Commentary Magazine


Topic: Rick Santorum

Santorum and the Myths About 2012

If Republicans hold to past form, Rick Santorum, whose potential candidacy was profiled in Politico yesterday, ought to be their next presidential nominee. But the expectation that the runner up from the last race will win the next one—a pattern that applied in five out of the last six competitive GOP primary contests—is not one that will likely apply in 2016. The reasons why it won’t have less to do with Santorum’s shortcomings than with the very different composition of the likely field of candidates and the myths that have grown about the 2012 race in both the party’s establishment and its conservative grass roots.

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If Republicans hold to past form, Rick Santorum, whose potential candidacy was profiled in Politico yesterday, ought to be their next presidential nominee. But the expectation that the runner up from the last race will win the next one—a pattern that applied in five out of the last six competitive GOP primary contests—is not one that will likely apply in 2016. The reasons why it won’t have less to do with Santorum’s shortcomings than with the very different composition of the likely field of candidates and the myths that have grown about the 2012 race in both the party’s establishment and its conservative grass roots.

Almost everyone outside of his inner circle thought Santorum’s candidacy was pure folly heading into the 2012 cycle. But a combination of hard work beating the bushes in Iowa and the fact that he was the one true social conservative in the race enabled Santorum to emerge as the chief challenger to frontrunner Mitt Romney. Though Romney’s ultimate victory was never in doubt, Santorum won a dozen primaries and caucuses and earned the right to call himself the second-place finisher. Though politics isn’t horseshoes, coming close did help Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, John McCain, and Romney get the nomination the next time out after similar failures.

But this “rule” about runners up won’t apply this time. Unfortunately for Santorum, politics isn’t a quilt pattern. The prospective Republican field is very difference than it was four years ago, and that will dictate very different results.

First of all, there is no true front-runner as there usually is for GOP races. Indeed, the closest thing to a leading candidate once New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was laid low by Bridgegate is Senator Rand Paul. But renewed fears about terrorism mean that Paul is going to have a hard time expanding his appeal significantly beyond his libertarian base. No one, including Santorum, will be able to head into the first contests playing off the base’s resentment of the eventual candidate since no one will be in that role.

Second, though Republicans will have their share of outliers like Dr. Ben Carson, the lineup in their debates could include some genuine heavy hitters. A roster that could include the likes of Paul, Senator Ted Cruz, Christie, Rick Perry (back for his own second go at the presidency), Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Mike Pence, and maybe even Paul Ryan or Jeb Bush will leave less room for a dark horse like Santorum to squeeze through to the front of the pack.

Santorum does have on thing that his potential rivals don’t possess: The ability to play to working-class voters. Santorum was right when he criticized the 2012 Republican National Convention for its emphasis on small business owners with its attempt to counter President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” gaffe to the exclusion of those who work for them. But though Santorum brings plenty of substance to the table on economics, social issues, and foreign policy (raising the alarm about the Iranian nuclear threat was a key issue for him during his disastrous 2006 race for reelection to his Pennsylvania Senate seat), it’s far from clear the formula that worked for a time for him last time will do the trick against opponents who don’t fit as neatly into the establishment category as Romney or even New Gingrich did in 2012.

But the discussion of Santorum’s potential candidacy should also cause Republicans to rethink some other myths about their last go round.

One is the idea that Santorum’s challenge was somehow to blame for Romney’s defeat in November.

It is true that it would have been easier on Romney and saved him a great deal of money that he could have employed against Obama had Santorum quit in February rather than pushing on for another couple of months. But it should be recalled that although John McCain’s chief opponents (the most prominent of which was Romney himself) did him that favor in 2008, it didn’t help him win the general election. The same could be said of the 2012 GOP nominee. Even if his grass-roots critics had shut up about his shortcomings sooner and given him an easy glide to the nomination, he was never going to beat Obama. Romney’s weaknesses as a candidate and the enduring, if puzzling, popularity of Barack Obama beat him, not Santorum.

The other prominent 2012 myth among Republicans is the idea that the nomination of a relative moderate depressed the base so much that millions of conservatives stayed home in November ensuring a Democratic victory. That’s a theme that will be sounded by conservatives in the 2016 primaries but there’s little proof that “silent majorities” of right-wingers stayed home in the fall. But unless the GOP establishment coalesces behind a resurgent but still damaged Christie or Jeb Bush decides to run or, as some hope, Romney tries again, there will be little for the base to complain about in a race that will largely be a competition between conservatives.

Santorum’s 2012 achievements should mean that his ambitions deserve more respect from pundits than he’s currently getting. But he is, if anything, an even bigger underdog today than he was four years ago. The bottom line is that in politics there are no real precedents. Nor will rules seeking to end the race earlier than it did last time necessarily work or help the nominee win in November. The coming free-for-all will be played by a different cast and produce different results with the one exception being that it is unlikely to end in a Santorum triumph.

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On Public Service and Political Ambition

In his remarks at CPAC, former Senator and 2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum said this

I want to win too. I think everybody here wants to win, but unlike a lot of these beltway talking heads, I’m not pontificating. I actually put my neck out there — and just about every other body part. 

Senator Santorum is a man of strong convictions and impressive achievements, including his role in welfare reform and his defense of unborn children. But I think his remarks on this matter are incomplete and to some degree unfair. 

First, on the matter of “beltway talking heads,” it needs to be said that not all talking heads are created equal. Some are worthless, and some are outstanding. And the ones who are good, really good, make a difference. They inject arguments and facts, policies and language into the public conversation that are valuable — more valuable, at times, than what many candidates and office holders offer up. I can also say from experience that the best writers, thinkers and policy experts are paid attention to in the White House, including at the highest levels. So I wouldn’t be too quick to denigrate “pontificating.” George Will has contributed more to our public life than Herman Cain. 

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In his remarks at CPAC, former Senator and 2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum said this

I want to win too. I think everybody here wants to win, but unlike a lot of these beltway talking heads, I’m not pontificating. I actually put my neck out there — and just about every other body part. 

Senator Santorum is a man of strong convictions and impressive achievements, including his role in welfare reform and his defense of unborn children. But I think his remarks on this matter are incomplete and to some degree unfair. 

First, on the matter of “beltway talking heads,” it needs to be said that not all talking heads are created equal. Some are worthless, and some are outstanding. And the ones who are good, really good, make a difference. They inject arguments and facts, policies and language into the public conversation that are valuable — more valuable, at times, than what many candidates and office holders offer up. I can also say from experience that the best writers, thinkers and policy experts are paid attention to in the White House, including at the highest levels. So I wouldn’t be too quick to denigrate “pontificating.” George Will has contributed more to our public life than Herman Cain. 

On the matter of those who run for public office and put their neck out: I agree; there’s something impressive about those who run for public office. It can be wearying and often you’re the target of fierce criticisms. It can be quite unpleasant. But there is also a tendency among those who run for office to present themselves as simply and only public servants, individuals willing to sacrifice their time and comfort in order to advance the good of the nation.

It’s certainly my experience that those who run for public office believe they have something important to contribute. But that’s not all there is. For people of a certain personality, the ones who are most often drawn to politics, campaigning and being elected to high public office can be an adrenaline rush and play to vanity. There are certainly worse and harder jobs in America than soaking up the applause of the crowd, to be surrounded by earnest young aides, to do non-stop television and radio interviews, to hold town hall meetings and meet with mostly supportive voters, and be on a debate stage speaking to a national audience. 

In Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics, Michael Ignatieff, who was a leader of the Liberal Party in Canada, in talking about the truth of why people enter politics, wrote this refreshingly straightforward account:

The truth might be that you want to lead your country because the job comes with a plane, a house, a bureaucracy at your beck and call, and a security detail of men and women in suits with guns and earpieces. The truth may be that you long for power and enjoy the thrill of holding people’s futures in your hands. It might be that you are in search of posterity. You want to be famous, to be in the history books, to have schools named after you and your portrait hung in hallowed halls. It might be that you want to settle scores with your past. You want to revenge yourself on everyone who ever said you wouldn’t amount to anything. 

You wouldn’t want to say any of this. There are few rewards for candor in politics. What you say – always – is that you want to make a difference. You believe your experience qualifies you to serve. These circumlocutions are the etiquette of democracy, the ritual salute to the sovereignty of the people. The people themselves may suspect that the difference you want to make is to your own life, not to theirs. But they want to hear you say that you are in it for them.

The truth is that most politicians I have known – and by now I’ve known quite a few – are in it for themselves and for others. I don’t mean to point a finger only at politicians; what I say is true of me and of almost everyone I know. We’re driven, deeply and constantly driven, by self-interest, which is not necessarily bad. (See the author of The Theory of Moral Sentiment for more.) 

But in politics, there’s often a pretense. We tend to make it sound as if those of us who enter public life are unusually altruistic and self-giving; as if serving in the White House, campaigning and holding public office, being called “Senator” or “The Honorable” or (if you’re fortunate) “Mr. President,” is the equivalent of taking up your cross daily. It’s not.  And pace Ignatieff, I believe a bit more candor and authenticity about all this would go a long way in politics just now.

In any event, the desire for public service and personal ambition are intermixed in a complicated way. Our greatest president, Lincoln, was also a man of unsurpassed ambition. He couldn’t have achieved what he did without it. Yet he carried himself so very well.   

I’m not recommending politicians turn their campaigns into a confessional or an in-depth exploration of their interior lives. I am suggesting that a good many people would be pleased if, particularly in the hangover from the Obama years, politicians of every party and rank acknowledged what is true, and what we know to be true. The best of the best are in it for us. But they are also in it for them.  

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Cruz’s Critics Aren’t Just GOP Establishment

Senator Ted Cruz is the darling of the Republican base these days. Though most observers on both sides of the aisle consider the government shutdown he helped engineer to have been a disaster for his party, many conservatives love the fact that he was willing to fight the president and the Democrats to the last ditch on ObamaCare. Some even believe his claim that had everyone in the GOP drunk the Kool-Aid he was handing out in the Capitol, the tactic would have succeeded even if there is no rational reason to think so. More importantly, many think that any Republican who warned that the shutdown was a dumb tactic without a chance of success is a RINO traitor and part of the problem in Washington to which the Texas freshman is the only solution.

This Cruz-inspired schism seems to be the main topic for discussion about the Republican Party these days, and made the Texan’s visit to Iowa this past weekend to give a speech a matter of more than passing political interest. His appearance in the first-in-the-nation caucus state highlighted the traction he has gained among Tea Partiers, and Cruz continued to milk it with barbed comments that were aimed just as much at less militant Republicans than they were at Obama and the Democrats. But when Rick Santorum called out Cruz on Meet the Press for hurting the party more than he helped it with the shutdown, it’s time to admit there is more going on in the GOP right now than a simple split between the Tea Party and the so-called party establishment.

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Senator Ted Cruz is the darling of the Republican base these days. Though most observers on both sides of the aisle consider the government shutdown he helped engineer to have been a disaster for his party, many conservatives love the fact that he was willing to fight the president and the Democrats to the last ditch on ObamaCare. Some even believe his claim that had everyone in the GOP drunk the Kool-Aid he was handing out in the Capitol, the tactic would have succeeded even if there is no rational reason to think so. More importantly, many think that any Republican who warned that the shutdown was a dumb tactic without a chance of success is a RINO traitor and part of the problem in Washington to which the Texas freshman is the only solution.

This Cruz-inspired schism seems to be the main topic for discussion about the Republican Party these days, and made the Texan’s visit to Iowa this past weekend to give a speech a matter of more than passing political interest. His appearance in the first-in-the-nation caucus state highlighted the traction he has gained among Tea Partiers, and Cruz continued to milk it with barbed comments that were aimed just as much at less militant Republicans than they were at Obama and the Democrats. But when Rick Santorum called out Cruz on Meet the Press for hurting the party more than he helped it with the shutdown, it’s time to admit there is more going on in the GOP right now than a simple split between the Tea Party and the so-called party establishment.

Just a year and a half ago Santorum was leading the opposition to the establishment in the Republican presidential primaries. Though he failed to stop the Mitt Romney juggernaut, the long-shot candidate won Iowa and several other primaries and caucuses on his way to being the runner-up in the GOP race. Santorum clearly hopes to try again in 2016 and that explains, at least in part, his willingness to criticize a potential opponent like Cruz.

But in doing so, he illustrated that there are more than just two factions within the GOP. Cruz may be the leading spokesman for the Tea Party critique of Washington Republicans’ inability to defeat ObamaCare and the rest of the liberal project. But Santorum’s ability to tap into working-class resentments of a party that seems at times to be dominated by big business as well as his ability to speak for social conservatives should remind us that there are elements in the party outside of Capitol Hill or K Street that are not solely motivated by Cruz’s concerns about small government.

Of course, there is a great deal of overlap between Santorum’s core constituency and those who are attracted to Cruz. The same can also be said of many of the Republicans who supposedly fall into the category of establishment supporters because of their disdain for the shutdown strategy. Almost all Republicans these days want smaller government and oppose ObamaCare. But it needs to be understood that many of those who were appalled at the party’s embrace of a big-business establishment-type figure like Romney are not necessarily going to jump on Cruz’s bandwagon or accept his single-minded tactics that brand anyone who isn’t ready to follow him into every fight, no matter how quixotic, as a closet liberal.

Santorum’s dogged social conservatism seems the antithesis of the belief of a RINO, but even he understood that the gap between what he conceded was Cruz’s “laudable” goal of eliminating ObamaCare and a coherent plan to accomplish it was huge.

Moreover, Santorum reminded Republicans that the notion that Cruz is the face of the Republican Party today is laughable.

Unlike the Democratic Party, which has the president, there isn’t a leader in the Republican Party right now. That’s part of the reason for the mess and the confusion in the party. But that’s always the way it is with a party out of power. You have lots of different faces and those faces, as we’ve seen, they come and they go.

