Super Tuesday’s 10 contests are now history and the Republican leadership race remains a gruelling contest that is likely to continue until June by some estimates.
The backdrop is a shaky U.S. economic recovery, deep disappointment in the Obama administration and a profound feeling that America is on the wrong track.
The Globe’s Affan Chowdhry spoke to University of British Columbia professor Paul J. Quirk, who holds the Phil Lind Chair in U.S. Politics and Representation.
As early results from Super Tuesday trickled in, they examined the political landscape in a pivotal year and took questions from Globe readers. This is an abridged transcript of that discussion.
Professor Quirk, you've been following the GOP race closely. You're American and recently you've become a Canadian citizen. The Republican leadership race has provided political theatre. But why do you think this GOP election is important for Canadians to be watching?
Canadians have a lot of reasons to be concerned. I think the most important is that Canada needs a healthy, economically vibrant U.S.
There are also specific issues about trade and the environment that are important to Canada in the election. But the main thing is, will the U.S. be a going concern?
Rick Santorum has presented himself as the real conservative alternative to Mitt Romney - can you see him winning the nomination and becoming president?
I think it's hard to see him winning the nomination, and even harder to see him winning the general election. But I don't think that either of these is impossible.
Romney has certainly shown weaknesses and Republican voters have not been enthusiastic. He's up now, it seems; but that could change. In the general election, it would probably take some disaster like a scandal or economic downturn to give Santorum a chance over Obama.
The Republican convention takes place in Tampa Bay in August and people have talked about a brokered or a contested convention. Far-fetched?
Unlikely. But not far-fetched. if Santorum and Romney remain relatively balanced - and Santorum has some good states coming up the rest of the month - the support for Paul and Gingrich will prevent either of them from gaining a majority of delegates by the first ballot.
At that point, you have a brokered convention.
Reader William P.: My question is how much do you think the recent positive job numbers and recent semi-rebound in the U.S. economy has hurt the Republican field gain traction? Specifically, how much has this hurt Romney's single message that he's the “turnaround artist” needed in these tough times?
Very interesting. Right now, the economy is still weak enough that Republicans have no trouble campaigning against Obama's performance.
If the improvement continues, however, their main issue will deflate. Steady recovery would make the election fairly easy for Obama.
The Republican voter has been described as discerning, dissatisfied and volatile - what does this GOP race tell us about the voters?
What we have seen so far is the importance of the increasingly conservative base of the Republican Party, influenced by the Tea Party in evangelical Christians.
They have pushed the Republican candidates so far to the right that they will be in difficulty competing in the general election. The real lesson is that the electorate is more divided than it used to be.
Those Ron Paul supporters in Fargo, North Dakota, are a passionate bunch. But that's always been the case with Ron Paul, he's got an energized base of supporters - but an unorthodox message by GOP standards?
Paul is mostly an extremely consistent libertarian. He is against almost every government program.
What makes him a strange fit with the Republicans is that he opposes so much national security policy that they favor – especially the Patriot Act, which he attacks at every rally; and he ridicules the military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, strongly supported by conventional Republicans.
He has a loyal following but it has a clear ceiling, he is so far out of step with mainstream Republicans.
Professor Quirk, which Republican candidate would be best for Canada?
I think Romney, and fairly clearly. Although he is running away from his record of moderation, he would probably come back to it during the general election and once he was in office.
The great difficulty in U.S. politics nowadays is the severe polarization between Republicans and Democrats in Washington D.C. A relatively moderate Republican president would create the best opportunities for bipartisan cooperation in some real solutions to policy problems like the deficit.
Reader Anne: Turnout has been low in most of the primaries and caucuses so far compared to 2008. In some cases, turnout is very much lower. What is the significance (if any) for November?
Indeed, this is highly significant for November. It suggests that Republicans will have a harder time than usual getting voters to turn out, and that is often how elections are decided.
Regular Republicans will all vote for the Republican candidate, but only if they show up at all. The current turnout in primary elections points toward a potentially very low turnout in November.
There has been some discussion in Canada about a U.S.-style primary process, or incorporating elements of it. Would such a process be good for Canada?
I think the American experience with primary elections should be a warning to Canadians.
It tends to favor candidates with little or no experience in national government, and with relatively extreme views.
That has always been the concern, since the system was created in the 1970s. I think we see these difficulties clearly in the current election.
Romney criticizes Santorum on the grounds that he worked in Washington. Shouldn't the U.S. have a president who has worked in Washington.
That's an interesting argument - because what you're describing doesn't seem to allow for an outsider, someone who is not of Washington D.C.?
The United States, compared with parliamentary countries, has a problem with preparation for the presidency.
Most candidates for president are either senators or governors of states. Senators have no executive experience; governors of states have no international experience, especially with military issues.
I think presidents have the best chance to succeed when they at least one of these kinds of experience. It's a very hard job, not just a matter of sharing certain values with the public.