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Abby Huntsman Livingston

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What's Taking So Long?

Posted: 02/29/2012 10:31 am

So far this election cycle Americans have been thoroughly entertained by nearly 30 debates, a record number of frontrunners (even Donald Trump was leading at one point), and an endless barrage of outrageous sound bites. Nonetheless, the primary remains undecided, with many still wondering if a knight in shining armor could still appear to unite the party; or, if in fact an arranged marriage is the only foreseeable outcome.

At this point in 2008, Senator McCain was the clear front-runner, with no talk of a brokered convention. Not the case today. While Governor Romney may not be the strongest of candidates (for a multitude of reasons), no one can argue that he hasn't "done enough" to have the nomination wrapped up. With the establishment behind him, an endless list of endorsements, a perfectly organized campaign, and enough money to take on President Obama in the fall, why are his advisers now warning donors and supporters to prepare for an expensive, long and brutal fight for the presidential nomination? And, more importantly, why is this election cycle so uncertain compared to primary fights of years past?

You hear it over and over again, "the media is to blame." And they're surely the most common scapegoat; after all they do decide what they want to cover and how they want to cover it. They possess the loudest voice, ultimately controlling the narrative. For instance, the GOP debates have arguably been the strongest factor influencing voter opinion this election cycle. With ratings in mind, it's no surprise the media continuously look for ways to perpetuate a "horse race," building candidates up, just to tear them down. They have been able to utilize forums and questioning that focus on scandal and conflict rather than the most pertinent issues of the day.

Then there is the argument that the long, drawn-out primary is mainly due to the new RNC rules in which most states award delegates to candidates proportionally, as opposed to winner take all. And furthermore that it is an unhealthy recipe when the Democrats have an incumbent president running. Others would argue that this is a positive development, allowing for deeper discussions and a more accurate display of support among the party. The new rules may slow down the primary process and ultimately make it more difficult for Republicans to get elected, but it properly vets candidates' ability to communicate their message and it gives lesser-known candidates the ability to introduce themselves to the voters. If the old delegate selection rules were still in place, Santorum would have had a very difficult time enduring the early Romney and Gingrich wins.

Although no one can be certain, I would argue that the divided electorate, with divergent opinions and priorities, is most responsible for the current divide and uncertainty within the party today. No one could have predicted the strength and influence of the Tea Party Movement. Some would even argue that their views are different enough from a mainstream Republican that they should form their own political party. It is no secret that many conservatives feel a bit disenfranchised and would consider either putting up another candidate or staying home on election night, if they don't feel the eventual nominee reflects their priorities and frustration with the current administration. If this ends up being the case, the GOP will lack its base and ultimately lose in November.

It isn't uncommon for groups to form during times of uncertainty. The current divide between the more conservative and moderate "factions" is reminiscent of the Republican Party in 1964. The John Birch society, similar in effect to the Tea Party, was a strong voice that ultimately impacted the nominee chosen. After the assassination of JFK, we were an unsettled nation at war with many possessing anti-communist sentiments. The Republican Party totally shunned mainstream moderate leaders, like Henry Cabot Lodge and Nelson Rockefeller, leaving them in the hands of Barry Goldwater, who ultimately was not strong enough to unite the broader Party. If 1964 is any indication of how things will play out, regardless of what happens in the coming weeks and months, it seems unlikely that the Republican nominee will be able to excite and unite the party to the degree necessary to defeat President Obama in the fall.

Perhaps multiple reasons are to blame for the uncertainty of the GOP today and the likely forced marriage that will prevail. But, in the end, this is our system, which is still the greatest in the world. It isn't perfect and will continue to evolve as it has since the founding of our country. While the Democrats may have a perceived advantage this time around, this may be the perfect time for the party to re-evaluate and begin rebuilding its core.