Fussing over the primaries will leave no energy come November

The Republican candidates have been at each other’s throats for so long that it seems they have forgotten what still lies ahead.

As Sens. Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum grapple for each state and Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul trail behind, President Barack Obama’s approval ratings have been steadily rising. As the economy improves, more independents prefer the incumbent. Last week in Ohio — an important swing state — polls showed Obama narrowly ahead of Romney, who won the Republican primary in the state. For the first time since 2010, more Democrats than Republicans have reported to pollsters that they are “excited to vote.”

In a primary, candidates work primarily to please activists and their own party’s base; however, when the primaries are over, they move into the national sphere, where they must now appeal to independents, centrists and moderates without explicit party affiliations.

This long, chaotic and particularly brutal GOP primary may end up alienating these voters, spelling disaster for the Republicans in the upcoming general election. In a recent NBC/WSJ poll, four in 10 respondents said that “the GOP nominating process has given them a less favorable impression of the Republican Party.”

This election was supposed to be about the economy, but as unemployment continues to fall and the economy continues to recover, Americans have become more optimistic. Without the anger and pessimism of the recession, the GOP has had to move to a more emotional and social issue for Republican voters. New bills designed to limit women’s access to abortion and contraception are popping up in conservative bastions across the country. Santorum, the most extreme social conservative in the race, has attacked higher education, contraception, homosexuality and even women working outside the home. Romney soon followed, accusing Obama of assaulting religion and erroneously referring to the morning after pill as an abortion pill.

Unfortunately for them, all of this posturing has done little more than leave a bad taste in the mouths of independent voters. In the previously mentioned NBC/WSJ poll, Obama is polling far better with independents than Romney — especially with female independents who have presumably been scared away from the Republican candidates by their recent attacks on reproductive health and women’s position in society.

Even other Republicans are disturbed by the extreme right-wing views espoused by these primary candidates. Maine Republican Olympia Snowe is stepping down over the “hyper-partisan” climate in Congress. Even Jeb Bush, younger brother of former President George W. Bush, seems disillusioned. “I used to be a conservative,” he admitted after a speech in Dallas last week. “I don’t think I’ve changed, but it’s a little troubling sometimes when people are appealing to people’s fears and emotion rather than trying to get them to look over the horizon for a broader perspective.”

The small segment of the voting populace that wants to turn back the cultural clock is not large enough to ensure a Republican candidate will win the election, but they could be large enough to lose it.

“It makes the party look like it isn’t a modern party,” Rudy Giuliani confessed to CNN. “It doesn’t understand the modern world that we live in.”

The truth is that most Americans are far more concerned with their own lives and than what the couple next door is doing behind closed doors. The winner of the primary will have a great deal of public backtracking to do if they want to stand a chance with the swing voters.

Emily Brooks is an economics senior and may be reached at [email protected].

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