Santorum is hoping that his time as a leading Republican isn’t in the past tense, but we won’t know that for sure until we see whether his brand of religious conservatism can hold its own against that of Cruz, Rand Paul, or even Marco Rubio or Chris Christie. But while the latter may be the stand-in for Romney for GOP voters, the others will be battling each other for a share of the conservative vote.

The point here is not that Santorum or any of the other potential candidates can beat Cruz. Rather, the point to be gleaned from this exchange is that for all of Cruz’s recent notoriety, he is just one man in a party full of potential presidents with a variety of conservative constituencies rather than a mere standoff between Cruz’s rebels and the establishment. Those who think the only real story about the Republicans in the coming years is whether Cruz will lead a successful purge of all who opposed him are missing that.

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Are We Still Underestimating Santorum?

Prior to the 2012 campaign, as Rick Santorum prepared to run for president few pundits (including this one) took his bid seriously. Nor did most Republican operatives think the former Pennsylvania senator’s campaign had a ghost of a chance to even survive until the votes started being counted in Iowa. Yet Santorum persisted and wound up winning a dozen caucuses and primaries on the way to being the unofficial runner-up for the nomination to eventual winner Mitt Romney. Though there are no silver medals handed out for finishing second in politics, it was still an amazing achievement for someone who had been left for dead politically after losing his 2006 re-election race by a landslide.

Given that strong showing, you might think Santorum would be treated as a viable candidate for 2016. Indeed, given the Republicans’ unofficial tradition of nominating for president the candidate who failed after a strong run in the previous competitive race (a list that includes Romney, John McCain, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan), you might think Santorum would be considered a first-tier contender for 2016, if not a frontrunner. But that isn’t the case. The consensus appears to be that with a much stronger field of prospective candidates than the party had in 2012—a group that includes Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and Scott Walker—Santorum hasn’t much of a chance. But that might be a mistake. As pieces in the Daily Beast and Politico published today point out, Santorum is not only back on the hustings in Iowa (where he outworked the other candidates last year); he has a hold on the affections of a crucial portion of the GOP electorate that none of those big names can claim. So long as no other Republican can establish themselves as the favorite of social conservatives or as one who cares about the working class, Santorum will be a factor in the presidential race.

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Prior to the 2012 campaign, as Rick Santorum prepared to run for president few pundits (including this one) took his bid seriously. Nor did most Republican operatives think the former Pennsylvania senator’s campaign had a ghost of a chance to even survive until the votes started being counted in Iowa. Yet Santorum persisted and wound up winning a dozen caucuses and primaries on the way to being the unofficial runner-up for the nomination to eventual winner Mitt Romney. Though there are no silver medals handed out for finishing second in politics, it was still an amazing achievement for someone who had been left for dead politically after losing his 2006 re-election race by a landslide.

Given that strong showing, you might think Santorum would be treated as a viable candidate for 2016. Indeed, given the Republicans’ unofficial tradition of nominating for president the candidate who failed after a strong run in the previous competitive race (a list that includes Romney, John McCain, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan), you might think Santorum would be considered a first-tier contender for 2016, if not a frontrunner. But that isn’t the case. The consensus appears to be that with a much stronger field of prospective candidates than the party had in 2012—a group that includes Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and Scott Walker—Santorum hasn’t much of a chance. But that might be a mistake. As pieces in the Daily Beast and Politico published today point out, Santorum is not only back on the hustings in Iowa (where he outworked the other candidates last year); he has a hold on the affections of a crucial portion of the GOP electorate that none of those big names can claim. So long as no other Republican can establish themselves as the favorite of social conservatives or as one who cares about the working class, Santorum will be a factor in the presidential race.

Right now, political observers are focused—as we were before 2012—on the question of which Republican can best appeal to the Tea Party movement. That will be a major factor in the GOP race, but we forget that social conservatives remain a key Republican constituency. Though a single-minded focus on abortion or opposition to gay marriage would be a liability to the GOP in a general election, religious conservatives can’t be ignored in Republican primaries. Though all of the possible 2016 contenders are pro-life, none, save for Santorum, can be said to be particularly or exclusively devoted to their interests as he was, or as Mike Huckabee was in 2008. They were the factor that propelled Santorum to the first tier last year and could do the same for any of the contenders in the next contest.

Just as important is Santorum’s critique of the 2012 GOP campaign for ignoring the interests of working-class voters. Running an extremely wealthy candidate like Romney with no seeming connection to the concerns of ordinary middle-class voters was enough of a problem. But Santorum is on to something when he says that even the Republican National Convention’s attempt to exploit President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” gaffe was only directed toward business owners, not the people who labor in those businesses.

What Santorum is aiming at here is a GOP strategy that seeks to re-engage with what an earlier generation called “Reagan Democrats” or even the Ross Perot voters of the 1990s. They make up what Sean Trende identified in Real Clear Politics as the party’s “missing white voters” who could theoretically make up for their failure to connect with the growing Hispanic population.

None of this will necessarily make up for Santorum’s relative lack of star power compared with any in the upcoming class of GOP candidates. Christie’s ability to appeal to independents could make him a juggernaut, as could Paul’s growing libertarian faction. Moreover, it is entirely possible that a candidate like Ryan or Rubio could steal the Pennsylvanian’s thunder with religious voters and make him irrelevant in 2016. But anyone inclined to write off Santorum this far in advance is likely making a mistake.

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GOP Should Listen to Santorum

Rick Santorum has had a hard time getting in the discussion about 2016. The deep bench of Republican contenders for the next presidential election has moved the unofficial runner up in the 2012 GOP contest to the party’s back burner. Most of the media seems to think that with Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Paul Ryan in the conversation, why bother listening to the guy who won 11 primaries and caucuses while giving Mitt Romney a run for his money a year ago? Santorum, who managed to overcome the same media indifference and skepticism throughout the winter and spring of 2012, is probably not going to do as well next time around. But he still has an important message for a party that has spent the last several months debating why Barack Obama beat them. Speaking yesterday at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in Washington, Santorum returned to a favorite theme during the last campaign: don’t ignore the working class.

Most Republicans have already accepted the truth of the two conclusions that both conservative activists and mainstream establishment types agree are the primary lessons of 2012: a. don’t use abortion and rape in the same sentence (call it the “Todd Akin rule”); and b. parties that oppose the excesses of the liberal welfare state shouldn’t nominate millionaire Wall Street executives (the “Mitt Romney rule”). While some on the right are still having trouble with the Akin rule, fortunately for the GOP, all of their likely 2016 contenders are officeholders, not hedge fund operators. But Santorum’s message goes farther than mere biography and points out why the convention theme that delighted most Republicans fell flat with the rest of the country.

Amid all the back and forth about what went wrong in 2012, no other Republican has criticized the Tampa Convention’s emphasis on a critique of President Obama’s infamous “You didn’t build that” comment. But Santorum understands that as much as the GOP’s paean to capitalism and individual initiative was correct and highly satisfying for conservatives, it also reinforced the Democratic attempt to smear Republicans as tools of the rich and inimitable to the interests of the middle class and workers.

