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Column: In Super Tuesday's wake, what's next?By Cal Thomas and Bob BeckelUpdated 13h 16m agoCommentsCal Thomas is a conservative columnist
Column: In Super Tuesday's wake, what's next?
Today: The road ahead in the GOP race.
Bob: Political pundits are falling all over themselves trying to convince voters the Republican presidential nomination is not over. They see Super Tuesday as a split decision and not the knockout punch Mitt Romneyhad hoped for. But the race is over. As USA TODAYwisely opined Wednesday, "It's the delegates, stupid."
Cal: Explain that, my politically astute friend.
Bob: Gladly. Despite winning three states and coming close in Ohio, Rick Santorum cannot overtake Romney. Same with Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. Romney has amassed more delegates than his three rivals combined. Soon the GOP nominating process will include megastates such as California and New York where Romney should dominate. Bottom line: Romney is well on his way to the 1,144 delegates needed for the nomination, and the others aren't even close. Now, you tell me, Cal, why are Republicans so unexcited by Romney?
Cal: It's no mystery, Bob. They'd prefer Ronald Reagan. But here's a bulletin: Reagan is not coming back, and as the old Washington Redskins coach George Allen used to say, "The future is now." So Republicans, if they want to win, had better get over the past and start thinking about tomorrow. Get behind Romney … and push!
Bob: It feels like the GOP primary season has gone on forever, but it was only 65 days ago that it began in Iowa. Very few impartial observers (or partisan ones) will deny that the process has been ugly and has done serious damage to Republican hopes of recapturing theWhite House.
Cal: You've got that right. What looked like a sure thing even a couple of months ago now doesn't look as good, though it's still a long way to November.
Bob: The candidates and their Super PACs have attacked each other with such intensity that all candidates, especially Romney, have come out of the nomination battle with significant negatives among voters. Case in point: Early on, Iowa polls had Romney with high favorability among the all-important independent voters. But just a few weeks later, one poll found that his negatives with these voters were twice as high as his positives.
Cal: Romney's major problem is his disconnectedness. This week, while campaigning in Tennessee, he quoted the lyrics from the Davy Crockett TV show. Bob, that show was on the air when I was a kid, and it was in black and white! Surely, he could quote something in color!
Bob: I'll tell you what else he could do — replace his tin ear with a real one. Despite years on the campaign trail, it appears Romney hasn't learned to avoid missteps. Remember when he told blue-collar workers that his wife owned not one but twoCadillacs?
Cal: He was trying to connect with those blue-collar workers because they built those Cadillacs, but I get your point.
Bob: The campaign has done more than expose Romney's shortcomings. There's a bigger issue at play: the fundamental divide between moderate-conservative-Establishment Republicans and the very conservative base of the party. Establishment Republicans, it appears, are more oriented toward winning, more secular, and more focused on the economy.
Cal: Yes, they are the ones who gave the party John McCain and Bob Dole, among others. All of them lost. I am always amused that the losers think they know better how to win. I would remind you that before social conservatives came along, the Republican Party was going the way of the dodo bird, toward extinction.
Bob: It seems the energy of the Republican Party is clearly at the grassroots, especially among Tea Party activists and evangelicals. It may be they dislike Barack Obama so much that they'll hold their nose and vote for Romney. But a successful presidential campaign needs activists to be just that — active. I seriously doubt that Romney can activate the base of the Republican Party.
Cal: Here's how I think that can be reversed. Instead of arguing about Obama's policies — failed or not — how about demonstrating the superiority of Romney's philosophy? You Democrats like to talk about helping the poor. Romney should feature people who used to be poor but have overcome by embracing conservative principles.
Bob: That's fine, but that doesn't change the suspicion of those Republican voters who are solidly pro-life and are skeptical about his conversion from a pro-choice governor of Massachusetts to an ardent right-to-lifer in this campaign.
Cal: OK, how about if Romney touted the thousands of pregnancy care centers that care for women experiencing difficult pregnancies? These centers help women with a place to live, clothes for their babies, jobs, adoption services and so many other things. Again, this is about more than politics and the law; it's about what works. There are other subjects Romney could illustrate, such as choice in education, which so many minorities want, to examples of wasteful government spending. He should feature one of those per day.
Bob: He could do that every day until the election, but it still won't convince social conservatives that he's committed to their values agenda. It goes beyond right-to-life to include Romney's rhetoric about gay rights when he ran for governor. I could go on, but all the creative campaign events in the world can't change the GOP base's perception that Romney is a weather vane.
Cal: Here's another suggestion. After Romney effectively secures the nomination, he can woo those grassrooters you are so concerned about by getting specific about what he'd do as president. While the law forbids him from offering Cabinet seats before the election, he could describe the worldview he'd require for candidate posts and thus establish a conservative approach to foreign policy, the economy, health care and the rest. Would that be enough to convince you he is seriously conservative?
Bob: I'm not the one who needs to be convinced, Cal. But besides conservatives, there's another group that needs convincing — and that's Hispanic voters who make up the fastest growing demographic in the country. In trying to appeal to the far right, Romney has staked out a position on illegal immigration that has turned off Hispanic voters who supported Obama 2-1 in 2008. Without some headway with this group, no Republican presidential candidate can win.
Cal: Which is why Romney should hint that Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida could be his running mate. He can commission Rubio to come up with a plan that would satisfy the need for workers, while securing the border to screen out criminals and terrorists. Rubio has spoken eloquently on this issue and his selection — if he'd accept — would help solve the GOP's Hispanic problem, don't you think?
Bob: Cal, you're a political consultant extraordinaire. Rubio would help. But unless the Republicans can find a candidate to unite the party's two wings, I don't believe they can win this presidential election. You suggested at the start that Reagan was that kind of candidate. Mitt Romney is no Ronald Reagan.
Cal: The president has had the luxury of sitting on the sidelines while Republicans attacked each other. Now the attacks will start coming his way, and even the sympathetic news media will have to cover what Romney says about Obama's claim that he deserves four more years. That should — and will — make things look a lot different in November than they do now.