Web Chat: The Race for the GOP Nomination

The Republican race for the White House continued on Tuesday when voters in Maryland, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia went to the polls and cast their ballots for the party’s presidential nominee. Did the primaries help Mitt Romney cement his status as frontrunner? What’s next for Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich as the GOP nominating convention draws nearer?

William Galston answered your questions in a live web chat with moderator Vivyan Tran of POLITICO.

12:30 Vivyan Tran: Welcome everyone, let’s get started!

12:30 Comment From Anne: How would you grade Romney’s victories last night? Has he finally caught the momentum he needs?

12:31 William Galston: Romney expanded beyond his base, especially in Wisconsin, and more people are beginning to say that the race is all but over. So yes, I think he has.

12:31 Comment From Samantha: What’s next for the Romney campaign? Do they continue to spend and defeat Santorum once and for all, or do they pivot to Obama and hope that the rest of the GOP challengers fade away.

12:33 William Galston: They would clearly prefer to do the latter, but they may not have that luxury, at least until the Pennsylvanian primary a few weeks from now. If Romney beats Santorum in his home state, then Santorum will have no choice but to concede.

12:33 Comment From Joshua: Is there a make or break moment for Santorum now that he lost WI? Where does his campaign go from here?

12:34 William Galston: Yes, his home state of Pennsylvania. If he loses that, it’s over.

12:34 Comment From Don: Has Romney maxed out his donors already with the long fight in the primary? How does he fare moving forward?

12:35 William Galston: Yes, with many of them. But he has demonstrated the ability to raise the money he needs to wage the kind of campaign he prefers, and I expect that to continue. And the super PACs can fill in whatever gaps may emerge in his finances.

12:35 Comment From Gianne: How does the GOP see Romney? Are they hopeful that he can actually win the election in November?

12:37 William Galston: Good question. They’re somewhat disheartened right now, and Romney has some work to do to convince them that he’s not the second coming of Bob Dole.

12:37 Comment From Ted, Va: What role will super PACs play in the general election? I’ve heard that Obama’s has had difficulty raising money.

12:38 William Galston: Big on both sides, but probably bigger on the Republican side. Many of the big-money donors who supported Obama in 2008 have deserted him this time.

12:38 Comment From Bethany: Why do Paul and Gingrich continue to stay in the race? Haven’t they reached their expiration?

12:39 William Galston: Paul is running to strengthen the libertarian cause long-term, and Gingrich is running because he can’t bear the thought that his political career is over—which it is.

12:39 Comment From Doyle: If Mitt Romney is in fact on the way to a sure nomination, when should Rick Santorum drop out of the race?

12:41 William Galston: If Santorum really had the best interests of his party at heart, he would have dropped out this morning. But his fighter’s character won’t allow him to do that, even though the majority of his party would like him to.

12:41 Comment From George McCotter: Is it well and truly over? It feels like we’ve heard this before, and then something new happens to throw the nomination race into doubt.

12:43 William Galston: This time it is over, barring some hitherto unknown skeleton in Romney’s closet—which I suspect contains only blue jeans and blazers.

12:43 Comment From Cynthia E: The “etch-a-sketch” comment was seen as a gaffe, but isn’t there some truth to it? Can Romney undo whatever damage has been done to him during the nomination fight, and re-write his message for the general election? Primaries have low turnout, and the short attention span of the American voting public seems to be getting even shorter.

12:46 William Galston: Yes, there’s some truth to it, but not as much as there used to be. Modern communications make it much harder for candidates to put past statements behind them, and easier for adversaries to revive them as issues later on. Romney will have to live with what he thought he had to say to win the nomination.

12:46 Comment From Juliet: As of right now, who are some potential VPs for Romney? Is there anyone who might be able to lend him the dynamism that he lacks?

12:49 William Galston: He faces a choice between safe but dull running mates (Mitch Daniels or John Thune, for example) and more exciting but riskier possibilities such as Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal. Romney will make his choice based on a political assessment in the late summer.

12:49 Comment From Abigail: Has the long battle for the nomination hurt Romney’s election chances?

12:51 William Galston: In the short term, absolutely. As people have learned more about him, their opinion of him has declined substantially. Running hard to the right to get the nomination came at a cost, particularly among women and Hispanics. He has a lot of work to do to regain lost ground and may not be able to do so entirely.

12:51 Comment From Matthew C: As you see it right now, who wins in November? With the weak GOP field, is this election really just a referendum on Obama?

12:53 William Galston: You tell me how the economy does over the next six months and I’ll give you a firm answer. If it continues to improve as it has since last fall, Obama will be reelected. If it slows again, as it has twice already since hitting bottom, Romney’s critique will gain renewed traction.

12:53 Comment From Benjamin: What impact has the Tea Party had on Romney’s nomination? Will they ever accept him?

12:54 William Galston: They did in Wisconsin (check the exit polls), and they really really really want to get rid of Obama. So most of them will.

12:54 Comment From Jack: Who do you think would be good VP candidates for Romney, and who do you think he’ll end up choosing to be his running mate?

12:56 William Galston: For what it’s worth, modern VP candidates don’t make much of an electoral difference. So I think Romney should choose someone who (1) could help him govern and (2) would be seen as fully qualified to assume the presidency if something were to happen to the president. And then he should tell the country why he has chosen that person, citing those two reasons.

12:56 Comment From Septime D: I know the GOP isn’t all that thrilled with Romney. Is there still any chance for a brokered convention in Tampa?

12:56 William Galston: I really don’t think so.

12:56 Comment From Sally: A general question on the president’s role. Given that Congress is so polarized, is there really anything the next president can do to force meaningful action on the budget deficit, climate change or the other big issues? Is the president now reduced to simply having the bully pulpit?

12:58 William Galston: We don’t know what the composition of the next Congress will be. If Romney wins and the Republicans take the Senate and hold the House, they’ll try to do what the Democrats did when they controlled everything in 2009.

12:58 Comment From Nathan: Has Romney put the whole Mormon thing to rest? Or will it be a problem in the general election with his base?

12:59 William Galston: Based on the polling I’ve seen, it won’t. It may have mattered some during the primary, but the most conservative, evangelical Protestants prefer a Mormon to an incumbent they see as hostile to their values and whom many of them continue to regard as a closet Muslim.

12:59 Vivyan Tran: Thanks for the questions everyone. See you next week.