Who would have thought, just a few short months ago, that it would be Rick Santorum and not Rick Perry that emerged triumphant from the Iowa caucus?
Not that Santorum actually won (or did he?), but finishing in second place behind the hair apparent Mitt Romney by just eight votes classifies as somewhat more than a moral victory and somewhat less than true triumph.
The race for the Republican nomination is considerably narrowed now. It’s really down to four: Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, and Perry. Perry and Gingrich are hanging on like Sergeant Snorkel hanging off a cliff-side tree branch. There’s no visible way up, but down is a very real possibility. Perry has all but given up on New Hampshire, and clearly staked out South Carolina as his Alamo. He will be victorious in South Carolina, or he will be gone. Gingrich is liable to stay in the race as long as his money, ego, and love of television cameras allows him to do so. His ego and autagonistophilia (there’s a $10 word I thought I’d never use!) are inexhaustible, but his money is distinctly finite. It’s likely that unless he somehow pulls off a victory in either New Hampshire or South Carolina, he’ll probably be gone by Super Bowl Sunday. Gingrich’s only chance is that he can so dominate future debates, and so thrill the conservative base with a steady diet of red meat, that voters will overlook his many foibles in their lust to see Gingrich and Obama go mano-a-mano.
The current resident of 2nd place in the New Hampshire polls is Ron Paul. I don’t count Ron Paul as a serious candidate. I like to joke that I agree with Ron Paul 97% of the time…95% on domestic policy and 2% on foreign policy. I am the conservative base, and would vote for Ron Paul over Obama. But I’d vote for Jon Huntsman over Ron Paul in the primaries. That’s how noxious I find Paul’s foreign policy views: a vomitous stew of blame-America-firstism, trutherism, and conspiracy nut musings. His foreign policy views are considerably farther to the Left than even Barack Obama’s…the guy who wants to decimate the U.S. military. Ron Paul has no chance of winning the primaries. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Bupkis. Fugghedaboudit.
I eagerly await the hate mail, but in your heart you know I’m right that there will never, ever, ever be a President Ron Paul. Nor should there be.
What all of this means is that at this moment there’s a two-man race going on between Mitt Romney and, surprise, Rick Santorum. Which means the time has come for Republicans to decide who is the best candidate of those two men to defeat Barack Obama in November. William F. Buckley’s rule of thumb was to support the most conservative candidate who was electable. In choosing between Romney and Santorum, the choice at first appears clear: Romney is the less conservative of the two, but is a polished debater, smooth talking, quick on his feet, the frontrunner with lots of name recognition, a former Republican governor of one of the bluest states in the country. Surely it’s Romney. Virtually every media talking head assures us that Romney is the only Republican who stands a snowball’s chance in Hell of defeating the suave, debonair, charming President. Even the conservative media is beating this drum. My friends The Gormogons posted a wickedly sharp treatise by Ghettoputer that called Romney “the turd in the punchbowl that is the Republican 2012 presidential primary field with the best chance of beating President Obama in the general election.” But is ‘Puter right?
Mitt Romney has been running for election for nearly 20 years, starting with a Senate bid in 1994. During that time he managed one win: governor of Massachusetts in 2002. He didn’t run for reelection in 2006 so that he could concentrate fully on a 2008 Presidential run. Had he run in 2006, he almost certainly would have lost. Romney’s failure to break out of the pack of Republican candidates this year is indicative of just how little emotion he stirs in the base. In the 2008 campaign, he lost to John McCain…the least inspiring Presidential candidate since Bob Dole stammered his way to slaughter in 1996. That’s right: Romney inspired the base less than John McCain, a man who infuriates Republicans on a daily basis.
Republicans need to ask: if Romney is so electable, then why doesn’t anybody want to elect him to anything?
Then there’s Rick Santorum, a man who the enlightened assure us is not electable. The intelligentsia present this assertion as if it were an indisputable fact, with the proof being that in his last race (Senate, 2006) Santorum lost by an 18% margin. Surely, they say, anyone this unpopular could never be elected President. But Santorum has won more electoral victories than Romney has. In a blue state with red tinting, he campaigned as a hardline conservative and won…first as a two-term Representative, then twice more as Senator. The 2006 election that is being held over his head was something of an anomaly: he was campaigning against a blue dog Democrat who shared a name and family heritage with a former, well-liked, governor, Bob Casey. The 2006 election was also the first election suffering from Bush fatigue, and a powerful anti-incumbent sentiment. It was a wave election, carrying the Democrats into power (they gained 30 House seats and 6 Senate seats). Santorum had also deflated the base with his endorsement in 2004 of the wretched and loathsome reptile that is Arlen Specter. To conservatives, this was akin to watching Harry Potter putting a “Vote for Voldemort” sign on his front lawn.
Whether or not a candidate is electable is a difficult thing to ascertain. All candidates have their issues, both pro and con. Romney is an uninspiring flip flopper with an unfortunate, and transparent, tendency to tell audiences whatever they want to hear. The fear is that he has no core principles, and it’s a valid fear. Santorum has come across in the debates, especially the early debates, as annoyed and surly, complaining about his air time. America does not want a whiner for President. Santorum is also intent on focusing on the social side of conservatism. At a time when millions of Americans are out of work, when there is instability throughout the Middle East and Europe, when our nation is so deeply in debt that a bankrupt future looks all too possible, Santorum makes sure we know where he stands on abortion, contraception, and gay marriage. These are important issues, but I’m far more concerned about reforming Medicare than I am about contraception. Sometimes Santorum’s deeply felt Catholicism gets the best of him. He needs to talk about jobs, jobs, jobs, debt reduction, jobs, debt reduction, debt reduction, and jobs. Instead he lets a media that hates him trap him into answering questions designed to make him look like a kook (because that’s what the media thinks of devout Catholics).
Note to Rick: When some pinheaded reporter asks you if you want to ban contraception the answer is not a treatise on your faith. The answer is “That’s a ridiculous question you should be ashamed of asking. Of course not. Now can we please talk about the economy?”
I don’t know who’s more electable. That will become clearer as the primaries continue. But it’s clear to me that Romney is less of a sure-fire win than his proponents would like us to believe, and Santorum is a greater threat to Obama than his detractors would argue. Rest assured, though. The Obama campaign is rolling down the streets like Megaweapon, ready to viciously and unfairly tarnish anyone the Republicans nominate. The Republicans need a conservative champion, a Beowulf to slay Grendel (and Grendel’s mom…I’m looking at you, Axelrod!). They need a man with the rock solid principles of Rick Santorum, and the business/economy-related focus of Mitt Romney. A bit of the carnivorous style of Newt Gingrich wouldn’t hurt, either. That combination would be truly unbeatable in November.
Consider that a word of advice to all the candidates.