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Republicans Closing Ranks Behind Romney

April 2, 2012

Jim Malone

Pulling Out the big Guns

Well, the big boys are starting to show their hands. Former President George H.W. Bush joined his son Jeb this week in endorsing Mitt Romney to be the Republican Party presidential candidate. Florida Senator Marco Rubio also got into the action.

Sure, the Romney camp would have liked more of the Republican elites to swing behind their guy sooner, but now is a pretty good time to build some endorsement momentum and get more people used to the idea that Romney will be the party’s inevitable nominee no matter how long Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul plan to stay in the race.

Rubio, of course, is a heavy favorite to be on the short list of possible vice presidential picks for Romney before the Republican convention in Tampa in late August. The Republican senator has long been seen as a rising star in the party and whether or not he’s on the ticket this year probably won’t alter that calculation for the future. He is from a key battleground state, Florida, and has great appeal to Hispanic-American voters with his Cuban background.

As the Hispanic voting population continues to grow in the U.S. over the next few decades, Republicans are going to have to find ways to appeal to this electorate and cut down on the Democratic victory margins among these voters. Rubio also won his Senate seat in Florida with help from the Tea Party movement, so he represents a new kind of Republican with at least the potential to bridge the divide between moderate Hispanics drawn to the Republican’s conservative views on social issues and the often anti-illegal immigration Tea Party crowd that demands secure borders and in some cases the expulsion of illegals back to their home countries. Rubio has been talking about introducing some sort of limited immigration reform measure aimed at improving Hispanic perceptions of the Republican Party.

Will Marco Rubio be the vice presidential candidate?

Assuming Romney winds up being the nominee, he and his brain trust will have to decide if Rubio has enough experience to go on the ticket as veep, or whether it would be safer to go with a more traditional-type pick like Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell or Ohio Senator Rob Portman, both of whom also come from swing states in the general election.

Santorum and Gingrich Press On But How Much Longer?

Tuesday’s next round of primaries includes Washington, D.C., Maryland and Wisconsin. Romney seems strong in the first two, so Wisconsin is shaping up as one of the last true showdown contests between Romney and Santorum. A Santorum victory in Wisconsin might give him enough gas to get to the end of May and the primary in Texas, where he should do well. On the other hand, if Romney can sweep on Tuesday, it will just add more fuel to the fire of Republicans saying enough is enough, let’s get behind Romney and get on with this thing. The latest polls give Romney an edge in Wisconsin.

Ohio Representative Steve Chabot told my colleague Carol Castiel this week that he would like to see the Republican primary race wrap up so that his party can focus its fire on President Obama. So keep an eye on the results from Wisconsin. A Romney win there would just make it harder for Rick Santorum to justify why he stays in the race week after week.

As for Newt Gingrich, he has sharply cut back his campaign staff and seems to have adopted a strategy of trying to win over individual delegates prior to the August convention in some last ditch effort to stop Romney. Even his main Super PAC backer, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, says Newt seems to be winding down his campaign after several disappointing finishes in recent primaries.

Romney has confirmed that he met with Gingrich recently, but there is no word on what exactly they discussed. Would Gingrich demand something from Romney as a condition for getting out of the race? It’s not clear, but all of the contenders who will come up short against Romney for the nomination must be thinking about the mechanics and timing of exiting the race and getting behind Romney as the expected nominee.

The Supremes and Health Care Politics

So we will know by the end of June the fate of the Obama health care law. The Supreme Court could go any number of ways, but the tenor of the questions from several of the justices during the oral arguments this past week suggest the conservatives plus noted swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy seem skeptical, to put it mildly, of the individual insurance mandate, the cornerstone of the reform act.

Striking down the mandate or, more broadly the entire law, would be a huge setback for President Obama and his Democratic supporters. To have the signature achievement of your administration ruled unconstitutional by the high court could depress Democrats and validate the claims of Republican opponents that the law is too far-reaching and violates some of the individual liberty precepts in the U.S. Constitution.

That is not to say that Democrats would take a negative ruling on the health care law lying down. For sure, it could energize some Obama supporters to make sure he is re-elected in November. And for many Democrats, striking down the health care law would point to the perils of a court dominated by conservative justices appointed by Republican presidents. There would be echoes of the political fallout from the Bush versus Gore decision from 2000 that legitimized George W. Bush’s election victory over Al Gore, and more recently the Citizens United case of two years ago that dramatically scaled back regulations on unions, corporations and private citizens from spending unlimited amounts of money on behalf of presidential and congressional candidates, as long as they do not coordinate with specific campaigns.

It’s too early to know what the court decision will be, or the scale of any possible backlash, but the high court this week was the crossroads of politics and law in the U.S. and the passions on display from both sides on the sidewalk outside the court were notable and a preview of what’s to come once the court ruling is announced in June.

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