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Rick Santorum has had a hard time getting in the discussion about 2016. The deep bench of Republican contenders for the next presidential election has moved the unofficial runner up in the 2012 GOP contest to the party’s back burner. Most of the media seems to think that with Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Paul Ryan in the conversation, why bother listening to the guy who won 11 primaries and caucuses while giving Mitt Romney a run for his money a year ago? Santorum, who managed to overcome the same media indifference and skepticism throughout the winter and spring of 2012, is probably not going to do as well next time around. But he still has an important message for a party that has spent the last several months debating why Barack Obama beat them. Speaking yesterday at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in Washington, Santorum returned to a favorite theme during the last campaign: don’t ignore the working class.

Most Republicans have already accepted the truth of the two conclusions that both conservative activists and mainstream establishment types agree are the primary lessons of 2012: a. don’t use abortion and rape in the same sentence (call it the “Todd Akin rule”); and b. parties that oppose the excesses of the liberal welfare state shouldn’t nominate millionaire Wall Street executives (the “Mitt Romney rule”). While some on the right are still having trouble with the Akin rule, fortunately for the GOP, all of their likely 2016 contenders are officeholders, not hedge fund operators. But Santorum’s message goes farther than mere biography and points out why the convention theme that delighted most Republicans fell flat with the rest of the country.

Amid all the back and forth about what went wrong in 2012, no other Republican has criticized the Tampa Convention’s emphasis on a critique of President Obama’s infamous “You didn’t build that” comment. But Santorum understands that as much as the GOP’s paean to capitalism and individual initiative was correct and highly satisfying for conservatives, it also reinforced the Democratic attempt to smear Republicans as tools of the rich and inimitable to the interests of the middle class and workers.

As Politico notes:

“One after another, they talked about the business they had built. But not a single—not a single —factory worker went out there,” Santorum told a few hundred conservative activists at an “after-hours session” of the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in Washington. “Not a single janitor, waitress or person who worked in that company! We didn’t care about them. You know what? They built that company too! And we should have had them on that stage.”

When all you do is talk to people who are owners, talk to folks who are ‘Type As’ who want to succeed economically, we’re talking to a very small group of people,” he said. “No wonder they don’t think we care about them. No wonder they don’t think we understand them. Folks, if we’re going to win, you just need to think about who you talk to in your life.”

Trying to carve out a role as a leading populist in the 2016 field, Santorum insisted that Republicans must “talk to the folks who are worried about the next paycheck,” not the CEOs.

While Politico and most other observers see this as mainly an attempt to pile on Romney, Santorum actually has a broader point. In their haste to push back against the big government liberalism of Obama and his party, Republicans have sometimes seemed to forget that conservatives only succeed when they can appeal to rank-and-file Americans who are as suspicious of Wall Street as they are of the Internal Revenue Service and the rest of the governmental leviathan. A party that rightly venerates Ronald Reagan often forgets that even though his time as a spokesman for General Electric was pivotal in his political development, he ran against the elites, not as their spear-carrier.

The Tea Party movement protests helped win the 2010 midterms for Republicans because they were an expression of grass roots discontent about spending and taxing. But running for president requires more than just opposition to liberal plans. Candidates not only need to say what they are for but how their plans will affect the lives of working people. Much of the middle and working class embrace values of hard work and patriotism that might incline them to vote for Republicans so long as they feel GOP candidates care about their wellbeing.

There were a lot of reasons why Republicans failed in 2012. Perhaps even a perfect GOP candidate and campaign would not have been enough to persuade Americans to make the first African-American a one-term president. But the Republican failure to prevent the Democrats from seizing the mantle of the middle and working classes ensured their defeat.

The centrality of social conservatism in Santorum’s political personality will probably always make it impossible for him to win the Republican nomination, let alone actually be elected president. With a whole new class of attractive and dynamic GOP candidates set to run in 2016, it’s hard to imagine how he will be able to duplicate his unlikely surge in the last go round. But instead of ignoring him, Republicans should be listening to Santorum’s critique of their party. If they don’t, all of the non-millionaires lining up to be the nominee won’t get any closer to the Oval Office than Romney did.

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Santorum’s Disastrous Speech

Rick Santorum, the passionate conservative, just gave a heartfelt speech at the Republican Convention. Heartfelt—and very bad. It was bad because of its central metaphorical conceit—hands. Santorum informed America that he had “shaken the hand of the American dream,” and then went on to talk about shaking the hands of farmers and the hands of this guy and that woman and so on. Rhetorical conceits work when they are unnoticed, when they are introduced almost (forgive me) off-handedly and then begin to broaden and deepen as the speech itself does. The problem is that you can’t shake the hand of a dream—a dream is something abstract, hands are real, the metaphor simply doesn’t work, and you notice it the way you notice a hangnail. Then, every time it comes back, you’re reminded of the original bizarrerie and you feel uncomfortable and confused. Santorum pulled himself out of the ditch by bringing up the condition of his disabled daughter Bella, an undeniably touching story, and then tying that to his pro-life message. But before that, Santorum gave the world a master class in how not to give a convention speech.

Rick Santorum, the passionate conservative, just gave a heartfelt speech at the Republican Convention. Heartfelt—and very bad. It was bad because of its central metaphorical conceit—hands. Santorum informed America that he had “shaken the hand of the American dream,” and then went on to talk about shaking the hands of farmers and the hands of this guy and that woman and so on. Rhetorical conceits work when they are unnoticed, when they are introduced almost (forgive me) off-handedly and then begin to broaden and deepen as the speech itself does. The problem is that you can’t shake the hand of a dream—a dream is something abstract, hands are real, the metaphor simply doesn’t work, and you notice it the way you notice a hangnail. Then, every time it comes back, you’re reminded of the original bizarrerie and you feel uncomfortable and confused. Santorum pulled himself out of the ditch by bringing up the condition of his disabled daughter Bella, an undeniably touching story, and then tying that to his pro-life message. But before that, Santorum gave the world a master class in how not to give a convention speech.

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GOP Convention Looks to the Future

The final slate of speakers at the Republican National Convention is shaping up, and it’s no surprise that Chris Christie and Marco Rubio both scored high-profile slots:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will deliver the keynote address at the Republican National Convention later this month, USA Today reported. Meanwhile, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio will introduce Mitt Romney, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Christie confirmed earlier reports that he would give the 20-minute address, saying he will make an “empathetic” argument for the GOP and voting for Mitt Romney. The Republican governor is on his fourth draft of the speech and “grinding away on it,” he told USA Today.

The choices of Christie and Rubio for prominent roles indicate that the RNC’s convention theme is forward-looking, and reformist rather than rejectionist (a distinction that Michael Gerson articulated in the Washington Post a few months ago).

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The final slate of speakers at the Republican National Convention is shaping up, and it’s no surprise that Chris Christie and Marco Rubio both scored high-profile slots:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will deliver the keynote address at the Republican National Convention later this month, USA Today reported. Meanwhile, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio will introduce Mitt Romney, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Christie confirmed earlier reports that he would give the 20-minute address, saying he will make an “empathetic” argument for the GOP and voting for Mitt Romney. The Republican governor is on his fourth draft of the speech and “grinding away on it,” he told USA Today.

The choices of Christie and Rubio for prominent roles indicate that the RNC’s convention theme is forward-looking, and reformist rather than rejectionist (a distinction that Michael Gerson articulated in the Washington Post a few months ago).

But the list of speakers is also interesting because of who has been excluded. There are libertarian-leaning conservatives, but Ron Paul has been skipped over in favor of his less doctrinal son, Rand. Sarah Palin wasn’t offered a slot, a result of her waning influence in the party and the rise of other conservative favorites who can satisfy the Tea Party base without alienating the center. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney didn’t make the cut either.

Also note that out of the top GOP primary contenders, only Rick Santorum has a speaking role:

Of Romney’s onetime rivals for the Republican nomination — a colorful cast that includes former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former pizza executive Herman Cain, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) — only former Senator Rick Santorum has been asked to speak.

“The agenda of speakers reflect the priorities the campaign has going into the fall,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean. “If they were to put someone out there who was not helpful, who was off message or a loud mouth, it would do nothing but hurt their efforts.”

While all of these candidates were at the top of the primary polls at one point or another, the RNC apparently doesn’t see them as the future of the party. The convention will elevate Christie and Rubio, and if Romney loses, they’re likely to be the top contenders — along with Ryan — in 2016.

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Santorum and the Danger of Becoming the Grievance Candidate

At various times throughout the presidential campaign, Rick Santorum has shown himself to be impressive: articulate, forceful, passionate, and a fine, and at times an outstanding, debater. But there are other times when he’s simply off-key. One example is his silly statement that “I’ve always believed that when you run for president of the United States, it should be illegal to read off a teleprompter, because all you’re doing is reading someone else’s words to people.” My former White House colleague Michael Gerson systematically blows apart Santorum’s argument in his Washington Post column today.

One might think that Santorum’s forays into the land of spontaneous and unfiltered comments — about John F. Kennedy’s 1960 Houston Ministerial Association speech (which Santorum said wanted to make him vomit), on Barack Obama’s effort to encourage more people to go to college (Santorum said Obama was a “snob”) and on contraception (which he considers a grave threat to the Republic and is an issue he promised to talk about if he became president) — would make Rick a little more appreciative of the virtues of carefully crafted speeches and a little less contemptuous of the speechwriting process. But apparently not. For what it’s worth, in my stints as a speechwriter – including for then-Secretary of Education William Bennett and President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2002 – the principals were heavily involved from beginning to end, from the conception of a speech to the editing process. And of course during his political career, I would wager a good deal of money that Santorum has had people draft speeches for him; and he might even have read them from, say, the floor of the Senate.

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At various times throughout the presidential campaign, Rick Santorum has shown himself to be impressive: articulate, forceful, passionate, and a fine, and at times an outstanding, debater. But there are other times when he’s simply off-key. One example is his silly statement that “I’ve always believed that when you run for president of the United States, it should be illegal to read off a teleprompter, because all you’re doing is reading someone else’s words to people.” My former White House colleague Michael Gerson systematically blows apart Santorum’s argument in his Washington Post column today.

One might think that Santorum’s forays into the land of spontaneous and unfiltered comments — about John F. Kennedy’s 1960 Houston Ministerial Association speech (which Santorum said wanted to make him vomit), on Barack Obama’s effort to encourage more people to go to college (Santorum said Obama was a “snob”) and on contraception (which he considers a grave threat to the Republic and is an issue he promised to talk about if he became president) — would make Rick a little more appreciative of the virtues of carefully crafted speeches and a little less contemptuous of the speechwriting process. But apparently not. For what it’s worth, in my stints as a speechwriter – including for then-Secretary of Education William Bennett and President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2002 – the principals were heavily involved from beginning to end, from the conception of a speech to the editing process. And of course during his political career, I would wager a good deal of money that Santorum has had people draft speeches for him; and he might even have read them from, say, the floor of the Senate.

Then there is Santorum’s comments on the “Kilmeade & Friends” radio program on Fox News Radio, in which Santorum said about Mitt Romney: “The man has had a 10-to-1 money advantage. He’s had all the organizational advantage. He’s had Fox News shilling for him every day, no offense Brian but I see it. And yet, he can’t close — he can’t seal the deal because he just doesn’t have the goods to be able to motivate the Republican base and win this election.”

I gather that Santorum’s “shilling” comments were based on the commentary of Dick Morris, who likes Santorum but – in the aftermath of Super Tuesday – believes GOP voters should vote for Romney in order to shorten the primary. I happen to disagree with Morris; I think Republicans should cast their vote for the person they believe would be the best president and has the best chance to win. But the notion that Fox News is “shilling” for Romney is just not credible. There are plenty of commentators and hosts who have said favorable things about the former Pennsylvania senator. Worse, Santorum – whom I know and respect – is beginning to sound prickly and exasperated.

As a general matter, I try to take into account the grueling nature of a presidential campaign and how easy it is to make verbal mistakes. All of us would stumble on the presidential stage, and everyone deserves a break now and then, including Santorum. He’s clearly helped himself during the arc of this campaign. And when he’s good, he’s quite good. But Santorum also needs to be careful, to show more discipline and more nuance in his comments. And he has to check his abrasiveness and bristling responses. We’ve seen how a powerful sense of grievance consumed other prominent Republican figures in recent years; Rick Santorum shouldn’t go down that same path.

 

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Perry Won’t Give Up on South Carolina

Newt Gingrich is deflating in South Carolina, down 10 points from his 43-percent peak in early December. If that follows the trend from Iowa, Gingrich still has a way to go before he reaches his bottom. And those votes haven’t been picked up by any of the other candidates; they’re still sitting on the sidelines. With Michele Bachmann out of the race, and Gingrich and Rick Santorum low on funds and organization, Rick Perry may think he has an opening here:

A determined Rick Perry said Wednesday he will not abandon his presidential campaign despite a fifth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses.

“And the next leg of the marathon is the Palmetto State. … Here we come South Carolina!!!” the Texas governor wrote on his Twitter account.

Perry, an avid runner, attached a photo of himself jogging near a lake, wearing Texas A&M running shorts and showing a thumbs-up.

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Newt Gingrich is deflating in South Carolina, down 10 points from his 43-percent peak in early December. If that follows the trend from Iowa, Gingrich still has a way to go before he reaches his bottom. And those votes haven’t been picked up by any of the other candidates; they’re still sitting on the sidelines. With Michele Bachmann out of the race, and Gingrich and Rick Santorum low on funds and organization, Rick Perry may think he has an opening here:

A determined Rick Perry said Wednesday he will not abandon his presidential campaign despite a fifth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses.

“And the next leg of the marathon is the Palmetto State. … Here we come South Carolina!!!” the Texas governor wrote on his Twitter account.

Perry, an avid runner, attached a photo of himself jogging near a lake, wearing Texas A&M running shorts and showing a thumbs-up.

Then again, Perry’s stumping and ad money haven’t helped him reclaim his footing in South Carolina so far, so what’s making him think voters there will change their minds now? Bachmann’s support in the state isn’t substantial enough to matter much, even if Perry somehow managed to pick up all 7 percent of her voters.

But Perry’s decision will definitely make things more difficult for Santorum, by splitting the social conservative vote. The two will be competing for the same supporters, and Perry’s cash advantage, infrastructure, and connections in the state mean Santorum will have to a lot to catch up on. In the end, a drawn-out fight for the social conservative vote may actually help propel Mitt Romney to victory this way – an interesting possibility, considering the fact that many of Perry’s most adamant supporters are die-hard anti-Romney types.

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Does Near-Tie With Santorum Actually Benefit Romney?

S.E. Cupp at the New York Daily News makes an interesting case for why Mitt Romney benefits from his close call with Rick Santorum:

Now, prepare to see Santorum in every headline, on every news show, rising in every poll. The other candidates (what’s left of them) have him to go after him this week. And Santorum has his third place finisher, Ron Paul to attack (we got a preview of that last week). The pundits and odds makers will devote a substantial amount of airtime to hyperventilating about whether the Santorum surge can stick, and whether Paul’s rabid fans will follow him from Iowa to New Hampshire.

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S.E. Cupp at the New York Daily News makes an interesting case for why Mitt Romney benefits from his close call with Rick Santorum:

Now, prepare to see Santorum in every headline, on every news show, rising in every poll. The other candidates (what’s left of them) have him to go after him this week. And Santorum has his third place finisher, Ron Paul to attack (we got a preview of that last week). The pundits and odds makers will devote a substantial amount of airtime to hyperventilating about whether the Santorum surge can stick, and whether Paul’s rabid fans will follow him from Iowa to New Hampshire.

I’m not so sure Santorum will forgo attacking Romney in order to go after Ron Paul. (What’s the point? Paul has no chance at the nomination, and his supporters aren’t exactly Santorum’s target audience.) As for Newt Gingrich – really the only other candidate left, since Paul is untenable, and Bachmann and Perry both seem to be on the way out – he’ll certainly have no reservations attacking Romney at the upcoming debate.

But Cupp’s main point, that the bulk of the media scrutiny will be on Santorum, is a good one. Romney is boring, squeaky clean, and whatever skeletons might remain in his closet probably aren’t the salacious type. Santorum, on the other hand – just Google him. He’s the boogeyman of the gay rights and pro-choice movements; he’s said some provocative things about gay marriage. And he’s a part of the whole Religious Right cadre that the left always worries is resurgent. If you have any doubts the knives are out, just watch this video of Alan Colmes mocking the way Santorum handled the death of his child.

TPM and HuffPo have probably already dispatched entire teams of reporters to dig into Santorum’s religious and family background. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing; it’s just a fever pitch of hysterical left-wing scrutiny that Romney probably wouldn’t start to see until after he secured the nomination.

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What Would a Romney Loss Tonight in Iowa Look Like?

Mitt Romney is in a prime position heading into the Iowa caucuses tonight. But even though he’ll almost certainly finish in the top three, that doesn’t mean he can’t “lose.” Obviously, the best case scenario is Romney takes the top slot, and the second best is he finishes second to the untenable Ron Paul. A slightly worse outcome is if Romney comes in second to Rick Santorum, and the losing scenario is if he finishes in third, behind both of them.

The Washington Post sums up the impact a third-place showing would have on the Romney campaign:

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Mitt Romney is in a prime position heading into the Iowa caucuses tonight. But even though he’ll almost certainly finish in the top three, that doesn’t mean he can’t “lose.” Obviously, the best case scenario is Romney takes the top slot, and the second best is he finishes second to the untenable Ron Paul. A slightly worse outcome is if Romney comes in second to Rick Santorum, and the losing scenario is if he finishes in third, behind both of them.

The Washington Post sums up the impact a third-place showing would have on the Romney campaign:

If he places second to Paul or Santorum, Romney would still have outperformed expectations, and the narrative out of Iowa would be that he is poised to make a strong showing in the upcoming nominating contests.

But a third-place finish in Iowa – particularly since Romney has gained so much in the polls — could prove problematic.

It would fuel the argument that Romney is not the top choice for many conservatives, who still distrust Romney’s record as governor of Massachusetts. It would shatter Romney’s air of inevitability. And it would likely give his rivals a foothold in fundraising, which could mean a lengthier primary fight than originally expected.

Romney’s recent rise in the Iowa polls was unanticipated, but now that his campaign has set the expectation he’ll finish in the top two, anything short of that will be seen as somewhat of a failure. It wouldn’t be a crisis for his campaign by any means, but it would portend a longer, drawn-out primary and undermine the perception of inevitability that Romney’s been building back up.

The less problematic, but still not ideal, scenario for Romney would be if he came in second behind Santorum. While a Paul victory in Iowa would likely discredit the caucuses altogether, Romney would have to take Santorum more seriously as a challenger. It could mean sparring with Santorum at the upcoming debate, potentially sinking more money into attack ads, competing seriously in states Romney otherwise might not have to worry about, and, above all, drag out the primary battle.

That’s not to say the race is over if Romney wins the top spot tonight. But it would create a snowball effect of inevitability, especially heading into New Hampshire, which Romney already has locked up.

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Disgraceful Comments About Santorum

Allahpundit has a post  linking to some comments by the liberal commentator Alan Colmes. In a discussion with National Review’s Rich Lowry about the political rise of Rick Santorum, Colmes refers to some of the “crazy things [Santorum has] said and done, like taking his two-hour-old baby who died right after childbirth home and played with it for a couple of hours so his other children would know that the child is real.”

The comments by Colmes are not only disgraceful; ridiculing a family for how they handled the death of their child is something you would expect to hear from a sickened mind. Rich expresses genuine and appropriate outrage at Colmes, who comes across as a particularly snide and mean-spirited liberal.

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Allahpundit has a post  linking to some comments by the liberal commentator Alan Colmes. In a discussion with National Review’s Rich Lowry about the political rise of Rick Santorum, Colmes refers to some of the “crazy things [Santorum has] said and done, like taking his two-hour-old baby who died right after childbirth home and played with it for a couple of hours so his other children would know that the child is real.”

The comments by Colmes are not only disgraceful; ridiculing a family for how they handled the death of their child is something you would expect to hear from a sickened mind. Rich expresses genuine and appropriate outrage at Colmes, who comes across as a particularly snide and mean-spirited liberal.

Allahpundit links to an interview with Santorum from several months ago, in which Santorum, during a poignant conversation with CNN’s Piers Morgan, explains why the Santorum family did what it did. One does not have to agree with the course of action the Santorum family followed to know that referring to what they did as “crazy” is unusually ugly. Even for Alan Colmes.

Update: Alan Colmes tweeted that he spoke to Rick and Karen Santorum and they graciously accepted his apology.

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Toomey Support for DADT Repeal Highlights a Conservative’s Independent Streak

The announcement that Pennsylvania Senator-elect Pat Toomey will support repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy about gays in the military may signal the end of this pointless rule. Those who haven’t followed Toomey’s career may be surprised that a hard-core conservative Republican and devout pro-life Catholic like Toomey would support a gay-rights measure. But Toomey’s libertarian instincts and abhorrence of big government have led him to the correct conclusion that seeking to ban a portion of the population that might usefully serve their country is a mistake. Nor is this a new position for Toomey.

During his successful Senate campaign, Toomey made it clear that he wanted to end DADT. In fact, he mentioned it in an op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he wrote last summer in which he detailed why he would have voted against Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court. In the piece, he criticized Kagan for banning military recruiters from Harvard Law School because of DADT. Toomey wrote:

I share the view that the “don’t ask, don’t tell,” policy regarding gay servicemen and women has outlived its usefulness and, subject to the military’s conclusion of the feasibility of removing it, I support its repeal. However, one’s disagreement with a federal law does not give one license to circumvent it.

While Toomey won’t be able to cast a vote on the repeal attempt during the lame-duck session of Congress, his willingness to do so after January may change the mathematics of this debate. Moreover, Toomey — whose reputation as a pro-life stalwart, Tea Party favorite, and libertarian hardliner on fiscal matters renders him largely impervious to attacks from the right — could help give cover to other wavering Republicans. Previously, the only Republicans to announce support for the end of DADT were the liberal Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine.

Toomey’s stand on gays in the military might put him in conflict with conservative culture-war advocates, who will lament his willingness to put this issue to rest. Indeed, this puts him at odds with Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who has recently been beating the bushes in New Hampshire promoting a possible 2012 presidential candidacy (though not too many people are taking Santorum’s ego-trip of a campaign seriously). But the irony here is that six years ago, Santorum, the man who now proclaims himself as the true guardian of conservative values, did his best to torpedo Toomey’s primary challenge of liberal Arlen Specter. Though Santorum and President Bush urged Toomey to step aside, he wouldn’t compromise and stayed in the race, ultimately narrowly losing the primary to Specter. Six years later, Toomey, who stuck to his guns on his conservative principles, is now about to take the place of the turncoat Specter, who was beaten out for the Democratic nomination earlier this year.

Six years is a lifetime in politics, but Pennsylvania Democrats are already looking ahead to 2016, since they believe the election of a conservative like Toomey was a fluke that cannot be repeated. They may be right, but what we will see until then is a senator who denounces big government and actually means it. That may not earn Toomey many friends in a state that has long counted upon its representatives to fight for local special interests, something that Toomey is unlikely to do. But as we are seeing with the issue of gays in the military, Toomey’s principled independence is a factor that political observers ought not to take for granted.

The announcement that Pennsylvania Senator-elect Pat Toomey will support repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy about gays in the military may signal the end of this pointless rule. Those who haven’t followed Toomey’s career may be surprised that a hard-core conservative Republican and devout pro-life Catholic like Toomey would support a gay-rights measure. But Toomey’s libertarian instincts and abhorrence of big government have led him to the correct conclusion that seeking to ban a portion of the population that might usefully serve their country is a mistake. Nor is this a new position for Toomey.

During his successful Senate campaign, Toomey made it clear that he wanted to end DADT. In fact, he mentioned it in an op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he wrote last summer in which he detailed why he would have voted against Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court. In the piece, he criticized Kagan for banning military recruiters from Harvard Law School because of DADT. Toomey wrote:

I share the view that the “don’t ask, don’t tell,” policy regarding gay servicemen and women has outlived its usefulness and, subject to the military’s conclusion of the feasibility of removing it, I support its repeal. However, one’s disagreement with a federal law does not give one license to circumvent it.

While Toomey won’t be able to cast a vote on the repeal attempt during the lame-duck session of Congress, his willingness to do so after January may change the mathematics of this debate. Moreover, Toomey — whose reputation as a pro-life stalwart, Tea Party favorite, and libertarian hardliner on fiscal matters renders him largely impervious to attacks from the right — could help give cover to other wavering Republicans. Previously, the only Republicans to announce support for the end of DADT were the liberal Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine.

Toomey’s stand on gays in the military might put him in conflict with conservative culture-war advocates, who will lament his willingness to put this issue to rest. Indeed, this puts him at odds with Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who has recently been beating the bushes in New Hampshire promoting a possible 2012 presidential candidacy (though not too many people are taking Santorum’s ego-trip of a campaign seriously). But the irony here is that six years ago, Santorum, the man who now proclaims himself as the true guardian of conservative values, did his best to torpedo Toomey’s primary challenge of liberal Arlen Specter. Though Santorum and President Bush urged Toomey to step aside, he wouldn’t compromise and stayed in the race, ultimately narrowly losing the primary to Specter. Six years later, Toomey, who stuck to his guns on his conservative principles, is now about to take the place of the turncoat Specter, who was beaten out for the Democratic nomination earlier this year.

Six years is a lifetime in politics, but Pennsylvania Democrats are already looking ahead to 2016, since they believe the election of a conservative like Toomey was a fluke that cannot be repeated. They may be right, but what we will see until then is a senator who denounces big government and actually means it. That may not earn Toomey many friends in a state that has long counted upon its representatives to fight for local special interests, something that Toomey is unlikely to do. But as we are seeing with the issue of gays in the military, Toomey’s principled independence is a factor that political observers ought not to take for granted.

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Bellwether Battle: Sestak vs. Toomey

With the need to explain his vote against Obama Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan when she was confirmed as solicitor general, and yet another tracking poll showing him losing even more ground to challenger Rep. Joe Sestak, Sen. Arlen Specter has officially been declared “toast” by leftist Philadelphia Daily News blogger Will Bunch.

Bunch is right about Specter being ready for a shmear of cream cheese or butter, but he failed to note the news that supporters of the incumbent must regard with special dread: a new Rasmussen poll indicates that Sestak will be a stronger opponent for Republican Pat Toomey in the fall. In the first tracking poll matching the two Democrats against their all-but-certain Republican opponent in a month, Sestak gained strength as Specter continued to lose ground. A month ago, Toomey led Specter 50 to 40 percent. The latest numbers show the margin now to be 50 to 38. While the same survey showed Sestak trailing Toomey 47-36 a month ago, a new poll shows the race to be a virtual standoff, with Toomey holding only a 42-40 lead.

Wavering Democrats who never liked the idea of the former Republican being their nominee were told by party bigwigs that Specter was their only hope to hold the seat in November, since Sestak was too weak to beat Toomey. But if Specter’s incumbency is a weakness rather than a strength in a general election, then liberals won’t hesitate to abandon him next week in droves.

These numbers just confirm what Bunch and just about everybody else who isn’t a Specter staffer have concluded: the incumbent is finished and Pennsylvania will have one of the most competitive and clearly ideological battles for the Senate in November.

