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ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN

Republican Process .. Not Too Long

March 8, 2012

There’s a lot of Washington pundit talk about the Republican presidential primary going on too long. Some are saying that the candidates are hurting each other in the process, and whoever wins the nomination will be too weak to defeat President Barack Obama in November.

This kind of chatter started almost immediately after the New Hampshire primary, and has intensified ever since. But it’s really a matter of impatience on the part of those commentating.

Never before in presidential primary history have pundits clammered that something is wrong with the leading candidates just because they didn't have the nomination wrapped up in two months time.

Yet, Republicans and Democrats have a long history of lengthy and divisive primaries that have often continued on through the summer months. In fact, this is how the nominating process was originally devised, and it’s only a theory that bad blood between candidates in the primary can cause a nominee to lose the General Election.

The quality of the nominee and his/her campaign is the most important element in determining whether a standard-bearer can bring opposing factions together after a hard fought primary.

As far back as 1960, Senators John Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey engaged in a classic Democrat primary battle that didn’t end until the May 10th West Virginia primary where Kennedy crushed the Minnesota Senator with 60 percent of the vote.

Still, Kennedy went to the National Democrat Convention that year, which was held in July, without the necessary votes needed to win the nomination on the first ballot.

Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson tried desperately to wrestle the nomination away from Kennedy at the convention. This caused Kennedy to negotiate and horse trade with delegates, and ultimately forced him to select Johnson as his vice presidential running mate.

In 1968, it was the Republicans turn to fight it out at the nominating convention in Miami Beach, which was held in August that year. Nixon fought against California Governor Ronald Reagan, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, and a host of favorite son candidates, including Michigan Governor George Romney and Ohio Governor James Rhodes.

Nixon won enough delegates on the first ballot to prevail at the convention, but his party was split along the same lines as being talked about today, conservative versus moderate.

In both cases, Kennedy and Nixon were able to heal their perspective parties and go on to capture the White House in those election years.

Political fights for the presidential nomination ensued in the 1976 Republican primary between Ronald Reagan and President Gerald Ford, and four years later, between Senator Ted Kennedy and President Jimmy Carter. Both of those primaries lasted through the nominating conventions, and were long, nasty, and drawn out affairs.

Things do take on added significance when an incumbent President is seriously challenged. However, in both of these circumstances, Ford and Carter had low job approval ratings at the start, and they were both poised to lose in the first place.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is now the odds on favorite to win the Republican nomination in 2012. Yet, the remaining candidates, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul are each making a case for staying in the race, and why not?

They are making good showings in primary states, and each is building up their “brand”, which can only help them when the election is over. Still, there’s little chance of Santorum, Gingrich, or Paul winning the nomination.

How severely Governor Romney is damaged from the lengthy primary process, if at all, depends upon his ability as a candidate to heal the wounds of the party, and to focus his campaign on the future going into the General Election.

History has taught us that primary election infighting is nothing more than background noise when it comes to the General Election.

Hopefully, the pundits will learn this soon enough, too, and let the process continue regardless of how long it takes.