The Meaning Of Santorum

The Atlantic‘s David A. Graham thinks there are three major ways in which the now-suspended Santorum campaign diminished Mitt Romney’s chances of besting the President:

1. He has pulled Romney to the right on key issues.…
2. He’s cost Romney vital time and money.…
3. He has exacerbated Romney’s weaknesses.

All true. But number one is the only one that really matters — and I’d phrase its impact differently.

Yes, Romney was pulled to the Right by Santorum; but there’s something about that framing that implies Romney, in a Santorum-less world, would not have had to make a similar journey in order to secure enough delegates. Barring a scenario in which Romney runs unopposed (or, just as unlikely, as the rightmost candidate) I see no reason to conclude there was something special about my former Senator. If it wasn’t Santorum, it would’ve been someone else.

Because, really, all Santorum did was stand as a simulacrum of conservatism for the wide swathe of the GOP base that never liked Romney and never believed he wasn’t, deep-down, a damned pragmatist. They never came to terms with the prospect of the Republican standard-bearer not being a “real” conservative — especially not after the ideological vindication they considered 2010 to have been. First, these people liked Michele; then that other Rick; then Herman; then Newt; then Santorum. He was simply the last stop.

Giving him credit for being Romney’s last true opponent is a bit like calling Doug Yule the longest-lasting member of the Velvet Underground.

Point is: no matter what, Romney was going to be “pulled” to the Right because that’s where the GOP is today. And, not incidentally, it happens to be a place that a clear majority of voters would rather not go. So, yes, Santorum hurt Romney. But it’s the GOP itself that’s done the most damage.

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44 thoughts on “The Meaning Of Santorum

  1. Hillary and Barack went at it tooth-and-nail until June in 2008.  Respect the experts:

    http://bonniekaryn.wordpress.com/2008/06/13/june-9-2008-hillary-concedes-obama-cliches-democratic-nomination/

    • Professor James Taylor, who teaches politics and African American history at the University of San Francisco on “Obama faces tough task healing rift with women”:
      “Winning over the women is a real challenge. This will be a sad day when Hillary Clinton steps down for a lot of people, because … a whole generation of women thought it would be possible in their lifetime to see a woman administer the American state.” Many feminists believe Clinton was the focus of unforgivable sexism during the race – such as charges that she was “shrill” and an excessive focus on her clothing and emotions – and they are inclined to blame Obama, he said. “Women will have to forgive,” he said. “They will have to ask themselves: Are they even angrier now than when George Bush was elected in 2004? “Even though Barack isn’t responsible … for the sexism Hillary has experienced, many people supporting him have done it,” he said. So “it’s a soul-searching moment for Americans in general.”

     

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    • Since you haven’t said it explicitly, I’m not seeing your point. Obama won women in 08, 56-43, for what it’s worth. I’m not sure what the data said after he wrapped-up the nomination — I only recall anecdotal “evidence” that he had a problem with women, whereas the hard numbers right now are pretty dire for Romney.

      ETA: It looks like well before Obama wrapped-up the nomination, he had a bit of bad polling results from white women. Nothing approaching what Romney’s experiencing currently, however.

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        • But, given that he’s vowed defund Planned Parenthood, he might have trouble with women, who make up a make up a majority of the electorate.  Plus, given how far to the right he’s moved during the primaries, he might have trouble backtracking once it comes to the general. He’s left behind plenty of fodder for attack ads. I still think he has a chance to win, given the economy, but it won’t be easy. He still has that likeability problem. It ain’t so easy connecting to humans when you’re an android.

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            • While I’d say that most women don’t vote on that point either, Romney’s vow to defund Planned Parenthood seems to be part and parcel of the Republican attack on a lot of programs women support. Romney’s not polling all that well with women right now although that could very well change as the election draws nearer.

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              • Numbers like these might make the Mittster somewhat nervous:

                Obama led Romney 57 to 38 percent among registered female voters surveyed, the president’s largest margin among women to date, according to Langer Research Associates ( pdf), which produced the April 5-8 poll for ABC.

                Romney led Obama among men, 52 to 44 percent, but that wasn’t enough to blunt the edge provided by the president’s female support. When voters of both genders surveyed were grouped together, Obama led Romney 51 to 44 percent.

                http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/OTUS/women-boost-obama-romney-abc-poll/story?id=16109262#.T4WnzYHLCpI

                Again, it’s early and things can certainly change. Mitt’s got plenty of money to market himself and seems to have no trouble altering course when necessary.

