Experts assess results, potential impacts of the Republican primaries

As Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum gear up for next week’s Super Tuesday Republican presidential primary races in 10 states, several University of California, Berkeley, experts are assessing the significance and potential impacts of Romney’s wins in the Feb. 28 Republican presidential primaries in Michigan and Arizona.

Among other things, UC Berkeley pundits are looking into the reasons for the drawn-out Republican race; how the Tea Party  may influence the outcomes; the chances of a brokered convention; gender politics; the power of words; and candidates’ emotions.

Delegate countdown

Terri Bimes, a UC Berkeley political scientist who teaches courses on the American presidency and political development, said that after Romney’s victories in Arizona and Michigan, the Republican race still remains undecided and California could end up with an important say in the outcome.

To date, Romney has only amassed approximately 157 delegates—a small fraction of the 1, 144 delegates needed to win the nomination, Bimes said, partly because of his own lackluster candidacy and inability to generate momentum as well as a drawn-out Republican nomination season and a shift in party rules on delegate selection. 

Mitt Romney

Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich, who has not won a primary since South Carolina, hopes to win in Georgia next Tuesday and continue his campaign until June, when California holds its primary and awards a whopping 169 delegates, according to Bimes.  Although California could technically allocate all its delegates to one candidate under national party rules, it has voluntarily adopted a new system awarding its delegates on a winner-takes-all basis by congressional district.   Gingrich hopes to pick up some districts that have not traditionally voted Republican, Bimes said.

“These new GOP delegate selection rules may not prevent Romney from winning a majority of the delegates before the party convention in Tampa, Fla. in late August,” she said. “But it may well prevent him from wrapping up the Republican nomination anytime soon.  In that context, California’s primary could end up playing an important role despite its late date.”

Bimes is currently completing work on “The Metamorphosis of Presidential Populism,” a book that examines the evolution of presidential populism. Previous publications have examined presidential rhetoric, divided government and the 2000 presidential election.

The power of words

Linguist Robin Lakoff is the author of “The Language War,” “Talking Power” and “Language and Woman’s Place.”  She said each contender for the Republican presidential nomination “has such a serious communicative deficit as to render him unelectable.”

And although more than a few of the candidates’ utterances have provided fodder for late night TV comedians, Lakoff isn’t laughing.  “The problem is that, the more certain kinds of utterances get uttered, they go from bizarre, horrific, and way way out to ‘normal,’” she said, attributing it to what she calls the “Snark Rule,”  from Lewis Carroll’s nonsensical poem, “The Hunting of the Snark” that essentially says once something is uttered three times, it is true.

Tea Party and brokered convention

Lawrence Rosenthal, executive director of UC Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Right-Wing Movements, said the continuing struggle between Romney and Santorum represents a struggle within the Tea Party.

While in 2010 the Tea Party “established that it owned a chokehold on the Republican nominating process by way of its outsized representation as participants in the party’s primaries,” Rosenthal said, there has always been a tension inside the Tea Party between its social conservative and libertarian economics wings.

Essentially, he said, the social conservative wing wishes in the name of “family values” to roll back what they see as the revolution in morals that began in the 1960s and has become institutionalized since. Meanwhile, he said, the libertarian wing wishes to double down on typical Republican economics, seeking to reduce taxes to a bare minimum and abolish the welfare state as well as government regulation of business.

 “Last night was a draw. For the Republican Party as a whole, Romney’s inability to put Santorum away is a cause for extreme worry,” said Rosenthal.

“Outside the South, a social conservative a la Santorum could almost certainly never win an election for national office. The result in Michigan maintains both the viability of the Gingrich candidacy and the undercurrent of the Republicans’ need for an alternative to any of the active candidates, keeping alive speculation about a brokered convention.”

Gender politics

Anthropologist Rosemary Joyce is examining the voter response on Tuesday, to the Republican frontrunners, particularly in terms of the reaction to positions espoused by the candidates, especially Santorum, on issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion and birth control.

“What’s the message for Rick Santorum’s aggressive stance on women’s issues from the Michigan and Arizona primaries?” Joyce asked. “Even Republican women don’t like what they are hearing.”

Citing a New York Times exit poll analysis that reported half of Catholic women voted for Romney, Joyce said that feeling is strong among Michigan’s Catholic voters, who Santorum has tried to bring on board.

“While recent statements by the candidates, and actions by Republican state legislatures, seemed to be revving up a cultural war over women’s issues, for the most part, these took a back seat to the economy,” said Joyce. “Santorum’s speech to supporters in Michigan seemed designed to acknowledge that: it emphasized economic issues, and by beginning with the story of his mother —pointedly citing her years of college education — Santorum seemed to be walking back many of his more unusual talking points of recent days.”

But among Michigan voters for whom abortion is the most important issue, Joyce said, Santorum led the way: “Unfortunately for him, the theme this year isn’t these social conservative concerns: it’s economic.”

Emotional connections

Jack Glaser, an associate professor of public policy and a social psychologist, is an expert on political candidate emotionality who said that Romney’s inability to connect emotionally continues to be a clear campaign problem for him.