In the wake of Super Tuesday, lots of British journalists are saying that the Republican nomination race has been too ‘negative’ — i.e. the candidates have attacked each other too much ahead of the real contest in November. Mitt Romney may now be close to victory but he's been badly damaged. This is thought to be an indication that American conservatism is tearing itself apart.
But that isn't necessarily right. Nobody thought that the Democratic party was in decline when Hillary Clinton and Obama were at each other's throats in 2008. Hillary, if you remember, even flirted with racist tactics in an attempt to derail her rival. And yet the Democratic dream survived.
It is true the 2012 Republican race has shown US conservatism to be in a state of existential angst, and that the Republican party — and its rather feeble crop of candidates — is perhaps no longer able to pull together the fissiparous groups that used to make up its base.
But those candidates have been forced by their supporters and detractors to talk about real conservative ideas and principles. If only we could say the same of British politicians in the run up to an election.
In fact, the toughness of the campaign has forced Romney to become a much smarter conservative candidate. His campaign is now tightly focused on the economy. He is offering — as he did so clearly last night — a 20 per cent tax cut for every American. He is not banging on so much about the need to go to war with every undemocratic country on earth.
With the American economy apparently blossoming again, he will probably still fall short in November. But the ‘negative’ nomination process has improved his chances, not harmed them.