As the battle between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich for the Republican presidential nomination grows ever more bitter — with Rick Santorum and Ron Paul occasionally throwing grenades into the ring — the question arises as to whether the GOP can achieve unity in the fall campaign.
Some might say that the Democratic Party experience of four years ago is instructive in that regard. But I don’t buy it.
Yes, the fight between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for the nomination was said at the time to have been bruising. And yes, there emerged among die-hard Hillaryites a movement called PUMA (Party Unity My Ass), but the vast majority of Democrats were pretty much united behind Obama well before election day.
By comparison, the situation among the Republicans of 2012 strikes me as much more problematic. For starters, the attacks on each other by Romney and Gingrich are far more nasty than anything Clinton and Obama exchanged four years ago. These guys are impugning each other’s character in truly ugly terms. Moreover, they both know that this year is do-or-die for their presidential ambitions. Newt will be too old in 2016, and Mitt will have failed twice and thus been made virtually ineligible.
Then, too, either of these men are utterly unacceptable to certain wings of the Republican Party — Newt to the establishment types, and Mitt to the Tea Party folks. Nor would that latter group likely embrace a so-called compromise nominee drafted at a brokered convention this coming August.
In the wake of last week’s South Carolina primary, which saw Gingrich rise from the political dead yet again, the coming days and weeks of the GOP campaign almost certainly will see him and Romney double-down in their attacks on each other. The wounds to the party will become ever more severe.
My feeling that Republicans will have big trouble achieving party unity when this battle for the nomination is over will be dismissed by some as just wishful thinking by a liberal Democrat. But I honestly believe it’s true.
The Republican Party of 2012 is nothing like the Democratic Party of 2008 in terms of its ability to reunite at its convention and thereafter. Not even close.