You can bet in the Romney war-room, they’re furious. They have spent the entire period since South Carolina pounding Gingrich with millions of dollars in negative advertising, and while they did this, Rick Santorum crept quietly past Team Mitt, and delivered him a stunning blow in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri. While it is true that these contests won’t award any delegates, it’s pretty clear that Tuesday’s Santorum Romp put the lie to this whole “inevitable Mitt” business. I don’t think the establishment is very happy, as I think I saw a quick shot of Rove beating his head on his whiteboard as FoxNews cut to a commercial break. Maybe it was wishful thinking on my part, but one thing is sure: A certain very thin blond is at this very moment clacking out a hit-piece as long as her arm, aimed at Rick Santorum. I congratulate Senator Santorum, but I also urge him to duck, because the fire he will now draw from the Romney camp will be withering.
The problem Romney faces is the same thing that’s beset him since day one on this campaign: He is in no way a conservative. He’s not even really a free-marketeer. He can’t honestly claim to be a cultural conservative, given his flips and flops on cultural issues, but his biggest flop of all, and the one that damns him with conservative voters is Romneycare. I have some advice for Mitt Romney, because we conservatives are forgiving sorts: Go run for re-election in Massachusetts and lead the repeal of Romneycare, and we’ll begin to believe you when you say you’re a conservative. Then we will know you had been serious. Check back with us in 2020. This is lkely to be the only sort of rehabilitation conservatives will accept.
Gingrich is another matter, because I expect that between Newt and Rick, you could at least expect an honest if somewhat scrappy debate, but Romney’s reliance on Alinskyite tactics means he’s merely a pollutant in this race. Romney really adds nothing but negatives, from one end to the other, and there’s no doubt but that we should be looking to see more of the same from Mitt Romney. He will go negative with piles of cash in an all-out assault on Rick Santorum as we sprint toward Super Tuesday that will now be less super as Texas will no longer be in play on that date.
Santorum should continue to focus on his own ideas, but also where Romney is concerned, he should focus all his attention on the things Romney did as governor. That’s a virtual wrecking yard of bad ideas, liberal policies, and a non-stop litany of warmed-over statism. If I were Santorum, I would also continue to drive home the point that money plus moderate Republican does not equal victory over Obama in November, and no amount of negative advertising by Romney can possibly change that fact. Conservatives might well be able to get enthusiastic about Rick Santorum, or even Newt Gingrich, but Mitt Romney will not mobilize the base, and this is the fact of which Santorum should relentlessly remind voters.
Is Santorum perfect? Nobody is. The fact remains, however, that he is substantially more conservative than Mitt Romney, which isn’t saying much by itself, but the fact is that now Santorum can expect to be hit on the matter of earmarks, as Romney scrambles to position himself to the right of Santorum on that issue. Rather than fall for that nonsense, I hope Santorum will instead focus on Romneycare, and what Romney inflicted on the people of Massachusetts, particularly on the matter of the lack of conscience opt-outs for religious institutions. He should focus on this, and hang onto it like a dog with a bone, and not be diverted from it as the media will attempt to do.
The guns will be blazing before the sun fully rises today, Wednesday, but Rick Santorum shouldn’t permit that to change his messaging, and he should focus on the facts: Romney can’t beat Obama. Romney is a liberal. The fact that Santorum is significantly more conservative than Romney should be the remainder of his case, and he should speak to the concrete things he would do in a Santorum administration to chase down the repeal of Obamacare, lock, stock, and barrel, and otherwise reverse the course of the nation. I wish Santorum well, because I think he’s overcome a big hump in the false argument about his electability, and this is something Romney simply hasn’t yet proven. That said, the negative ads will be forthcoming soon, and Santorum should be prepared to bear up graciously under it while responding through his campaign, rather than personally.