Six US states went to Mitt Romney, three to Rick Santorum, one to Newt Gingrich. Super Tuesday proved one thing: Republicans don’t know what they want. This could be problematic in the presidential election in November.
How quickly things change. "Six months ago, thanks to the economic situation, it seemed as if the Republicans were guaranteed to win the presidential election," says Kyle Scott, a political scientist at North Carolina's Duke University.
But, he says, because they haven't been able to choose a single candidate to take on US President Barack Obama, the Republicans' chances are now dwindling. It's a fine line between a primary campaign that toughens a candidate for the actual fight and a duel that leaves the winner badly wounded heading in to the next round.
And Mitt Romney, the current favorite, has taken a beating, according to Thomas Mann, of the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., an observer of the political scene for decades.
"His approval ratings have dropped; his esteem has fallen with independent voters; the Democrats are united in their opposition and the Republicans are wary and uncertain," he says.
Mann says he has never seen such a weak field of candidates. The reason for this, he says, is that the Republicans find themselves in a transitional phase. "We're seeing a generational change, where new leaders will have to come to the fore," he says.
Too far to the right
In addition, Mann says the Republican ideology has moved too far to the right. During the 2010 congressional election, the influence of the conservative Tea Party movement still had a positive effect, but now, "even former President Ronald Reagan wouldn't be welcome as a candidate," he says.
"Evidently, the Republicans are looking for the ideal candidate, something that doesn't exist in politics," says Scott.
The pragmatic choice would be Romney. The former governor of Massachusetts would, according to Scott, be able to gather support in cities in states like Ohio, for example. This would be the deciding factor in the fight against Obama, who enjoyed strong support there in the 2008 election. In the rural areas, where Santorum has the edge, the Republicans would have the upper hand anyway, according to Scott.
Pragmatists vs. idealists
Scott says the reluctance of the Republicans to unite behind one candidate points to the fact that they are divided. "There are groups that see personal freedom as the most important issue, no matter the cost, while others emphasize traditional family values and the greatness of America," he says.
And both these values are colliding. A candidate that supports personal freedoms and a government that interferes as little as possible in the lives of its citizens cannot at the same time be for military intervention and against same-sex marriage. Scott says the Republicans will have to come to a decision if they want to present a united front.
As long as the four very different candidates continue to vie for the presidential nomination, the Republican Party will remain at odds. However, Brian Darling, of the conservative Heritage Foundation, expects that at least one candidate will soon throw in the towel.
"Newt Gingrich will find it difficult to stay in the race if he isn't able to win the next primaries in Alabama and Mississippi," he says.
Increasing market value
Why someone like Gingrich, who no longer has much of a real chance at winning the nomination, stays in the race is a matter of reputation, says Scott.
"The longer you stay in the race and the more money your opponent must spend to defeat you, the better your chances at a top cabinet position," he says. A prime example can be seen on the other side of the political spectrum in the form of Hillary Clinton, the current secretary of state under former rival Obama.
In the end, Darling, who has advised Republican representatives for many years, says the Republicans will unite behind one candidate, even if their hearts aren't in it. This applies to both parties, he says, referring to the disappointment many Democrats are feeling with President Obama.
"I believe both the conservatives and the liberals won't be showing much enthusiasm for their candidates [in this election]," says Darling, adding that the Republicans will, however, be united in their opposition against the president.
Anything is still possible
Darling doesn't agree with the accusation that the Republicans have moved too far to the right, leaving Reagan out in the cold.
"Reagan was only seen as pragmatic after his term of office came to an end," he says. "He approached his campaign as a conservative candidate taking on the establishment. A Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum presidency would be right of center, not right-wing."
Darling believes Santorum still has a chance to win the candidacy - but only if Gingrich doesn't stay in the race for much longer. Both men are competing for the same Christian conservative voters. Ron Paul, on the other hand, will stay on to the bitter end, according to nearly all political experts, and may even stand as a third candidate against Obama and his Republican challenger.
But there's still a long way to go until November - and if the economy takes another downturn, then everything could be up in the air once again.
Author: Christina Bergmann, Washington, DC / cmk
Editor: Spencer Kimball