Monday, February 13, 2012

Rick Santorum? Really? Rick Santorum?



I admit to being mostly baffled by the current state of play in the Republican Primary. Rick Santorum is currently ahead by a wide margin in Michigan, which is a semi-home state for Mitt Romney (Mitt's father, George Romney, was the state's popular in the '60s).  My basic view of the race has been that it would eventually come down to Romney and the Conservative Southern Alternative. But the various candidates for spokesman of the CSA fell one by one. Sonny Perdue (GA) never even gave it a shot, since he'd probably end up looking like a dumber version of Rick Perry; Bob Riley AL tried to raise taxes during the Bush Era; Mark Sanford (SC) saw his campaign end on the Appalachian Trail; Bobby Jindal (LA) was a dud at SOTU response and decided to sit this one out; Charlie Crist (FL) decided to save his soul and became a Democratic-leaning Independent; Haley Barbour (MS) turned out to be a little to racist for anyone to believe he could get elected; Rick Perry (TX) ... yeah ... and Kentucky, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee were governed by Democrats until at least 2009. That leaves a collection of Senators, a large number of whom are sort of too old to be President, and for the rest of them, the marginal utility of running for President is much lower once you've earned a lot of seniority. So Newt became the last Conservative Southern Alternative standing, only to be done in by his post-Congressional career and general doucheitude.

But instead of a Conservative Southern Alternative, Rick Santorum has emerged as the Conservative Non-Yankee Alternative. This role was originally supposed to go to Tim Pawlenty, but he failed to inspire anyone last summer. And so Rick Santorum became the last man standing in that contest, and appears to have outlasted Gingrich. I don't think he would have survived against a more viable CSA, like the fantasy world Rick Perry who can speak in complete sentences, but in this field where even the also-rans are pretty weak, simply hanging in there as long as possible, not saying anything that sounds vaguely racist, all while having rock solid social conservative credentials (Santorums only deviations are on labor issues, and those deviations are very, very modest), turns out to be a viable strategy. I wonder what Tim Pawlenty thinks of these developments.

Mitt has two weeks and an unlimited war chest of Super PAC spending to try to change these numbers, and Santorum probably won't have the resources to respond. So there is a good chance that around mid-summer, we'll look back and say "remember when we thought Santorum actually had a chance to win the nomination? That was a good one!" Nonetheless, the fact that he has succeeded despite not having any real markers of White Southern identity politics has forced me to re-think the way I view the Republican electorate.
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