On Tuesday night, Mitt Romney won both Arizona and Michigan, taking his record so far to six of the eleven states that have voted so far. While Arizona was a foregone conclusion, with its large Mormon population, Michigan was a harder test for him, with polls running into the primary placing him neck-and-neck with Rick Santorum.
Romney did take Michigan however, with a slim yet respectable 3% lead over Santorum. This has surprised some people, but looked at objectively, it is perhaps hard to see why. Though Massachusetts is technically Romney’s home state, he was born and raised in Michigan. His father was governor, he greatly outspent the competition and he received the endorsements of the Detroit News and Michigan governor Rick Snyder.
Despite all this, Romney still made hard work of winning Michigan. This was partially due to the shifting emphasis of the race away from the economy and towards social issues, which tend to favour Santorum (as I have written about before) but also due to an anti-Romney coalition, comprising Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Romney’s own tendency to make unfortunate gaffes, and even Democrats urged to vote for the less electable Santorum.
Conspicuous in his absence from this coalition, however, was Ron Paul. In fact, attacks on Romney from the Ron Paul camp have been fairly nonexistent throughout the campaign; Rick Santorum even went so far as to claim that Paul had never attacked the frontrunner in any of the 20 debates so far. While this is not strictly true, the implication behind it, that Paul has been giving Romney a relatively easy ride so far, is undeniable.
If this much is clear however, the reason for it is less so. On the surface, Paul and Romney seem like unlikely bedfellows; a former Ron Paul staffer’s opinion of Romney as ‘a globalist, a big government advocate and a warmonger‘ is probably very close to that of the candidate’s as well. However, even if Romney is all of this, he is also the frontrunner; InTrade gives him an 81% chance of gaining the Republican nomination. This is certainly where the explanation for Paul’s approach to Romney lies; it is either down to him attempting to accumulate delegates by focusing his attacks on Santorum and Gingrich because they are nearer, easier targets, or because he is consciously attempting to stay in the good books of the likely eventual Republican candidate.
Santorum certainly believes the latter, labelling Ron Paul Romney’s ‘wingman‘ in a speech on Saturday. He spoke of ‘coordination’ between the candidates and said he “felt like messages were being slipped behind my chair” during the debate in Arizona. Paul, for his part, of course denied the charge, accusing Santorum of being an ‘addict on conspiracies‘; however his campaign has responded with a new advert that attacks Romney, perhaps suggesting that he is worried the electorate may get the same impression.
Ultimately, it matters little whether Paul has been ignoring Romney to stay on his good side or to take votes off the others, because surely the intended result is the same: a say in the vice presidency. If he performs well on Super Tuesday, and in the following primaries, Paul could hold enough delegates by the time of the convention to be in a situation to extract concessions. Even if he doesn’t, a record of going easy on Romney, and actually indirectly helping him through the race by attacking his competitors will put him in a similar position.
While I believe Ron Paul has been gearing his campaign towards a vice presidential position, I don’t think he sees himself in the role. He is too independent to want such a job, too old for the ticket, and not conservative enough on key issues to win over a party who have not taken to Romney. Instead, I believe it is his son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who is being lined up as Romney’s running mate. The younger Paul is regarded as an up-and-comer in the party and has been spoken about as a possible 2016 candidate for the main office. He is the current sweetheart of the Tea Party movement, and has been described as ‘so conservative he scares Dick Cheney‘, but he also has inherited from his father a predilection towards a number of Libertarian positions (such as legalising medical marijuana) that would appeal to certain independents. For his part, even while his father brushes off speculation, Rand Paul has said that it would be ‘an honour‘ to be considered for the role.
Whether a Romney/Paul ticket does appear for the general election is of course far from certain. The GOP may prefer another candidate, or decide to put a woman or Hispanic on the ticket to widen their base. If they were to go down the Latino route to attempt to recapture a key demographic, the name of Marco Rubio immediately presents itself, holding as he does a lot of the same Tea Party support as Rand Paul. However, in an election that looks Obama’s, Rubio may want to stay clear in order to save his reputation for a 2016 run. As Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner said, ‘Do you really want Marco Rubio to spend September and October defending Romneycare?’
A spot on the Republican ticket for the 2012 election may appear a bit of a poisoned chalice, but with Romney needing to win over Rand Paul’s Tea Party base, and the prospective Republican field Paul would have to take on in 2016 already seeming impressive, a Romney/Paul ticket in 2016 could be the best thing not only for both men, but for a faltering Republican party as well.