Government & Politics
 

Yet again, GOP voters go whole hog for ‘anybody but Romney’

Rick Santorum on the campaign trail: the latest Romney option. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr Creative Commons)

Back in December, I advised my vast army of readers to bet on unusual permutations in the 2012 Republican primaries. So imagine this post being typed on an imaginary aircraft carrier, with a banner behind the author declaring “Weirdness Accomplished.”

Tuesday night Rick Santorum not only swept GOP contests in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado, the former Pennsylvania senator positively dominated the field. He won every county in Missouri and all but a handful of Minnesota’s 87 counties. The presumed front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, didn’t win a single county in either state. In Missouri Romney trailed Santorum by 30 percentage points, and in Minnesota he finished a distant third behind Texas Congressman Ron Paul. (Apparently the “land of 10,000 lakes” has only 8,000 Romney caucus-goers.) In Denver, Romney told an unfilled room of supporters that he was “pretty confident we’ll come in number one or number two” in the Colorado caucus, where he’d been favored. I knew immediately after that lame prediction that Romney would lose to Santorum, which he did, by five percentage points.

CNN’s Alan Silverleib writes:

Rick Santorum’s Tuesday trifecta reflects a central truth of the 2012 campaign. The most conservative voters will never love Mitt Romney, no matter what he says or does. They doubt his authenticity and wish they could vote for someone else.

Correct! And it’s what I was saying back in December. Romney is unloved by conservative Tea Partiers who don’t want to settle for another “moderate” nominee, as they did four years ago. For conservatives, there’s a huge disconnect between the fevered rhetoric about the stakes in 2012 (“The country is doomed if Obama is re-elected”), their Tea Party principles (“Only authentic, austere conservatives can save us”) and the GOP establishment’s coalescence around a candidate deemed best able to beat the president (“Hold your nose and pick Mitt, we need to win!”). Simply put, robotic Romney is not going to bridge these divides.

Nonetheless, during the vicissitudes of the campaign season pundits like Kathleen Parker have been hard at work pushing the “Romney is inevitable” meme. They’ve told us to ignore the debate theatrics and fluctuating polls and look deeper inside ourselves. There we’ll see that Romney has always been the nominee. That’s insulting, and I’m not even a conservative. It’s like parents forcing a teenage daughter to go to the prom with her pimply cousin. The daughter would rather be struck by a sweet meteor of death, but she’s run out of good options. If she does yield to her parents and go with her cousin – a big if – she’s not going to be happy at the dance. She’ll probably ignore her date the whole time and go home with someone (anyone) else.

Of course Romney’s complexion is smooth as can be. His pimples are on the inside: his record troubles conservatives and his careful stump speeches don’t inspire grassroots passion. (Few of the counties he has won thus far have recorded high turnout) So Romney has used his money to accrue a professional campaign apparatus that projects his “inevitability.” And since he seems “inevitable,” other presidential wannabes have endorsed him, such as Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and, more recently, developer-turned-TV celeb Donald Trump. A day before Santorum won nearly every county in his state, Pawlenty had this to say: ”Rick Santorum is a nice guy, but he is simply not ready to be president.” Takes one to know one, I suppose. Pawlenty discounted the results in his own state by saying the Minnesota GOP gravitates “toward the perceived most conservative candidate” in the race. I see. Pawlenty didn’t even attend a caucus in Minnesota to vote for Romney. It probably would’ve been too embarrassing.

I hate campaigns that run on “inevitability.” I wish they’d all lose – all the haughty front-runners who only communicate through stupid ads and who won’t stoop to acknowledge competitors or criticism, and who avoid the “risk” of public forums and debates. In his spectacularly bad and brief campaign, Texas Gov. Rick Perry rolled out a version of the inevitability strategy with Iowa commercials that basically assumed he would become president. Confidence on the campaign trail is one thing, but I loathe candidates who assume they have voter support before either earning it or even directly asking for it. Voters are right to rebel against them.

That’s one thing I like about Sen. David Vitter. Even when he’s way ahead in the polls, he always campaigns like he’s 10 points down. Vitter says he’s still making up his mind about which GOP presidential candidate to support. I doubt he will trap himself like Pawlenty did (or, for that matter, Gov. Bobby Jindal, a former Perry surrogate) and support a nominee (like Romney) who might underperform in the Louisiana primary on March 24. I’m guessing that Santorum will court Vitter’s support. Santorum’s adviser is John Brabender, the founder of the media outfit that in 2010 created Vitter’s race-baiting TV ads on illegal immigration and  similar spots for Plaquemines Parish president Billy Nungesser, (whom Vitter endorsed), in his failed campaign for lieutenant governor.  Brabender worked on the Rudy Giuliani 2008 campaign, which Vitter supported.

Just as the election season gets weirder and more interesting, political analyst John Maginnis reminds us that Louisiana’s GOP primary/caucus process is idiotically geared toward party elites rather than the pure will of the people. As Maginnis explains, primary votes will determine less than half of the delegate allocations to the candidates, and perhaps far less. Multiple layers of GOP bigwigs electing bigger wigs will decide the lion’s share.

As the tension between “frontrunner” Romney and a disenchanted GOP base persists in coming weeks, expect Louisiana Republicans as well as the state’s GOP primary process to receive more attention.

Help us report this story     Report an error    
The Lens' donors and partners may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover.