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Put down the brooms, boys.

I don’t want to make this Tohu Bohu into a constant stream of reminders will not be the nominee this year, but I get cranky. There were four delegate contests yesterday. When the headline is that Rick Santorum swept, there’s an implication that he won all of them, even if the headline then goes on to say something like swept the southern states. That’s just not how we use the word sweep. But that’s how the New York Times was using it this morning, and how NPR was using it.

And, you know? The headlines would seem to imply, wouldn’t they, that Rick Santorum got more delegates yesterday than anyone else. That’s not so. Mitt Romney picked up 43 delegates (according to the Times delegate tracker) and Rick Santorum acquired only 36. Mitt Romney needs 50% of the delegates, and has 495 of the 926 delegates so far allocated, or 53% (again, according to the Times, which is somewhat more aggressive in estimating the allocation of delegates); he continues to make it more and more likely that he will be the nominee.

Not that it was a good day for the Romney campaign. Far from it—yesterday was one more chance to wrap it up and clinch the thing, and he didn’t do it. Now he’s telling an interviewer in St. Louis that he wants to get rid of Planned Parenthood; the longer that people believe that it’s a competition, the more stuff he will say that will be used against him in the trial general election. Of course, the longer that Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are in the news saying he’s not a hard-line conservative, the more that people will think of his as the moderate in the race, which may be to his advantage in the general election. Or not.

Actually, I think this nonsense in the primaries is far more important—the general election will mostly hinge on whether the economy continues to improve or starts to stall. If the economy looks terrible, then Mitt Romney will be seen as a moderate; if the economy improves, he will be too conservative to risk with our future. Actually, most people won’t be swayed like that, and most voters, even, will tend to keep their views constant over the next few months, but among the 5% or so of Americans who have votes that could go one way or another, that’s the sort of thing that will happen. In the primary, though, Mr. Romney will be making some specific promises (such as getting rid of Planned Parenthood) which if he wins in November, groups will put pressure on him to attempt to carry out.

Which means, in the end, that the more people vote for Rick Santorum in the primary, and the more states Rick Santorum wins, the more a a Mitt Romney administration will look like a Rick Santorum administration. That’s the way our system responds to the will of the voters, that’s the system working. If any Gentle Readers are not yet persuaded to join a Party and vote in a primary (and otherwise support candidates in primaries), let Rick Santorum’s supporters convince you. Their candidate did not actually sweep anything yesterday, but there’s a pretty good chance that some of their policy choices will be laws in a few years.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


That's pretty much the purpose of Santorum's campaign--he is running as a culture warrior to push his ideas, and he won't (I might say "can't") give up pushing those ideas even when it might be electorally advantageous for him to do so.

I don't fully buy the George Lakoff theory, however, that this primary campaign is actually good for the Republicans, because it establishes their awful ideas in the political discourse. Total votes in the Republican primary are down from 2008, even though there is a hotly contested primary going on. There's no indication that getting these ideas into the political discourse is leading people to support them.

To put it another way, yes, the Santorum wing of the Republican Party is a problem for America, but it's also a problem for the Republican Party. The question is whether the Republican Party will destroy itself as a viable political party outside 20 or so (mostly small) states or whether it will get to use the power of the Federal Government to try to destroy the United States as we know it. I'd rather not have that be a question that the political process is actually raising, but I can't be answerable for the Republican leadership.

Chris, don't overlook the second big purpose of Santorum's 2012 campaign: this is his preparation for 2016, just as Romney's 2008 campaign set him up for this cycle. If Romney loses in November I think he'll've been too damaged in the attempt to be the likely candidate next time, so it'll be Santorum in that role. He'll have to defend against Christie, Rubio, and/or other first-timers, of course, but he'll be the established statesman.

And before you get too comfortable in the thought that Santorum's positions are so extreme they'd destroy the Republican party, keep in mind that I might equally easily have made my analogy between Santorum 2012 and Reagan 1976.

My phrase was not "destroy the Republican Party" but "destroy [the Republican Party] as a viable political party outside 20 or so (mostly small states)." I am not expecting that Republicans will go the way of the Whigs, but Santorum is not a candidate who can successfully court political moderates. If he is the Republican nominee for President in 2016, that will be dangerous for America, because something weird could happen and he would win, but it would also be dangerous for Republicans, because the likely outcome is that they would lose badly, just as their Tea Party Senate candidates lost winnable seats in a Republican wave election in 2010. In that respect, the analogy to Reagan simply breaks down. Santorum may be positioning himself as Romney did in 2008, as McCain did in 2000, as Dole did in 1988, as Reagan did in 1976, but that doesn't mean that every Republican runner-up is on a trajectory to become the next Reagan. More often than not, a politician loses in a presidential primary because he's not as good a politician as the winner. If he learns from his mistakes, he may become good enough to win next time and even win the general election. If he doesn't, he'll lose again, for the same reasons. Santorum is not a man who learns from his mistakes. He had two terms in the Senate to learn how to be "the established statesman." He didn't.

The Republican legislative infrastructure that is driving the anti-Life on Earth legislation appearing in Republican-controlled states like Arizona, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Indiana is what causes the proliferation of reactionary legislation. The danger of that infrastructure will continue regardless of what Rick Santorum says or does in the Presidential primary. I won't wring my hands over Santorum dragging Mitt Romney to the right in the primary if it diminishes the mischief that Republicans will be able to commit at the Federal level by alienating the Republican base from the Republican presidential nominee and alienating the general public from that nominee as well.

It seems to me that Rick Santorum is a passably competent presidential candidate; his main problems have been (a) lack of early money (which is like yeast) and organization, and (2) another competent presidential candidate with plenty of money and organization. Given those things, he has done as well as could be expected, and a lot better than anyone did expect. So I am less inclined to believe that he can't learn, or can't court moderates, or can't become more like Mitt Romney in his turn. We'll see.

But as I think underlies the whole thing, there's the fact that the Republican Party seems to have severe problems, of various kinds, mostly their utter inability to either persuade large majorities (more than 51%, say) to support their agenda combined with an utter inability to model their agenda to even get to 51%. They believe in changing their opinions to include more stuff they dislike, but not to include more stuff they like. This may be a blip of a decade or so, or it could be, as David Bernstein writes so persuasively in Elders of the Zombie Village, a more difficult structural problem.


Well, if your standard for "passably competent" is "almost able to compete with an otherwise competent candidate whose only problem is that 2/3 of his party's base loathes the very sight of him and is reminded why they loathe him every time he opens his mouth," then I suppose Santorum is competent. I suppose another way to look at it is that Romney is a competent candidate who is tasked with the problem of appealing to a primary electorate that doesn't appreciate competence, and surely the Republican primary voters are getting the primary they deserve. But he sure looks like an awful campaigner.

The biggest problem for Santorum appealing to moderates is that his entire political persona is based on religious extremism. He'd have as much trouble running from that as Romney has had running in the other direction from his record as governor of Massachusetts. Now, if he could look serious and engaged with other issues, like, the economy or foreign policy, that would help, but he's had plenty of opportunity to do that in this primary without contradicting his religious extremism, and he hasn't.

I don't know... I would tend to assume that anyone who raises millions of dollars a month and wins five states or more is competent, without some evidence of incompetence. Not necessarily great, but competent. But I probably have a wider category of competent candidates than you do, which is fine—I would include Bill Bradley as a competent candidate, for instance, and Howard Dean, and Mo Udall, and a bunch of other people who didn't win, but might have won in other circumstances. Christopher Dodd was not a competent candidate last time around, or Mike Gravel or Bill Richardson, but I think it's up for argument whether Jonathan Edwards was, or Joe Biden for that matter.

The thing about this year's nomination competition in the Other Party is that the combination of (a) an unusual number of high-profile implausible candidates (Herman Cain, Donald Trump, Michelle Bachmann, Gary Johnson, Buddy Roemer, et al) and (II) the disastrous and surprising incompetence of plausible candidates (Tim Pawlenty and Rick Perry, most obviously) has tended to obscure the candidates that have run perfectly respectable losing campaigns: Rick Santorum and John Huntsman. It makes sense to lump them in with one of the other groups, but in fact these guys belong in the Bill Bradley/Mo Udall camp (in my opinion). This is complicated, of course, by changes over time; Joe Biden ran a frankly incompetent campaign in 1988 and lost, and a (perhaps) passably competent campaign in 2008 and also lost.

None of which is to say you are wrong about the difficulties Rick Santorum would have in a general election four years from now, just that I think he has the opportunity to improve, and I am more impressed than you are by how his campaign has been run.


Tho—I might add that one aspect of competence in running a presidential campaign is getting at least one endorsement from a sitting Senator or Governor. Rick Santorum, not so much. Which is presumably not unconnected with your assessment of him as unengaged with serious policy issues.


Hadn't heard that particular tidbit, but that is the sort of thing I had in mind. More specifically, I had in mind things like not getting enough signatures to get on the ballot in Virginia and not getting enough signatures to get on the ballot in Illinois if the Romney campaign had bothered to object.

The Virginia ballot is in part due to their early deadline, and that he hadn't put together a national campaign yet. One of the mistakes of frontloading is that it makes it much harder for a candidate to succeed in Iowa or New Hampshire and then put together a national campaign. I do think that his organization started off very poorly, but has improved since Iowa, and that the structure of the nomination battle (this time, at any rate) means that his improvement really only helps him four years from now, if at all.

Of course, I'm talking about his improvement in organizational skills, stump speeches and debates—the man does seem to have consistent policy principles, and if he can't come to appreciate Ronald Reagan's more… malleable… approach, it will surely be difficult for him to lead a big tent sort of a Party. Which, of course, goes back to your first point, which is that if what you call the Santorum wing becomes the Party, it will be a small tent Party. I suspect, though, that either Rick Santorum will learn to be more malleable and be able to lead a bigger tent Party, or that he will not and someone else will. I don't rule out the first at all, particularly if, as is still quite likely, it happens after his Party holds the White House again.


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