Political commentator Cokie Roberts spoke to euronews on the context of Tuesday’s Republican Party primary vote in Florida.
Adrian Lancashire, euronews: Florida is a turning point in deciding who the Republicans will pick to run against Barack Obama for the US presidency. Contenders have been eliminated. Voters have narrowed the race to Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, two very different men. What does this tell us about the Republican establishment?
Cokie Roberts: Well, the Republican establishment such as it is has weighed in very heavily against Newt Gingrich. I have really never seen anything quite like it,with former politicians, former Republican nominees like Bob Dole, who was the candidate in 1996, and John McCain who was the candidate in 2008, just saying really strong things against Newt Gingrich. And it seems to be having an effect, that plus money, which Mitt Romney has a great deal of, have him running well ahead of Gingrich in the latest polls in Florida.
euronews: The economy is the biggest concern in this election but the US is still connected with the outside world. Foreign policy doves may vote Democrat; hawks may vote Republican. What actions by the US or other countries – say Iran, Syria or Afghanistan – could affect the course of the election?
Cokie Roberts: Well you know foreign policy will not really be an issue unless it is. That is what we normally see here is that the economy particularly a bad economy such as we still have, is what voters care most about, unless some big foreign policy issue strikes them in the face. And generally that involves having American troops abroad, or a disaster such as September 11. So, at the moment it is not clear that Iran or Afghanistan would play much of a role at all in this election. But that could change overnight, and that is one of the things that frightens candidates so much because they really can not control that; they could be on course to be doing very well in an election and then some big foreign policy event can blow up and change the entire course of the campaign. We saw that in the off year election in 1990, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and changed the outcome of several congressional races.
euronews: There is still no political agreement on how to solve America’s huge debt and deficit. Between Obama and those who want his job, is it clear yet where the voters see the most realistic promise?
Roberts: You know it is really interesting: hardly anyone is even talking about the debt and the deficit. The president gave his big state of the union speech last week and we never heard those words. It was remarkable. Obviously, it is still an enormous problem in this country, as it is in Europe, and there are still voices calling on the president and congress to take stern action but they have really not talked about it much at all. It is of course not something that anyone much wants to talk about because all of the solutions are unpleasant. It is either cut programmes that people like or raise taxes that people don’t like.
euronews: The two leading Republicans have toned down their rhetoric gradually… only for it to spike, occasionally. Will this continue?
Roberts: Newt Gingrich’s rhetoric over the weekend and this morning has been just as hot as it can be. He is now running so far behind Mitt Romney in the Florida polling that he is really going all out to attack Romney as a ‘Massachusetts Moderate’, which in Republican terms is not a good thing, saying that Romney is way too close to Barack Obama in his views, and really going after his honesty and integrity. So I think that we are seeing it heat up again.
euronews: What is the next big electoral day for us to watch, is it in early March?
Roberts: Yes, we have after this spate of January activity a quiet time after the Florida primary, where there are some little caucuses where people decide what they want to do about a candidate in a variety of states. At the very end of February, there are big primaries in Michigan and Arizona, and then March 6. It is so-called ‘Super Tuesday’, where a lot of states hold their contest, and so that is the next really big one coming up.