Nobody predicted that the candidate that would stand between Mitt Romney and the Republican presidential nomination would be Rick Santorum. The thought is so farfetched that one has to wonder if Santorum ever really believed that he could be the nominee.
On the cusp of his first visit to Iowa in the fall of 2009, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza titled in his Morning Fix, “Is Santorum Serious?” In the article, he asked the question on everyone’s mind as Santorum talked about what would likely turn into a 2012 presidential campaign, “Is he crazy?”
Obviously, Santorum’s presidential aspirations were not as crazy as everyone thought. However, to get where he is today, Santorum had to overcome two major obstacles. The first was electability. Santorum lost his 2006 U.S. Senate re-election campaign by 18 points. In the pundits’ minds, it didn’t matter that Santorum was from a state with a million more Registered Democrats than Republican and 2006 was a horrible year for Republican.
The other obstacle was Santorum’s strong stances on social conservative issues. Many people, especially those in the media, believed that his appeal was limited to only social conservatives and that he would be seen as too divisive to win the nomination. Even after he found success in Iowa, the media seemed to dismiss his victory because other social conservatives like Mike Huckabee had previously been able to do well in the state. Like Huckabee, they believed he would never really challenge for the nomination.
With Santorum now leading in the polls, the Romney campaign and its affiliated Super PAC, is once again taking aim at their top Republican challenger. It’s not the first time Romney has felt threatened enough by Santorum to attack him. Romney ran similar ads to the one they are now running in Michigan in the lead-up to the South Carolina primary. However, this time Santorum is much stronger. If Santorum defeats Romney in his childhood state of Michigan, the candidate who everyone blew off for the last two years might walk away with the nomination.
As soon as Santorum emerged as Romney’s chief opponent, the media began to talk about the onslaught of negative ads that Romney would run against him. Romney and his Super PAC did not disappoint. Restore Our Future, the Romney Super PAC, unleashed an ad that painted Santorum is a big spender and a Washington insider among other things.
The only problem is that Romney’s attacks seem to ring hollow. The National Taxpayers Union, a group that has been scoring members of Congress for over 20 years, shows that Santorum placed in the top 10 percent of senators, and 5th out of 50 senators during his time in the senate when it comes to fiscal conservatism.
It’s not the first time during this election that the ads by Romney and his Super PAC have been a little misleading. A few weeks ago, Romney attacked Gingrich for overstating his involvement during the Reagan Administration. The ads failed to mention that Romney himself has said he was an independent during the Reagan-Bush years and tried to distance himself from that administration. Romney’s Super PAC also attacked Gingrich for supporting an individual healthcare mandate, even though Romney’s key legislative accomplishment was a government mandated healthcare law.
One of Romney’s main attacks against Santorum has been on his use of earmarks. Yet, during his time as Massachusetts Governor, Romney requested millions in earmarks. Romney backer and chief earmark critic, Arizona Senator John McCain, once took to the floor of the Senate to rail against the estimated $1.3 billion in earmarks that were requested for the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics that Romney oversaw.
Romney’s problems are not just limited to the hollow attacks by his campaign and Super PAC. He has gone about the 2012 Republican presidential nomination like it’s an extension of the general election, not a primary fight. That strategy worked well in the months leading up to the Iowa Caucuses, but he has alienated conservative voters who dominate primary elections. The thought that a conservative like Santorum would be leading him in the polls after Nevada is something Romney never fathomed.
For all intents and purposes, Romney’s campaign had to believe that the primary would be over by now. If everything had gone according to their plan, Romney’s decision to basically ignore the Republican base would be something that the media would have lauded as shrewd move, the type of decision only an astute businessman like Romney would make.
The problem is that Santorum’s continued existence in the race and his growing poll numbers mean that the media is actually writing the inverse of that story. Now, they are wondering why Romney can’t put away a candidate like Santorum. And worse, they mock Romney’s attempts to attack his opponent.
If Romney’s hollow attacks and failed campaign strategy weren’t bad enough, he has not yet to build a convincing case that explains to voters why he is the best candidate to take on President Obama in the fall. Romney has built his case on electability alone. Sure, he talks about reducing spending and balancing the budget in Massachusetts, but those things don’t set Romney apart from any other run of the mill Republican candidate.
Romney has rightfully stressed his business background throughout the campaign, but if you run as an outsider, you can’t afford to have people to question what you believe. Since the 2008 campaign, Romney has run away from his key accomplishment as governor, healthcare reform. He tells people he will repeal Obamacare, and that his healthcare proposal is nothing like it, but that’s it. Santorum has destroyed him on the subject in recent debates, and yet Romney acts as if no problem exists.
For as much praise as the Romney apparatus has received, they have run a horrible campaign. Anyone could win a race by drowning his or her opponents in negative ads. The amazing thing is that a political dream team with almost unlimited resources could be in a position where they lose a nomination they thought they had in the bag for the last four years.
Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com
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