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Get Ready For Buyer’s Remorse, Rick Santorum Edition

We’ve had two—or is it three?—helpings of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich,  more iterations of former Gov. Mitt Romney than you can shake $10,000 at, so should anyone  be surprised that we’re getting a second dose of Rick Santorum? The former  Pennsylvania senator scored a political hat trick with convincing victories in  Colorado, Missouri, and Minnesota last night. Sure Missouri was a beauty  contest and Colorado and Minnesota didn’t actually select delegates, but  neither did Iowa and no one said that set of caucuses was meritless.

Now Santorum must accomplish the 2012 political  equivalent of defying  gravity. For if there has been one rule in this chaotic  nomination  race, it is that what goes up must come down.

As I wrote in my column this week:

In the wake of Mitt Romney’s  convincing victories in Florida on  Tuesday and Nevada on Saturday, perhaps the  GOP will rally to the  former Massachusetts governor and embrace him in a manner  which they  have resisted thus far.

But through the first month of primary contests,  Republican voters  haven’t been much about embracing. They’ve been too busy  running away  from candidates. Romney’s New Hampshire victory, for example,  sparked  pronouncements that with two wins under his belt (the Iowa caucuses not   yet having been retroactively awarded to Rick Santorum), he was  marching to the  nomination. This prompted a scramble away from Romney,  right into the waiting  arms of Newt Gingrich.

The former House speaker then easily won South Carolina  and gave Republicans another acute case of buyer’s remorse. …

So now maybe GOP voters  will settle in with Romney for the long haul.  Or maybe they’ll look again at  Romney and see a transparently  inauthentic conservative of convenience with a  propensity for  mind-boggling gaffes (“I’m also unemployed,” and  “Corporations are  people, my friend,” and “Well, the banks  aren’t bad people,” and so  on.)

And as surely as Mitt Romney rose, bringing new  pronouncements of his  inevitability, he fell. Conservatives still don’t like  him.

But can Santorum avoid a buyer’s remorse come-down? There  are a  number of factors weighing against him, starting with money and   organization. It seems likely that Team Romney will turn its focus on  Santorum  the way it did on Gingrich after South Carolina (though as of  this morning, Gingrich remained in the Mitt-bot’s sights). As Santorum  noted Tuesday night,  “Tonight we had an opportunity to see what a  campaign looks like when one  candidate isn’t outspent five- or  ten-to-one by negative ads impugning their  integrity and distorting  their record.” Does anyone think that Santorum will  get another clear  shot where he isn’t heavily outspent and drilled with  negative ads?

As National Journal’s Alex Roarty writes:

Romney won’t have to look hard  for way[s] to attack Santorum, whose  16-year career in Washington provides an  array of easy targets. The  former governor has already criticized his support  for congressional  earmarks, and Santorum will also be forced to explain his  2004  endorsement of then moderate Republican Sen. Arlen Specter against a   Republican challenger (Specter later switched into the Democratic  Party).

More broadly, Romney can argue his business background  makes him  better suited to turn around the country than a career politician–a   tactic that helped him overcome Gingrich.

We might also be reminded that Santorum’s last act in  public life  before running for president was receiving a historic drubbing from  the  voters of Pennsylvania, losing his seat by 18 points.

As for Romney, he must feel rather like Michael Corleone  in the otherwise forgettable Godfather:  Part III,  who laments, “Just when I thought I was out … they pull me back  in.”  No pivot to the center and the general election for Mitt. He’ll need to   turn his focus back to figuring out how to placate his own party,  possibly with  a hard tack to the right on the social issues which (a)  have been Santorum’s  bread and butter and (b) are suddenly at the heart  of the national political  conversation (birth control and gay  marriage). This is not the stuff of which  winning general election  candidates are made.

 

By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, February 8, 2012

February 9, 2012 - Posted by | Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , ,

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