Rupert Cornwell: The Romney dog-food brand still isn't selling

Out of America: The Republican frontrunner can't seem to win over the party faithful

Share
Related Topics

For sheer craziness, few events on the American political calendar beat the annual gathering in a cavernous Washington hotel each February of the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Republicans with the slightest instinct for compromise need not apply. A CPAC is part political trade fair, part motivational course for tomorrow's right-wing true believers, and not least an opportunity for the further fringes of the party to vent their innermost prejudices.

And in the past these conferences have featured some strange stars. In 1994, CPAC was where Paula Jones first went public with her allegations of sexual harassment against then President Bill Clinton. But the CPAC that wrapped up here last night was different. For once, it may have really mattered.

For that, thank the calendar of this extraordinary Republican presidential race. This time last week, Mitt Romney, fresh from convincing wins in Florida and Nevada, looked to have the nomination in the bag. Then came Rick Santorum's sweep in Missouri, Colorado and Minnesota – meaning that the frontrunner had actually lost five of the first eight primaries and caucuses, four of them to Santorum and one to Newt Gingrich. And so to CPAC, at which all three made their pitches.

In truth, the Santorum hat-trick was less than met the eye. In Colorado and Minnesota, turnouts were derisory. In the latter's caucuses fewer than 49,000 took part – equivalent to 4 per cent of the votes cast in the state for Republican candidate John McCain in November 2008. Those who did take part were not the committed, but the ultra-committed. That vote proved not so much the popularity of Santorum (although he is a nice enough fellow) but the continuing refusal of the base to embrace Romney.

Now the latter is still favourite, at least as long as Messrs Santorum and Gingrich continue to split the conservative vote. In Missouri, the former House speaker was not on the ballot and Santorum won an outright majority of 55 per cent. There's no sign of it happening, but if either was to drop out, then Romney would be in dire trouble.

Even so, rarely has a frontrunner been less convincing. Romney's problem is that of the boss of the dog food company of legend, bewildered why his product won't sell despite having the best ingredients and an unmatched marketing operation. A minion finally pipes up: "But dogs don't like it."

For dogs, read the evangelical and social activists who remain suspicious of a candidate branded by his successful governorship of liberal and sinful Massachusetts. To them, Romney seems a fraud, all things to all men, without a political fibre in his body beyond an inflexible desire to win the White House. Perhaps these unhappy beasts will know what's best for them, and dutifully swallow the dog food. But perhaps not. CPAC was a chance for Romney to win over true conservatives, live on television.

He did his best. He declared himself not just conservative, but "severely conservative". He vowed to repeal Barack Obama's healthcare reform. He proclaimed the dawn of a new conservative era. He touted his record of having never served a day in Washington, the fount of government and therefore of all evil. But for all the hollering of the Romney faithful in the hall, you couldn't be sure.

An hour earlier Santorum had been introduced by his key financial backer, the investor Foster Friess. "A conservative, a liberal and a moderate walked into a bar," Friess joked. "The bartender said, 'Hi Mitt!'" Santorum is a mint-certified social conservative, to whom abortion and gay marriage are anathema. Whatever he lacks, it isn't authenticity. He spoke for barely 15 minutes. But the welcoming ovation he received sounded more sincere.

Santorum questioned his opponent's supposedly greater electability, one of the main selling points of Romney-brand dog food. "Why," he asked, "would an undecided voter vote for a candidate the party's not excited about?" And, he urged: "Walk out of this gathering and choose the person who makes you say, 'I have done my duty, I have kept my honour.'"

Did Romney persuade the doubters? One indicator was yesterday's Maine caucuses. Romney only just beat – by 39 per cent to 36 per cent – Ron Paul, his only rival to campaign here. Earlier, he edged Santorum in a CPAC straw poll by 38 per cent to 31. Far more important will be the primaries in Arizona and Michigan at the end of February. A defeat in his birth state of Michigan would be devastating, but cannot be ruled out. And if the frontrunner were to lose there, the desperation in the Republican establishment truly would be something to behold.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Grange Retirement Home: Full Time Care Team Manager

£22,400: The Grange Retirement Home: This is a key role which requires a sound...

Guru Careers: Membership Administrator

£23K: Guru Careers: We're seeking an experienced Membership Administrator, to ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K YR1: SThree: At SThree, we like to be dif...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

£30 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL) i...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: Inequality in Britain – a defence of the mansion tax

John Rentoul
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada