Is Santorum the GOP's Self-Absorbed Spoiler?
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The Fiscal Times
April 4, 2012

Speaking from Mars last night, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum renewed his pledge to stay in the GOP presidential campaign to the bitter end, arguing that he is the one true conservative remaining in the field who could lead the party to victory over  President Obama in November.

Ignoring his losses to frontrunner Mitt Romney in Maryland, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia earlier in the day, Santorum told loyalists who gathered in Mars, Pa. that their party was doomed to defeat this fall if it once again nominates a moderate like Romney to challenge a sitting Democratic president. Santorum noted that only once in the last 120 years has a Republican defeated an incumbent Democratic president, and that was when conservative icon Ronald Reagan toppled President Jimmy Carter in 1980.

“Time and time again the Republican establishment and aristocracy have shoved down the throats of the Republican Party and people across this country, moderate Republicans,” Santorum said. “Because of course we have to win by getting people in the middle. There's one person who understood, we don't win by moving to the middle. We win by getting people in the middle to move to us and move this country forward.”

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But are GOP party “aristocrats” like former President George H.W. Bush, former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin really trying to shove Romney’s candidacy down the throats of rank and file GOP conservatives, as Santorum insists? Or has the right wing of the party gradually come Romney’s way, as primary entrance and exist polls strongly indicate.

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Santorum has waged a populist campaign with a heavy appeal to social and religious conservatives --especially the anti-abortion and anti gay marriage forces -- and to fiscal conservatives -- especially small government advocates. The former Pennsylvania congressman and senator has belittled Romney as a phony conservative with no philosophical  compass – the Etch a Sketch candidate who would do or say anything to win.

And Santorum insists that Republicans and the courts should disqualify Romney for the nomination because the health care reform plan he helped enact in Massachusetts became the model for Obama’s national health care initiative that is now under siege. “Ladies and gentleman if we're going to win this race, we can't have little differences between our nominee and President Obama,” Santorum said. “We have to have clear, contrasting colors.”

Yet Romney has won more than twice as many primaries and caucuses as Santorum – 24 to 10 -- and racked up more than twice as many delegates, 655 to 278. Republicans have been motivated to vote for Romney largely because they think he stands the best chance of beating Obama in November. And exit polls show that Romney has gradually been making inroads within Santorum’s political base.

Yesterday offered a prime example. Romney thumped Santorum, 43 percent to 38 percent, in Wisconsin in what began as a fairly competitive contest, and he beat Santorum in Maryland, 49 percent to 29 percent, in a race that Romney was favored to win from the start. In scoring those victories, Romney did very well among the most conservative and religiously motivated Republicans who turned out to vote.

 In  Wisconsin, Romney and Santorum were tied, 43 percent to 43 percent, among the third of the GOP voters who described themselves as “very conservative,” according to polls conducted by Edison Research for the National Election Pool. Romney trounced Santorum, 54 percent to 36 percent, among  self-described “somewhat conservative” voters, while edging out Santorum among “moderate or liberal voters,” 36 percent to 33 percent.

Washington Editor and D.C. Bureau Chief Eric Pianin is a veteran journalist who has covered the federal government, congressional budget and tax issues, and national politics. He spent over 25 years at The Washington Post.