Jeremi Suri, the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs, teaches courses on the history of international affairs, global strategy and contemporary politics in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and the Department of History.
Mitt Romney’s victories in six of the 10 Republican primaries on “Super Tuesday” solidified his position as the leader in his party’s race for the presidential nomination, but it also confirmed his weaknesses. He did not win decisively where it counted, especially in the battleground state of Ohio, where Romney edged Rick Santorum by 1 percent and only a little more than 10,000 votes. Santorum also generated enthusiastic victories in Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota. Newt Gingrich won his home state of Georgia. Romney continues to confront strong Republican opposition to his candidacy, and his challengers will surely remain in the race through the early summer. Romney’s delegate count remains low at 404: far from the 1,144 he needs to lock up control of the Republican nomination and avoid a deadlocked convention in August.
So, the show will go on. Expect many more weeks of attacks and counter-attacks around red meat topics that have little connection to the real policy issues confronting our country. Santorum will continue to attack Romney’s religion. Romney will criticize Santorum’s preparation for office. Gingrich will surely announce more superficial “big think” schemes for space travel, and Ron Paul will find more government offices to attack. All the while President Barack Obama will sit and watch, avoiding any substantive public statements about the difficult choices we must make as a society concerning long-term entitlement spending, taxation policy and national security. The extended Republican primaries will prolong our present political limbo.
The state of Texas will hold its Republican primary on May 29. This could be an opportunity to change the race. Like all states, Texas has deep political divisions, but it also has a strong can-do entrepreneurial spirit. That is, after all, what separates the Lone Star state and its pioneering history from many other parts of the country. Led by businesspeople, activists and even professors, the citizens of the state could demand some serious answers from the candidates: What are our domestic priorities and how are we going to pay for them? How are we going to restore and improve American international competitiveness? What are the essential elements of American national security, and what are the excesses we can do without? What is our inclusive and hopeful national vision for the next five to 10 years?
John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan answered these questions in compelling terms when they campaigned in Texas. That is why they won their presidential bids. That is how they changed our nation. The time has come for voters in Texas and other big states to throw around their weight again. Let’s reject the wedge issues and focus on what really counts. Let’s drop the small stuff and demand attention to the crucial priorities that will determine the progress of our nation’s economy, society and security. In this contested and confused presidential election season, bigger is better.
More from Jeremi Suri:
- “Riding the Florida primary momentum” — February 2012
- “And then there were four: The Republican primaries — January 2012
- VIDEO: Forecasting the Republican presidential primaries — January 2012
- “The road ahead in Libya” — August 2011