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      • Obama won “women” in 2008 because he carried like 168% of the non-white vote.  A peeling back of the onion reveals [ta-da!]:

        Obama performed slightly worse with white women, 39 percent of voters, than Al Gore did in 2000. McCain won the votes of white women, 53 to 46 percent, perhaps an indication of the historical candidacy of his running mate, Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska.

        Obama compensated for the drop-off in white female support with the strong 41 percent support from white men. No Democrat since Carter had until Tuesday’s election earned more than 38 percent of the white male vote.

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      • Actually, Elias, it was a passing point about “experts.”  I should have stuck to just the one point, that Obama was still bruising out the primary as late as June 2008 and came through it just fine.

        See below in the thread for the “women’s vote.”  Basically, by running the table with non-whites regardless of gender, Obama obviated the question of the “women’s vote.”

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        • Here’s the difference I see between 2004, 2008, and 2012.  It’s not about the Dems and the Republicans, although their abilities to pull up their respective bases are important.  It’s about the squishy middle.

          In 2004, strong left liberals would have voted for a dead frog over GHWB, still angry about 2000.  Most of the squishy middle, however, didn’t care that much about 2000 and didn’t care about what George didn’t really do in the first months of his Presidency (because he didn’t really do much), but they cared very much about the fact that the country was at war and – at that moment – things weren’t going terribly badly in the public eye.  It wasn’t until the day after the election that the push on Fallujah and it wasn’t until 2005 that the suicide bombings and insurgency that were kicked off by losing Fallujah started becoming regular news.

          2008, Obama and Hillary could have been calling each other racial epithets in the primary and whoever came out on top probably still would have won the general election, because the country was sick of the war and the entire 2008 election was a referendum on that. McCain’s gaffes at the financial meltdown capped everything, but if the economy hadn’t exploded Obama probably still would have won (although the House/Senate makeup would probably have been different).

          2012’s analog is 2004, not 2008.  People in the squishy middle have mostly downramped their priorities about the war but they have upramped their concerns about the economy.  But 2007-2012 doesn’t look as horrible today in 2012 as it looked in 2009.  If it was 2014 or 2010, Mitt would have a real chance, because the exploding economy would have either been high enough on everyone’s monitor to push the edge (2010), or the recovery would have been going on long enough that other worries might have pushed Obama down.  But right now, this year, the economy is exhibiting enough signs that things are getting better that… just like in 2004… people in the squishy middle are going to vote for the guy who seems to not be screwing things up too badly rather than risk changing the captain in the middle of the voyage.

          This is just how I see the squishy middle seeing things, mind you, it has nothing to do with what I think of things.

          Mitt doesn’t appeal to the squishy middle enough, and the economy isn’t bad enough, for the squishy middle to take him over the guy that they generally find likeable when the economy is picking up.  And he doesn’t have a big enough advantage in ground game, or money to make up the difference, and he doesn’t have a gotcha that’s big enough to put an anchor around Obama’s neck.  That’s just how I read this upcoming election.

          (All of that is aside from the fact that in the first debate, if PPACA isn’t overturned, Obama is going to pull out Jonathan Gruber and hit Romney over the head with him.  Whether or not you or I believe there’s a substantive difference between RomneyCare and ObamaCare, I don’t see Mitt coming off well in that exchange in the eyes of the squishy middle.  If PPACA *is* overturned, then Obama is probably *still* going to pull out Jonathan Gruber and hit Romney over the head with him.)

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  2. I agree with your assessment of the GOP base, but I’m pretty sure people will forget about it/not have noticed it or cared by the time the general election comes along. The wingnuts will vote Romney over Obama anyways unless a viable third party candidate suddenly shows up, which is unlikely at this stage. Plus, everyone knows extremism is a good strategy for the primary, moderatism for the general election. Romney had shown himself as someone who will bullshit through his teeth shamelessly for votes long before Rick Santorum came along.

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  3. I’m not so sure about this hypothesis myself. Candidates often say ridiculous things during primaries to appease the troops. I think the most telling thing is what happens to Mitt Romney’s polling versus Obama once conservatives realize they have no other option. Something tells me they’re going to turn around once they remember how much they hate Obama. Or not. We’ll see what happens in the next few months.

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  4. How much of Santorum’s effect been exacerbated by the fact that the Dems will run an incumbent? With no Democratic primary, all attention has been on the GOP. Add in the nine billion debates (which seemed way more frequent than in the past, but I could be wrong) to the continued proliferation of the 25/8 news cycle and the GOP primary felt more front-and-center than ever before.

