Just when you thought the GOP was headed off the moral cliff, reality has struck. This week, Gallup reported that unemployment rocketed up to 9% from 8.3% in February. This should sober up the Republican candidates and voters. It should, but the GOP has often shown itself to be a suicidal political party.
There's a reason why, in the last several weeks, the Republican primary campaign has been dominated by candidates' news bites and emotionalized commentaries on social issues --- contraception, abortion, gay marriage. Previously, fiscal imbalances, economic reverberations from the 2008 financial crisis, and war clouds over the Middle East were the focus of the candidates, voters, and 19 debates.
That reason is that January's unemployment statistics showed an improving economy.
The Department of Labor Statistics reported that unemployment in January had dropped to 8.3%. President Obama's approval ratings began to rise, especially in several key battleground states.
Also with that report, the wind was vacuumed out of the Romney campaign.
Jobs and the economy were Mitt Romney's focus from the beginning. He would thrive or die based on the state of the economy and new job formation.
So when unemployment statistics in January showed a drop to 8.3%, his campaign faltered. Rick Santorum saw an opening and took it.
Enter the plethora of Santorum-friendly issues that enveloped the primaries. This switch was heightened by a court case in California (same sex marriage), an anti-abortion measure in Virginia, and the strategic decision by the Obama Administration to take on the Catholic Church on contraception insurance coverage. At its crescendo, Rick Santorum described a secular society not based on religious principles as a renewal of the French Revolution and "the guillotine."
Then on Monday, Gallup Poll released its unexpected survey report. "The U.S. unemployment rate, as measured by Gallup without seasonal adjustment, is 9.0% in mid-February," Gallup said in its mid-month unemployment survey, released on February 17. "The mid-month reading normally reflects what the U.S. government reports for the entire month, and is up from 8.3% in mid-January."
The survey also found that "underemployment" -- those unemployed and those working part-time because full-time jobs are unavailable -- rose to 19 percent, up from the 18.7 percent.
If the month-ending Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment report does fall in line with the mid-month Gallup survey, the Romney campaign should be solidly back on track. Even if unemployment rates gyrate up and down in upcoming months, with last month's up tick, no real trend has been established.
The economy, not social issues, will be the prime concern for voters, along with the growing Iran crisis and its impact on gas prices. That may have saved the GOP.
The Republican Party is not a party; it is a loose coalition made of factions that really don't like each other.
Only a strong leader or a weak economy have united the party. That strong leader has yet to emerge in 2012. True, we've seen rotating front runners -- from Romney to Cain to Gingrich to Santorum and likely back to Romney.
We'll see if Mitt Romney can emerge from the savage beating that he's endured in the primaries as hardened, strong and inspiring leader.
In the end, the economy will decide his and President Obama's fate.
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