The Republican primaries in the US—the long process that decides who the party’s presidential candidate will be—started in the Midwestern state of Iowa last week. The contest moved on to New Hampshire this Tuesday.
Mitt Romney won the Iowa primary, narrowly beating Rick Santorum. Both candidates are charmless reactionaries pitching for the “cultural conservative” vote.
Romney started his career in the 1990s supporting abortion rights and gay rights. He ditched both these positions as they became increasingly unfashionable inside the Republican Party. In 2007 he declared that “we ought to double” the size of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.
Santorum, in mild contrast, has been a consistent bigot all his life. He is currently grubbing after the homophobe vote by making a series of statements comparing homosexuality to bestiality, polygamy and incest.
In an interview a few years ago he declared, “The definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That’s not to pick on homosexuality. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be.”
He also wants to bomb Iran. In an interview earlier this month he accused Iran of building nuclear weapons facilities, and ordered its government to “dismantle them… or we will degrade those facilities through airstrikes”.
The maverick candidate Ron Paul took third place. He has styled himself as an anti-war libertarian and has picked up some misguided left support as a result.
But Paul’s track record reveals a rather different picture. From 1990 to 1993 Paul put his name to a series of viciously racist articles in his newsletter “Dr Ron Paul’s Freedom Report”.
He attacked Martin Luther King as a “pro‑communist philanderer” and sneered that the US national holiday in King’s honour was “Hate Whitey Day”.
Paul now claims that the newsletters were written by an unnamed ghostwriter and that he had no knowledge of their contents. Yet in 1996, when the issue of the racist newsletters first emerged, Paul defended the articles and took responsibility for their contents.
And Paul’s supposed “libertarian” views don’t stretch to women having the right to choose. He doesn’t just want abortion banned—he wants to criminalise the medical workers who carry them out.
“There has to be a criminal penalty for the person that’s committing that crime. And I think that is the abortionist,” his website declares.
The quality of the Republican candidates is poor—even by the standards of the ruling class. This reflects a wider crisis on the right following Barack Obama’s victory and the rise of a new radical left led by the Occupy movement.
Reeling from defeat, the Republican Party finds itself increasingly the prisoner of its hard right popular base. This includes the Tea Party movement, cultivated and bankrolled by the secretive Koch brothers, which is obsessed with proving that Obama is Muslim and foreign.
The result has been to drive away any Republican who doesn’t sign up to this paranoid and bigoted agenda. David Frum, a leading neoconservative and former Bush speechwriter, recently complained of being sidelined by the Tea Party right as a “RINO”—Republican In Name Only.
Things have come to a pretty pass when an ideological architect of the Iraq war despairs that he is too moderate for his own party.
At this rate it looks as though whoever wins the primaries is unlikely to appeal to the US public mood. But Obama cannot rest easily either.
The Republicans might look like a busted flush in the election. But Obama is trapped by the economic crisis and incapable of posing an alternative to austerity.
In September, Obama’s approval ratings sank to a low of 43 percent. It reflected his failure to stand up to the Republicans, who provoked a crisis over the national debt. The number of new voters registering as Democrats is on the slide, indicating a lack of enthusiasm over Obama’s presidency.
Previously anger at austerity, banks and corporations had no significant political outlet in the US. But the Occupy movement has challenged that. This growing radical popular movement is galvanising the US working class—and offering a real hope for the mass of Americans.