Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Why the Santorum surge now?

Conventional wisdom for months now has been that this presidential election will hinge on the economy. As I've said many times, I don't tend to buy conventional wisdom. Life in this 24/7 news cycle is just too chaotic for one thing to dominate an election completely for that long.

So last Friday we had another great jobs report and it looks like the economy might be continuing the long slow slog towards recovery. Almost immediately I asked the question what will Republicans run on now? When you look at what they have in their bag of tricks, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the few remaining things they have left. So first up...cultural wedge issues.

It should come as no surprise then, that the media is consumed with talk about the Obama administration's new rule on employer contraception coverage, the Komen fiasco, and now - in the days ahead - I assume we'll be hearing alot about the California circuit court ruling on gay marriage.

Enter Rick Santorum. No matter how hard he tried to bolster his bonafides on the economy and foreign policy during the debates, he's known for one thing...being a cultural warrior.

All those Republican establishment folks who thought Romney would be the man to take it to President Obama on the economy misread the situation on two counts. First of all, they misread the voting public's (both Democrat and Republican) distaste for a vulture capitalist at this point. And even more importantly, they assumed they could ensure the economy would fail despite Obama's efforts. Wrong!

Given all that, it should come as no surprise that Santorum won the 3 races that were held yesterday in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado.

But let me stipulate a couple of things. First of all, I don't think the Republicans can win on cultural wedge issues. It appeals to their base but not the general electorate. And secondly, I'm not saying that these things will dominate the race over the entire 9 months until election day. If we've learned anything from this primary its that the Republican base is volatile at this point. So I expect to continue to see swings. And I expect the Republican establishment to try their hand at turning the conversation to foreign policy before this thing is over. Their ace on that one will be developments in Iran. So keep an eye out for that one. The truth is that Mitt Romney has shown himself to be a total idiot when it comes to foreign policy. But that likely won't matter. Americans tend to take for granted that someone from the Republican establishment will be strong on that issue. So focus on Iran as the next big scary threat to America will likely play to his favor.

6 comments:

  1. I agree that Republicans will argue other issues if the economy continues to improve. But voters tend to vote based on the issues those voters care about, and I don't think Republicans arguing wedge issues will change many voters' minds. But I agree it's going to be an ugly few months....

    Good day and good nuts.

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  2. Santorum and Gingrich cannot win using Foreign policy (Iran). There isn't enough room to maneuver. All the candidates (except RP) have as much as declared that they will bomb Iran on Jan 22 (Santorum, Romney, Gingrich)

    Santorum and Gingrich can't run on the economy. It's gradually getting better and once again, there is no room to maneuver. They all sound alike. To say nothing about the fact that they truly risk being seen as "cheering against America" by badmouthing any good news.

    This leaves only wedge issues. Gingrich has two: Religious Freedom from contraceptives and Racism. Santorum has two: Total anti-abortion/no contraceptives and Gay rights. Romney is bracketed and forced to move further right, or be exposed for the sane person that he actually is.

    All of this is getting to ONLY the nomination. After, the convention, whoever is there will have to continue running on the current stands or risk the base refusing to vote.

    It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

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  3. I agree that the Republican strategy will include using both wedge issues and the Iranian nuclear "threat." But I think both approaches are ultimately losers for the GOP. The former just doesn't work as well as it used to for middle America and has a dwindling level of support for the GOP side of all those wedges.

    As for fear mongering, in my opinion the scarier they succeed in making Iran or any of the favorite foreign boogeymen of the right, the more it'll drive voters into the Obama camp. I base this on Obama's calm and strong demeanor rather than his excellent track record.

    I'm willing to bet if you surveyed voters on who they'd rather have with them in a fight, far fewer would say "give me Mitt" than would say "Barry's got my back." This really does translate into foreign policy confidence, as we saw between W. and war hero / ex-prosecutor John Kerry, who voters still perceived as vacillating and weak due to his delayed and ineffective response to the Swift Boaters. Obama just doesn't have the same image outside of rabid rightwing fantasy land.

    And if you compare Obama to Gingrich, it's even worse for Republicans. Few voters actually want to go looking for a scrape after the last decade, and Newt is the blowhard boor everyone knows who'll provoke fights when he has his pals around him - and then stand in the corner pointing out the flaws in their technique if it comes to blows.

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  4. Is the jobless rate really looking up? I hope so; and when (after three years jobhunting) I'm employed again, I'll be happy about that. But, given that the really rich people have done nothing but get richer throughout this whole recession, it feels like scraps from the table. It's still a system that funnels money toward the top, bypassing the vast majority of the population that makes up the real economy. That's unsustainable.

    But -- agreed, the Republicans can't win the national race anymore with those hyped-up wedge issues. And Obama seems to be preemptively talking tough about Iran (scary how much applause you can get from Congress by implying we might be sending teenagers off to yet another Middle Eastern war). (It baffles me why so many people think Republicans are "stronger on defense". I know of no evidence for that.)

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  5. The number of people who not only hate gays or want to ban abortion for rape victims, but also feel strongly enough about such things to vote on that basis, is pretty small relative to the whole population. But it's big enough to decide a low-turn-out event like a Republican state caucus.

    If the Republicans nominate Santorum, or (more likely) if these cranks in their base pull Romney in a more social-conservative direction, it will definitely hurt them in the general election. Many of them really seem not to care, though. They'd rather keep the Republican party ideologically pure than win. On Republican sites I'm seeing some very gloomy commentary -- the more sensible ones realize they're likely to lose because of this stuff.

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  6. Conventional wisdom says that R turnout is way down because R's don't like Romney. It might be true, but I don't think its the whole story.

    I think that the sane R's are now convinced that the TP has an actual stranglehold on the party. That's where the REAL enthusiasm gap is. The media whores of the rightwing have pushed this TP garbage for 3 years now, and the actually sane R's have to be feeling that their votes can't count.

    This also account for the upsurge in "independant" voters and growing conservatism of those same voters. Conservative didn't used to mean crazy.

    Speaking of crazy, here is the actual text of the Georgia birther case. Essentially, no one showed up for the Pres, and the idiot birthers STILL couldn't win.

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