Leading article: Mr Obama must avoid the trap of complacency

A keenly fought American election is good for the US and for democracy

Share
Related Topics

The decision by Rick Santorum to suspend his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination leaves the former Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, clear to become his party's candidate to challenge Barack Obama. The contest that has seemed likely since the start of the primary season – despite a few upsets along the way – has now become a certainty. It will be Obama against Romney in November.

This result might have been expected, but the primary season has been costly for the Republicans, and in some senses is not over yet. The cost lies less in the length of the campaign than in the rawness of the battles and the depth of the personal animosities on display. That Mr Santorum merely suspended his candidacy, rather than declaring it over, and chose not to endorse his main rival is evidence of the continued ill feeling. Mr Santorum may have been beaten by the numbers and the money, but he is sticking to his politics – a breach that can only harm the party's prospects.

The exit of the third candidate, Newt Gingrich, can now only be a matter of time. But his relative good humour and declining impact make him a benign force in the party compared with Mr Santorum, whose particular brand of conservative conviction politics retains its appeal for many Republicans. The more exotic outliers of the Tea Party movement seemed unusually quiet through the primaries, but that was in part because their concerns were voiced by Mr Santorum. The yawning ideological rift will not be easily bridged.

Such persistent tensions aside, early polls consistently forecast that Mr Romney would be a more even match for Mr Obama than any other Republican. And, despite the bruising primary season, that may still be true. Yet the election-year dynamics have been changing, and mostly in Mr Obama's favour. The US economy is starting to look healthier than it did. The killing of the unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, in Florida – which mesmerised America – returns the race issue to the spotlight and tilts the political advantage further towards Mr Obama. Demography is also working for the Democrat, with younger voters more open-minded on race and sexual mores than their parents and grandparents.

Mr Romney has his own personal and political baggage: from his Mormonism – which was no bar to his election as governor of Massachusetts 10 years ago, but which appears to have been a liability in the southern primaries – to the extent he minimised the taxes paid on his personal wealth, to the similarities between the healthcare reforms he introduced as state governor and those of Mr Obama's controversial health reforms. Mr Romney may have won the nomination, but he prevailed in a weak field and starts his campaign proper with numerous disadvantages.

Half a year, though, is as long a time in US politics as it is anywhere else. And Mr Obama cannot afford to be complacent. He has the advantages of incumbency, but the disadvantages, too, if something seriously untoward occurs on his watch. He will also know that what the most conservative Republicans lack in numbers, they make up for in commitment and perseverance. Mr Romney, for his part, is no political neophyte, and will have behind him all the campaign power that money can buy.

In the absence of a plausible third candidate – which cannot even at this stage be completely ruled out – it is to be hoped that Mr Romney can make a real contest of it. It is salutary for any national leader seeking re-election to have to return to the campaign trail and defend his record. With the eyes of the world on its progress, a keenly-fought American election is good for the next President, good for the United States and good for the cause of democracy, too.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: the paraphernalia of a practised burglar – screwdrivers, gloves, children

Guy Keleny
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits  

So who, really, is David Cameron, our re-elected ‘one nation’ Prime Minister?

Andrew Grice
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?