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Matthew Norman

Matthew Norman: Obama has nothing to fear from this freakshow

The GOP is putting on a Tea Party-backed, smash hit revival of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'

The Republicans of Florida are voting for their least unfavourite presidential wannabe as I write, and barring a miracle to dwarf Hillary Clinton's resurrection in New Hampshire four years ago, Mitt Romney will have given his animatronic victory speech in the early hours of this morning.

If the final opinion polls were accurate, he will have crushed Newt Gingrich in the Sunshine State by a margin to persuade a defeated candidate on speaking terms with normality to consider withdrawing, to allow Romney a clear(ish) run at the White House.

So fellow fans of unabridged US political merriment will join me in rejoicing that Gingrich is as vengeful as he is megalomaniacal. The former Speaker is hell-bent on taking his losing battle all the way to the Republican convention in the autumn.

Although the messiah of lunar colonisation evidently regards himself as Jesus (as well as Reagan, Thatcher, Lincoln, Uncle Tom Jefferson and all), the biblical character he has chosen to play for the rest of this campaign is Samson. If he cannot survive, he means to bring the temple roof down on his enemy as well as himself. Having already done the Democrats' spadework by savaging Romney as the vulture capitalist who made his huge fortune by asset-stripping away countless jobs, he alleges that Romney stole kosher food from the mouths of elderly Jews. Meanwhile, Mittens is content to counterstrike, through surrogates such as Bob Dole, by highlighting the obscure fact that Gingrich is cuckoo bananas.

And so the travelling freak show will roll on for months, zigzagging America from sea to shining sea, for the edification of grateful rubes. Admittedly, it has lost many attractions. Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain are sorely missed, while Sarah Palin's no-show was a tragedy for us all.

However, residual dissatisfaction with the surviving quartet, completed by the libertarian alleged racist Ron Paul and Gaybasher-In-Chief Rick Santorum, is such that an electrifying chance remains of Palin joining the circus. Her latest keynote address on Facebook seems to hint coquettishly at a possible late entry. There is also wishful thinking among GOP voters and establishment about a serious candidate having an eleventh-hour run. Former First Brother Jeb Bush, the obesely abrasive Chris Christie and the staidly impressive Mitch Daniels are all princes across the water to Republicans praying for a restoration of sanity. But while this rollercoaster may have a few more stomach-churning plummets for Romney in store, his robotic competence and funding advantage are almost certain to make him the last act standing.

What has gone largely unnoticed amid all the excitement is that it may not matter much who is nominated. Romney's championing of quasi-universal healthcare in Massachussetts, among other weak flanks, will make him easy prey to the hyper-sophisticated Obama electoral machine, while in general election terms Gingrich is a joke. But Obama, though widely regarded as vulnerable, might be at very low risk even if a stronger challenger emerges.

"Follow the money" may be associated with Richard Nixon's demise, but the mantra serves for any political race. The most reliable indicator of any election is where professional punters are putting their cash, and lately they have been lumping on the plucky little pragmatic centrist from Hawaii.

The odds, narrowly against him a few months ago, are now firmly on him winning a second term. Betfair makes him the 8-11 favourite, and even this strikes me as a steal. His approval ratings have been nudging stealthily from deep in negative territory towards the positive. Even Rasmussen, a polling firm whose reliance on an ageing white demographic does him no favours, has him approved by 51 per cent, a figure which has historically guaranteed a second term.

This improvement isn't due solely to the GOP's Tea Party-backed, smash hit revival of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Slowly, gingerly, but discernably, the US economy is recovering. Unemployment, though still horrendous at 8.5 per cent, is down and falling steadily. Growth in GDP, though still low by US post-recessionary standards, is 2.6 per cent according to the latest monthly figure, which looks spectacular from our perspective. The recovery remains fragile, and at grave risk from rising fuel costs and any further eurozone calamities. But, if it endures, Obama would be in shape to trounce a less compromised and robotic rival than Romney, whose career of frantic flip-flopping looks more likely by the week to end with a flop.

Even if the economy stagnates again, another few months of reciprocal bitch-slapping between Mormon Mitt and the only living Newt even Ken Livingstone would struggle to fancy will make Betfair's 8-11 look, with hindsight, like an invitation to buy cheap money.

No doubt the President's election TV commercials will linger lovingly on his announcement of Osama bin Laden's execution, the obvious aesthetic highlight of his first term so far. However, his greatest electoral blessing will not be the foreign foe he killed, but the domestic enemies who opted for mutually assured destruction in the noble cause of returning him to the White House safe and sound.