Romney Wins, Santorum Stumbles, and Gingrich Gaffes: The Highs and Lows of the 2012 Republican Primary

As the Republican Primary winds to a close, I thought it would be an appropriate time to look back and reflect on the three major candidates' high and low points from a primary that was never expected to be this competitive or colorful.

Mitt Romney:

High: Despite all of the criticism, Mitt Romney has been able to consistently project himself as the front-runner even as that title remained elusive to him for a lot longer than people expected. Don’t get me wrong, Romney did make some tactical mistakes and made his share of gaffes, but on the whole, he did perform and he did deliver when he had to deliver. His acceptance speech after the Ohio primary exuded his confidence as his party’s presumptive nominee. The Ohio primary was a close one, and as was a common theme, Romney did not do well with those who labeled themselves as “very conservative” or “evangelical.” Romney also underperformed in rural areas. However, Romney was able to project a confidence from his Boston lectern that the “big mo” was on his side (for good). Ohio was a state Santorum should have won, Ohio is a state full of blue collar, industrial voters whose views lend themselves well to Santorum’s economic policies, and the state also has a substantial Catholic population (a group Romney won handedly). Although Romney’s speech probably won’t go down with the political greats like the Gettysburg Address, I think in the future most political pundits will say this was the beginning of the end for the Santorum campaign.


Low: Governor Romney had his share of gaffes throughout the campaign but his comment that “he likes firing people” was by far the lowest point of his campaign. Romney has been labeled as a wealthy, out-of-touch, technocrat by both his Republican rivals and by President Obama. This comment did/does not help him in the least. Instead of making a worthwhile point about giving people more options with their health care (which was his actual point), his comment only added to his blue blazer yacht club image. And don’t think for a second that the president won’t be bombarding the Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Las Vegas and Charlotte television markets with this gaffe this fall.

Newt Gingrich:

High: Despite conventional wisdom, Gingrich’s response to John King’s question about Gingrich’s marital infidelities was by far the pinnacle moment of his campaign. With just a few days until the South Carolina Primary, the Gingrich campaign received a significant bombshell when Gingrich’s former wife came forward with an explosive interview about Newt’s personal failings on Nightline. Gingrich knew this might have destroyed his chance of winning South Carolina, a state with a very high evangelical population and many thought it, including myself, that news about his infidelities would ruin Gingrich’s chance of winning South Carolina. Instead of avoiding the topic, Gingrich successfully turned the question back on CNN’s John King and the crowd exploded with applause as Gingrich pivoted the issue from his affairs to a perceived liberal bias in the media, red meat for the conservative audience. In my mind, Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary at that precise moment. The others didn’t have a chance.


Low: The low moment of the primary for the former speaker was when he suggested that he would improve public education by hiring school children as part-time janitors to clean their schools. Whatever the merits the idea may have, this was one of those moments (along with idea he purposed during the Florida primary about establishing a lunar colony) during his campaign when the old Gingrich from the 90’s emerged. A former congresswoman once told me that if Newt had 100 ideas, one would be absolutely brilliant, 9 would be decent and 90 would just be so outrageous that any chance of winning independents and Democrats would be null and void. This idea was one of those 90 ideas. Not only did it reveal Newt’s perceived insensitivity to minority groups but also it revealed Newt’s lack of message discipline and his inability to articulate an idea that could be supported by both parties, a skill that the next President will definitely have to have. For me, Gingrich lost any chance he had at the nomination when he began to propose and (worse) defend the idea.

Rick Santorum:

High: Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum’s high point of the primary was revealed the night of the Iowa primary. Although at the time he was projected to finish in a close second place to Romney (we learned about a week after the primary he actually won), Santorum’s obvious joy and vindication was never more apparent than that night. He never received the initial bounce of enthusiasm that Bachmann, Perry, Romney, Gingrich and Pawlenty (to a certain extent) received when they announced but his campaign made slow but steady gains in the month of December when other campaigns imploded.


Low: Santorum’s nadir came when he described the president as a “snob” because his administration has advocated for eligible young men and women to pursue higher education. For many independents and swing voters, this over-the-top comment really sealed the deal for them against voting for a Santorum campaign. Even Santorum’s wife criticized her husband’s comment. Santorum was never able to recover from the incident. In his attempt to try to move on from the comment, he pivoted his campaign to the HHS contraception mandate issue. Although this endeared him to the Catholic hierarchy, he created a problem (which is still prevalent) that the GOP is against contraception which destroyed his campaign (and partially, the Republican Party) with women voters. Personally, I never really thought that Santorum had a chance to win the nomination but his “snob” comment really sealed the deal against the idea of President Rick Santorum. 

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Tyler Kuhn

My name is Tyler Kuhn and I am a member of the class of 2014 at Dartmouth College. I am double major in government (with a concentration in American politics) and history (with a concentration in the history of warfare). I am a lifelong resident of a small town in Ohio (Hudson). My primary political interest are the deficit, the budget, congressional politics and state / federal elections. For me, the battle over the deficit and the budget are fascinating because I believe they will be the defining issues of this political generation. Additionally, I enjoy reading about the interworkings of Capital Hill and elections because policy battles are won and loss in those arenas. Also, I served as a congressional page on the floor of the House of Representatives in the 110th Congress.

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