To analyse the Florida primary, euronews spoke with Jeffry Frieden, political economist and professor of government at Harvard University.
Stefan Grobe, euronews: In Florida, Romney outspent Gingrich more than four to one, literally ‘carpet bombing’ his opponents. On Monday, for example, five Romney ads aired in less than 15 minutes of a local Jacksonville newscast. Is this going to be the playbook for the rest of the primaries?
Jeffry Frieden: Well, it will be if Romney has to spend money to beat Gingrich. On the other hand, if he seems to be ahead by enough not to have to spend more of his warchest, he’ll save it for the general elections, I would imagine. The problem he faced in Florida was that he had lost the South Carolina primary, and it was absolutely essential for him to put on a good showing in Florida – which he did. So, I think he concentrated his resources in Florida to make sure that he did as well as he, in fact, turned out to do. My guess is that he won’t need to spend as much over the next month or so to beat Gingrich. But if the primary turns out to be close, he will pull out all the financial guns once more.
euronews: We have questioned Romney’s ability to inspire excitement before. Have Republican voters become more enthusiastic about him, as his election numbers would suggest?
Frieden: Well, I think they have become enthusiastic about him as the person who can beat Barack Obama. I think he does not inspire the kind of extraordinary enthusiasm that you sometimes see for the supporters of Ron Paul or even perhaps Newt Gingrich. He is seen as competent, reliable, and someone with administrative and business experience, but most important, I think, for the average Republican primary voter he’s seen as someone who can beat Barack Obama, and that is what they seem to care most about. Most of the exit polls indicated that the majority of those voting for Romney in Florida were voting for him because they thought he was the most electable candidate in the race.
euronews: Let’s take a look at Gingrich now. At 68 and already 14 years past his speakership, this is likely his last chance at the political prize that he is been coveting for at least two decades. He appears deadly serious about a long, bloody march all the way to the convention. Is there really a chance he can turn this thing around?
Frieden: Well, there is a chance, but I would say it is very, very slim. If Gingrich does extraordinarily well in some of the southern state primaries such as those coming up on Super Tuesday in early March, then he might be able to turn it around. There are two things working against him: the first is that he has just lost Florida, and it is likely that he will not do particularly well in some of the caucuses and primaries coming up. And the second thing he has against him is that, I think, the Republican leadership is very, very worried about him as a candidate. They see him as sure to lose to Obama and have rallied behind Romney. So I think his chances are extremely slim. And although it is up to him whether he takes it all the way to the convention, I think the likelihood of actually getting the nomination is very, very slim.
euronews: Watching the Republican primaries from Europe is quite instructive. Whenever Romney and Gingrich talk about Europe, it is part of their anti-Obama rhetoric, as in, “Obama wants a European-style entitlement society, a European welfare-state, European socialism”. Who believes this in America?
Frieden: Well, unfortunately, Europe has to some extent, especially for American conservatives, become a codeword for the welfare state, for entitlements, for social democratic, social safety nets, larger than those that we have in the United States. So, for those who believe that the government is already too intrusive in American economic and social affairs, Europe is in some sense their representative of how just intrusive a state can be. The Republican electorate that is quite conservative sees Europe as everything they are trying to avoid in the United States, that is a social welfare state that grows and grows over time.