published Thursday, March 15th, 2012

A still-divided GOP

Republican presidential primaries and caucuses on Tuesday in which Rick Santorum swept two Southern states and Mitt Romney won two caucuses are another indication that the GOP remains a sharply divided party unable to unite behind a candidate to carry its banner against President Barack Obama in the November election. Santorum and Romney, though, can find some positives in Tuesday's results. Newt Gingrich not so much.

Santorum can crow about his first place finishes in Alabama and Mississippi, and the momentum it gives him in upcoming primaries. Romney can point to caucus victories in Hawaii and America Samoa and his still commanding lead in the delegate count -- despite third place finishes in the Tuesday state primaries -- as evidence of the viability of his campaign. Their race continues in Puerto Rico, Missouri and Illinois, the next primary battlefields.

Gingrich, who finished second in Alabama and Mississippi -- states he earlier said he "had" to win -- can do little more than bluster and prattle on about his chances if there is an open convention. He says he'll continue to campaign, but his failure to win over voters in his native South pretty much relegates him to the category of also-ran rather than contender.

Tuesday's totals again expose problems within the Republican party. After weeks of primary campaigning and voting, there's still no leading candidate. Factions within the party, in fact, are so splintered that divisiveness continues to grow. Any hope of cohesion remains distant. Santorum and Gingrich are splitting the conservative, working-class vote and Romney is winning the more affluent and moderate voters in the party. Paul continues to nibble at the edges.

That is understandably troubling to Republican leaders, who would like the party to quickly unite behind one candidate capable of defeating President Obama. That's nowhere near happening, as Tuesday's results show. Romney, according to polls of likely GOP voters, still is the candidate thought most likely to be able defeat the president in November, but voters haven't backed that belief in the primaries. His opponents continue to prosper enough to prolong the primary campaign.

The result is that Romney, still the presumptive nominee for the Republican nomination, has been forced to concentrate his efforts on defeating the men who continue to dog him in the primaries. Doing so consumes time, money and energy that he and party regulars know would be better spent preparing for a race against President Obama. That, as Tuesday's results suggest, is now unlikely to occur prior to the party's nominating convention.

Instead, Romney and his opponents remain mired in an increasingly tiresome campaign that shows the deep divide and weaknesses in their party, that exposes the shallowness of their personal and political vision, and that utterly fails to address the needs and desires of the American people.

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