    So maybe Santorum’s impact on Romney or, more to the point, Romney’s evolution as a candidate has been no different than most candidates in the past, but it jas been more greatly scrutinized and attended to.

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  5. I think it’s too early to guage if Santorum has had any effect. There are a lot of questions remaining:

    -Will Santorum come out and endorse Romney?

    -Will he campaign on his behalf?

    -What role will Romney assign Santorum, a position in his administration? Veep? Nothing?

    I don’t think, however, that Mitt’s election hinges on this, I’d say the jobs reports and gas prices may have a more direct impact. Heck, even the Supreme court on HCR probably could have a more direct effect.

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  6. “a damned pragmatist”?  How dare you?  Every red-blooded American conservative knows that “pragmatist” is just another word for “liberal” which is just another word for “Democrat” which is just another word for “caterpillar” wait check that wrong script I mean which is just another word for “Socialist” which is just another word for “Communist.”

    Mitt’s a damn communist dammit and so is everyone who doesn’t strongly suspect that Allen West is way too damn pragmatic, which is just another word for caterpillar.

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  7. The net effect of Santorum pulling into the pits will be a softening of support for the GOP.   Those who voted for Santorum were voting against the Mormons.   Lots of people in this country view the Mormons with deepest suspicion, a far bigger problem than Kennedy ever faced for being a Catholic back in the day.

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    • But, at the end of the day, those parts of the country where fear of Mormons is most pronounced are also the reddist, most evangelical states on the map, so Mitt will win them anyway. I don’t see Kansas going blue anytime soon. Where he might get hurt are swing states with a fair number of evangelicals who decide to sit this one out because choosing between a Mormon and a black socialist eeks them out.

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      • Santorum has a lot of support in rural America.   They do not like Romney.   They know he’s only giving lip service to movement conservatism.   Romney’s the GOP version of John Kerry.

        And what’s to be done with Santorum’s delegates?   Lots of them can’t be given away.   Ten, eleven states is not exactly small beer, Santorum might demand some plum assignment on Team Romney, very likely vice president.   Or, if he’s clever (and he’s not really the sharpest knife in the drawer so I do not expect this) he will pull a Hillary and get some plum assignment in a Romney administration.

        In any event, we have not seen the last of Santorum.

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        • Romney’s the GOP version of John Kerry.

          LOL. Only stiffer and less human-like.

          I agree that the base of the party distrusts Romney and doubts his conservative creds. I’m pretty sure he’ll choose some kind of evangelical-approved type as his vice-president, which could be Santorum. He certainly hasn’t ruled out the possibility.

          As for Santorum’s delegates, as long as Romney has the requisite 1000-plus necessary to win on the first ballot, I don’t see how they matter.

          We probably haven’t seen the last of Santorum, but I was kind of hoping that the only place we’d see him is on Fox, where he’s easily ignored.

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          • Mattel will have no problem making a Romney action figure since there’s no action.  Will the accessories include include sacred underwear?   That was probably a cheap shot but I’m too lazy to delete it.

            The GOP will need the Religulous Right and doesn’t have the firm grip on that sector as once it did.   Big problem for them, watching the oldsters who plant their buttocks on the church pew every Sunday morning shift uncomfortably when some Latter Day Saint tries to court their votes.   The evangelicals do not like Romney one little bit and are sorely disappointed to see Santorum pull out of this race.

            Though the GOP herd will eventually rally around Romney in some half-hearted fashion, as they rallied around Dubyah for re-election, deep divisions are appearing in their ranks.    The inchoate Tea Party of those times was heartily sick of him.   That’s the last time the Populist Wing of the GOP will ever pull the lever for such a guy.

            I have this theory about the GOP, having renounced them.   Going back to its inception as a breakaway wing of the Whig Party and the nomination of Lincoln, the GOP has always contained two mutually-incompatible elements, populists and laissez-faire types.   For a few decades, while William F Buckley could sprinkle rhetorical foo-foo dust over them both, they sat bemused and captivated, culminating with the rise of Nixon.    The country grew to hate Nixon and when he fell from power, nobody hated Nixon more than the GOP leadership:  never again would they attempt to run a bare-knuckles fighter again.

            The GOP found Reagan, a man of considerable charm and no intellectual substance.  Reagan became the apotheosis of that period of the GOP and they’ve been hoping to find another such jamoke for years.   McCain was something of an aberration from this trend but not really:   Dubyah had disgraced himself, as had Nixon before him and for most of the same reasons.   The GOP needed someone who wasn’t Dubyah.   But the choice of Sarah Palin shows how desperate the GOP has always been for some synthesis of Populism with Laissez-Faire but you can’t homogenise oil and vinegar either.

