Michigan Poses Crucial Test for Romney
Rick Santorum couldn’t get out of his own way last week. As has been the case with the non-Romney du jour, he has not stood up well to increased scrutiny. He had a weak appearance in the debate. He was hammered from both sides by Romney and Ron Paul. In his defense of earmarks, which was actually one of his most cogent moments during the debate, he seemed to confirm that he was a Washington insider and a political hack. Similarly, when he defended his vote for No Child Left Behind as him being a ‘team player’, an argument that should carry a lot of water, he weakened himself in the eyes of the Tea Party, which blames capitulating Republicans as much as Democrats for the spiraling debt. Then Drudge exposed that he claimed the Devil was coming after America, further cementing his image as a religious fanatic. To top off a miserable week, he claimed on Sunday that the separation of church and state made him physically ill. Santorum is a hot mess, he seems simply unable to walk back his extreme views. But maybe that’s what makes him popular, in contrast to Romney he seems like he has character, and he’s not scared to state his opinions regardless of how popular they are.
It seemed Mitt Romney had put away Santorum, and was on the road to finally wrapping up the nomination. After trailing in a poll of Michigan at the start of last week, Mitt came back and seemed to be headed to a comfortable win. Now polls show it to be a dead heat, and it promises to be a long night in Michigan as the votes are totaled. Again, this is a testament to Romney’s fundamental weakness. The fact that he has not been able to seal the deal in such a weak Republican field, despite having every institutional advantage, is a condemnation of his abilities as a candidate. Santorum is a weak candidate, a big government conservative, who is essentially unelectable. But Romney can’t put him away. Santorum’s lucky that he got hot at the right time, like an overachieving sports team, but he wouldn’t be able to have sustained success if the Romney campaign wasn’t decaying.
Mitt’s latest gaffe is his declaration that his wife drives “a couple of Cadillacs.” At some point you’ve got to start feeling bad for Mitt. It’s hard to watch him parade himself in front of the American people, saying one off key thing after another. It’s hard to watch him try and be a retail politician when he seems unable to carry on a conversation like a normal human. It seems he isn’t well versed on the normal etiquette of human interaction. The George Bush and Karl Rove axis had a strategy where they tried to turn their weaknesses into strengths by beating them into the ground. For instance, George Bush’s disgraceful AWOL from the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War, was neutralized by the Swiftboating of John Kerry. Maybe Romney is trying a similar strategy with his wealth, but he’s not nearly as politically skilled as George Bush. Bush was an idiot, but he was relatable. Romney may well be a smart man, but he’s got no social skills, and is unable to articulate his intelligence. And so a political non-entity like Santorum, who’s attractive to a relative pittance of the electorate is able to appear as an attractive alternative. Romney must thank the angel Moroni every night that no credible candidate, such as Mike Huckabee, wanted to join the race.
So we wait for Michigan and Arizona tonight. Michigan is one of Romney’s home states, a place he carried in 2008, and he’s outspent Santorum there 2 to 1. It’s also the home of the automotive sector, which Romney opined should be left to go bankrupt. It’s also a state with an open primary, and it seems some Democrats are willing to cross the aisle and vote for Santorum. Whether theses are “Reagan Democrats” or folks who are trying to further the chaos of the Republican primary is a little unclear, but either way it should boost Santorum. The media narrative is that a Santorum win would be disastrous to Romney, and surely the lamestream media would play it that way. I remain unconvinced that the Republican establishment would allow a Santorum candidacy, which would prove unelectable and damaging to down ticket races. If Santorum wins, I think we can expect yet another Gingrich resurgence, he came off strangely likable in the last debate.
Romney seems poised for a big win in Arizona, but it won’t staunch the bleeding if he loses in Michigan. Romney argues that he doesn’t get the support of the right wing because “I’m not willing to light my hair on fire to try and get support. I am what I am.” This would be a cogent argument if Romney actually had moderate positions, but he doesn’t. He embraces the hard right. A better analogy might be that he does set his hair on fire, but the hard right doesn’t seem to think he’s doing it right, or maybe they believe he’s bought an expensive, life-like wig, and he’s set that on fire. It should be an exciting night, and an exciting couple of weeks, as the process moves on to Super Tuesday.
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