization.

"We've won races all over this country against all odds," he told supporters in Steubenville, Ohio. "We keep coming back."

Newt Gingrich won his home state of Georgia. Mitt Romney won his home state of Massachusetts. No surprises there.

Mitt also won Ohio, Vermont and in Virginia, where only he and Ron Paul were on the ballot, and told a crowd in Boston: "I'm gonna get this nomination."

But this, my friends, is a mess for this party. And last night's results add to woes gathering around the GOP.

For although it still seems likely that Republicans ultimately will settle for the preordained Romney, this primary season's wild, loud and looping ride causes damage to the party brand.

That damage comes as voters watch candidates tear each other down, and it also comes from high-profile players who aren't on the party ballot.

Take its clown princes.

Rush Limbaugh and Donald Trump suggest a senseless incivility: One tells the nation that a female Georgetown law student is a "slut" for advocating birth control as part of women's health care; the other says that respected conservative columnist George Will is an "overrated fool" for opining that Republicans should concentrate on controlling Congress rather than winning the presidency.

Rush and Trump reduce discourse to dart-throwing.

Meanwhile, GOP candidates feed the rabid: Gingrich says President Obama will "wage war on the Catholic Church the morning after he's re-elected"; Santorum says JFK's 1960 speech supporting separation of church and state makes him want to vomit.

Both play to an America that's only in their minds.

Mitt continues to disconnect. And Ron Paul continues to be Ron Paul.

And these four, I'd remind you, are surviving victors over past front-runners Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain, whose campaigns' sole contributions were gifts to late-night comics.

A major political party, through its candidates and allies, cannot show voters months of vaudeville followed by angry desperation and expect to instill much confidence.

Is it any wonder that Republicans need repair?

A Washington Post/ABC News Poll released yesterday shows that independent voters, key to the fall, have very low favorable views of the GOP contenders: Paul 38 percent; Romney 32; Santorum 30; Newt 21.

Is it any surprise that Obama leads every Republican in national polls?

An average compiled by shows Obama up 13 points over Newt, 7.5 over Paul, 7 over Santorum and 5 over Mitt.

Yet five points, especially at this stage, is far from a settled outcome.

And projected Electoral College numbers (270 are needed to win) show Obama with a 227-181 edge over any GOP challenger, but with 130 votes listed as tossups, including Pennsylvania's 20.

Point is, this could be a real race. Who knows what happens in the months ahead, in Iran and the rest of the Middle East, at the gas pump and in the housing market?

So Republicans face daunting tasks.

Not only must they crawl away from the miasma of the moment. They must pick a candidate and turn the conversation away from birth control and religious wars to ideas for the economy, jobs and health care.

Then we'll see if the wreckage caused by this campaign, this party and its vocal supporters can be cleared away soon enough to allow Americans who vote to focus on the choice.

For recent columns, go to Read his blog at BaerGrowls.

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