After Mitt Romney failed to land the knockout punch he had hoped for on Super Tuesday, many commentators noted that the real winner of the Republican primaries so far has been Barack Obama, arguing that the fractious nature of the current campaign will weaken the Republican Party's chances at the White House in November. A week ago, the president even joked that the Republicans had been inflicting so much damage on themselves that he should just play clips of the Republican presidential debates "without commentary" as advertisements for his re-election.
During a discussion at the Bipartisan Policy Center on Thursday, the panel of guests uniformly disagreed with this assessment. Mitt Romney, who they agreed would be the Republican nominee in all likely scenarios, actually stands to benefit from the drawn-out campaign, they said.
David Norcross, credited as one of the architects of the current primary season's calendar, told those gathered at the discussion that divisive primaries do not destroy parties. Regarding Republicans, he explained, "We're all warriors, we've all got weapons in our belts and guns in our holsters. When there are no Democrats to fight, we fight with each other to stay sharp."
Jay Cost, a staff writer at the Weekly Standard, agreed with the idea that Romney is sharpening his knives before bringing them to the eventual fight with Barack Obama. "If you think of it from the perspective of the Romney team learning how to run a national campaign, then I think that's probably helped him," he said.
The panel used the 2008 Democratic primary, in which Obama and Hillary Clinton battled for their party's nomination into June, as a parallel for what is happening this year.
"Four years ago, I was delighted that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were beating each other up into June," Norcross explained. "I knew in my heart that women were not going to vote for Barack Obama because they were so offended about what had happened to Hillary Clinton. Well, I sure hit that one out of the park," he joked.
Curtis Gans, director of the Center for Study of the American Electorate and an expert on voter turnout and participation, agreed with Norcross's analysis. "It wouldn't be terrible if the thing ran until June. If you remember in 2008, the Democrats ran beyond then, and actually created a more favorable viewing for their candidates, created more interest, and built their organizations," Gans said, adding that the long primary season will make Romney a better candidate for "party and country."
In debunking the idea that Obama stands to gain because of the current state of the Republican primary, Norcross held that Republicans who are opposed to Barack Obama would never be swayed to vote for him. Despite the months spent pointing out each other's flaws, Republicans will eventually heal.
"The thing that's going to put the Republican Party back together, no matter who the nominee is," Norcross explained, "is Barack Obama."