x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

US primaries a showcase for the perfect political animal

He should arrive at the contest unscarred by the kind of damaging fights that are regularly conducted by career politicians on the campaign trail. In other words, he should be Mitt Romney.

Imagine for a moment that somewhere in middle America there sits a facility dedicated to developing a political animal capable of winning a presidential election. Now, imagine what that "perfect" candidate would look like once it emerged, fully formed, from that facility?

Well he (and history suggests he will be male) is likely to be white, fit, healthy, married with children and possessed of a personal history that is largely untainted by scandal. In an era where, like it or not, image is everything, he should also be blessed with sufficient good looks to soothe the sore eyes of the American electorate, but not be too good-looking to mean that he can't connect with the average voter.

He should most definitely not be a career politician, but rather, the candidate is encouraged to be a "Washington outsider", someone who may have wrestled with (and beaten) adversity in his personal life before turning his hand a few years earlier to the mucky, murky world of politics - and when he did, to have used his worldly knowledge to overcome the kind of problems that leave most mere mortals (for that read, average politicians) struggling to find solutions.

In other words, he should arrive at the contest unscarred by the kind of damaging fights that are regularly conducted by career politicians on the campaign trail.

In other words, he should be Mitt Romney.

The former governor of Massachusetts and current candidate for the Republican Party nomination is all of the above, yet he can't seem to defeat the seemingly lacklustre collection of opponents who stand against him in the 2012 primary season.

There is no easy way to explain Romney's plight. In almost every respect apart from the ones that matter - credibility with and attractiveness to the party faithful - he appears as some kind of perfect prototype. There is little within his fairly stodgy pro-budget balancing, anti-Obamacare, gun control-moderate policies to suggest he will be unpalatable to the electorate. There is only, perhaps, the matter of his religion.

Likewise, there is nothing within his key opponents' make-up - yesterday's man (Newt Gingrich) and the ill-advised man who says the incumbent president is a "snob" for wanting America's high-school graduates to further their education at university (Rick Santorum) - to suggest he should be overly troubled along the road to this August's party convention in Florida.

This week's Super Tuesday series of primaries should have provided the platform for Romney to walk comfortably to Tampa and begin to think about the greater challenge ahead of how to unseat President Obama, who we know is a consummate campaigner but whose White House years have been less than sparkling. Instead, Romney faces a tricky next act before he can even get to that scene.

Even with a win by a slim margin in Ohio, the key state in the 10 Super Tuesday primaries, and victories in four other contests, it is hard to know what Romney should do next.

He consistently and spectacularly out-campaigns and outspends his opponents in every territory he contests, has the backing of many of the GOP's senior Washington figures and, crucially, polls well against the incumbent president, and yet the grassroots members of his party refuse to be told, or listen to, the message that Romney is right for the Republicans.

The Democrats endured a similarly bruising primary season in 2008, before Obama belatedly secured his party's nomination. Infighting itself is not insurmountable here, but if the party faithful refuse to rally around Romney and his opponents hang around in a race they cannot win - and the big takeaway from Super Tuesday is likely to be that Santorum and Gingrich can no longer garner enough delegate votes to secure the nomination - then Romney's White House dream seems likely to remain locked firmly within the realms of fantasy.