            The Populists had a great innings in 2010 but got in trouble almost immediately.   So now the GOP is trying to run Romney in the spirit of Reagan.   Problem is, Romney’s far smarter than Reagan ever was, can’t control such a man as Bush43 was controlled by the likes of Cheney.   Furthermore, Romney is the most elitist candidate in two generations, at least since Nelson Rockefeller, with none of Rockefeller’s compassion.  Maybe John Kerry fits that elitist bill of particulars, too:  at any rate America won’t elect an elitist any more.   Though all these candidates are the creatures of their handlers, Romney is a big horse and I suspect he’s more horse than his handlers can control.

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            • Interesting theory. I’ll have to give it some more thought. I’m tempted to add a third strain to the mix–the corporatist strain, those folks who are all for government favors to big business in the form of tax breaks and friendly regulation that helps keep the big companies on top and closes the market to too much competition. To me, Romney is the perfect representative of this kind of Republican. You could probably lump a lot of the so-called laissez-faire guys into this category as well. I don’t think Eric Cantor loses a whole lot of sleep about corporate welfare programs; nor does Paul Ryan. To my mind, Ron Paul and his ilk are the real laissez-faire strain of the party.

               

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            • My perception is that the bunch that ran as Populists got elected on the belief by voters that they were on the side of Main Street against Wall Street, the side of populism that has historically done well in the US.  String the bankers up, confiscate their ill-gotten gains, pitchforks and torches at the mansion at 9:00.  Now that it has turned out that they are on the side of Main Street against Big Government (from which, Main Street really doesn’t need a lot of protection, and in fact gets considerable assistance) , which implies leaving Wall Street loose to do as they please, there will be repercussions.  How much damage will a Romney at the top of the ticket do further down?

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            • Nice comment BP. I tend to already agree with you about the split personality thing, so this was a nice addition to that I see playing out as an battle withing the GOP. The TPers thought they could eventually, maybe even quickly, wrestle control away from the old guard. But that’s proving difficult to do.

              Also, I’m not sure I’d characterize the divisions as populist and laissez-faire. Maybe populist and state capitalist. But that gripe’s pretty small potatoes.

               

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              • Thanks.  I was fishing around for a term for the not-populists, came up with laissez-faire but I prefer State Capitalist.   These days, that’s exactly what they are.

                This internal fault line within the GOP is becoming ever more obvious.   The GOP is changing, not entirely for the worse, either.  Thank God the oldsters are dying off.   As these rotten old trees fall in the forest, younger shoots will spring up in the sunlight thus created.   Can’t happen soon enough for me.

                Maybe, if the Libertarians ever got serious about politics and put the sandpaper to their rough edges, laid off all this Ayn Rand-ish Rugged Individualist hooey and started preaching a doctrine of meaningful individualism within a working society, they’d start winning some elections.

                 

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                • “Maybe, if the Libertarians ever got serious about politics and put the sandpaper to their rough edges, laid off all this Ayn Rand-ish Rugged Individualist hooey and started preaching a doctrine of meaningful individualism within a working society, they’d start winning some elections.”

                  Nah.  Too many statist now for that to work.  Every year there are more sheep.  And, any real movment off the topic by the libertarians would cause a cry of pandering / sell out by the committed.  Padering for the sake of being elected.  Nope.  We’re on this path until the end.  I prefer principles over pandering.  I’ll watch it all burn first before I compromise my values.

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  8. Another statist drops out.  Nice.  Sadly, I would have rather had him knock out Romney, as there is no way I think Ricky would have been electable in November, and Romney doesn’t even deserve to be in a party that is ostensibly the side of limited government–but the repubs long ago abandoned that position

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  9. For me the meaning of Santorum is the same as the meaning for the other not-Rmoneys.  I have the same feeling about them as I do when I see the latest “conservative shock journalist” expose or Dana Loesch’s husband’s hip hop “act” being clever by using deceptive resolution by replacing “nigger” with “knickers” at CPAC.  My feeling is summed up as: THAT IS THE BEST THEY COULD COME UP WITH??????

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  10. I’ve thought all along that the question in this election cycle was, “Can the finance industry buy the nomination for Romney?”  The answer to that appears to be yes.  I’m surprised that Santorum and Gingrich didn’t spend more effort trying to paint Romney into the “big banks caused the whole financial crisis and recession” corner.  If I were a Romney strategist at this point, the one thing that I would really terrified about is that something else will surface that demonstrates just how badly big finance has behaved since we took their chains off.

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