Most Pennsylvania Republicans have been thoroughly enjoying Arlen Specter’s difficulties in convincing his new party’s voters to embrace him. After decades of being represented by a man who always put himself on both sides of every big issue, conservatives, who came close to knocking off Specter in a 2004 GOP primary, are getting a great deal of vicarious pleasure from Sestak’s successful challenge to a Democratic establishment that embraced the slippery incumbent with the same ardor that George W. Bush and Rick Santorum backed him six years ago. But with Sestak pulling even with Toomey in a head-to-head matchup, conservatives need to start thinking clearly about the liberal former admiral.

In the past decade, Pennsylvania’s Senate races have generally been won by whoever could claim the center. But this fall, there will be no race in the nation that presents a starker choice between the parties. In all likelihood, the matchup will feature two candidates, Toomey and Sestak, who represent the conservative and liberal wings of their parties respectively. As a man who won a seat in Congress in 2006 as an anti-war candidate, Sestak may well be able to mobilize the suburban liberal base of the Democratic Party even if he leaves urban minorities cold. And we can expect the liberal-media attack machine to go all-out to tar Toomey as a right-wing fanatic. In response, the stalwartly pro-Israel Toomey will have the chance to hold Sestak accountable for his very shaky stand on the Middle East since the congressman backed a J Street letter on Israel rather than one endorsed by the mainstream pro-Israel AIPAC. And Sestak has never backed away from his appearance in 2007 at a fundraiser for the pro-Hamas CAIR’s Philadelphia chapter.

The point is, once Specter is done, conservatives will have to stop cheering for Sestak and start taking him seriously as a formidable and dangerous opponent.

With the need to explain his vote against Obama Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan when she was confirmed as solicitor general, and yet another tracking poll showing him losing even more ground to challenger Rep. Joe Sestak, Sen. Arlen Specter has officially been declared “toast” by leftist Philadelphia Daily News blogger Will Bunch.

Bunch is right about Specter being ready for a shmear of cream cheese or butter, but he failed to note the news that supporters of the incumbent must regard with special dread: a new Rasmussen poll indicates that Sestak will be a stronger opponent for Republican Pat Toomey in the fall. In the first tracking poll matching the two Democrats against their all-but-certain Republican opponent in a month, Sestak gained strength as Specter continued to lose ground. A month ago, Toomey led Specter 50 to 40 percent. The latest numbers show the margin now to be 50 to 38. While the same survey showed Sestak trailing Toomey 47-36 a month ago, a new poll shows the race to be a virtual standoff, with Toomey holding only a 42-40 lead.

Wavering Democrats who never liked the idea of the former Republican being their nominee were told by party bigwigs that Specter was their only hope to hold the seat in November, since Sestak was too weak to beat Toomey. But if Specter’s incumbency is a weakness rather than a strength in a general election, then liberals won’t hesitate to abandon him next week in droves.

These numbers just confirm what Bunch and just about everybody else who isn’t a Specter staffer have concluded: the incumbent is finished and Pennsylvania will have one of the most competitive and clearly ideological battles for the Senate in November.

Most Pennsylvania Republicans have been thoroughly enjoying Arlen Specter’s difficulties in convincing his new party’s voters to embrace him. After decades of being represented by a man who always put himself on both sides of every big issue, conservatives, who came close to knocking off Specter in a 2004 GOP primary, are getting a great deal of vicarious pleasure from Sestak’s successful challenge to a Democratic establishment that embraced the slippery incumbent with the same ardor that George W. Bush and Rick Santorum backed him six years ago. But with Sestak pulling even with Toomey in a head-to-head matchup, conservatives need to start thinking clearly about the liberal former admiral.

In the past decade, Pennsylvania’s Senate races have generally been won by whoever could claim the center. But this fall, there will be no race in the nation that presents a starker choice between the parties. In all likelihood, the matchup will feature two candidates, Toomey and Sestak, who represent the conservative and liberal wings of their parties respectively. As a man who won a seat in Congress in 2006 as an anti-war candidate, Sestak may well be able to mobilize the suburban liberal base of the Democratic Party even if he leaves urban minorities cold. And we can expect the liberal-media attack machine to go all-out to tar Toomey as a right-wing fanatic. In response, the stalwartly pro-Israel Toomey will have the chance to hold Sestak accountable for his very shaky stand on the Middle East since the congressman backed a J Street letter on Israel rather than one endorsed by the mainstream pro-Israel AIPAC. And Sestak has never backed away from his appearance in 2007 at a fundraiser for the pro-Hamas CAIR’s Philadelphia chapter.

The point is, once Specter is done, conservatives will have to stop cheering for Sestak and start taking him seriously as a formidable and dangerous opponent.

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Liberals Like Swift-Boat Attack Against Specter’s Foe

With less than two weeks to go until the Pennsylvania Democratic primary that will decide the fate of Senator Arlen Specter, the race between the incumbent party-switcher and the liberal congressman who is hoping to knock him off has gotten tighter and nastier.

After holding a huge lead over Rep. Joe Sestak for most of the past year, Specter is shown by the latest polls to lose his lead. An Allentown Morning Call tracking poll showed Specter with just a five-point lead (45 percent to 40) on May 5, down three points from May 2. Though a Quinnipiac poll from May 2 showed Specter with a larger lead (48 percent to 39), it still showed remarkable gains for Sestak since he had trailed Specter in that survey by as much as 21 points only a month earlier.

And along with the tighter poll numbers have come the inevitable negative ads. Specter had thought he would cruise to victory in the primary because of name recognition, a big edge in campaign contributions, and the overwhelming support he has received from Democratic leaders from President Obama, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, and most of the county Democratic committees. But faced with Sestak’s rising numbers, in the last couple of weeks, Specter has now resorted to trying to stress his opponent’s negatives. The senator is now airing a TV ad in which he claims that Sestak, a retired Navy admiral, was relieved of his post as chief of planning for the Navy in 2005 because he created a “poor command climate” — though Sestak has always said that his exit from the Navy was due to policy differences with a new chief of naval operations, Admiral Mike Mullen. Sestak has now responded to Specter’s ad with one of his own, in which he accuses the senator of “swift-boating” him and lying about his record. For good measure, he’s also released another one tying Specter to his Republican past, including his support for figures that are demons to Democratic activists: George W. Bush, former senator Rick Santorum, and Sarah Palin.

Though Specter’s turncoat status has made it hard for him to cozy up to the sort of hardcore liberals who vote in Democratic primaries, it is interesting to note that the chief institutional voice of Pennsylvania liberalism — the Philadelphia Inquirer — has taken its cue from Obama and not only endorsed Specter but also backed his attacks on Sestak’s record and character. In an editorial published today, the Inky follows Specter’s lead and demands that Sestak release his private Navy records if he wants to quiet the discussion related to the issue.

Yet 6 years ago, when conservative activists were raising embarrassing questions about the naval record of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, the Inquirer took a very different point of view. At that time, the liberal newspaper decried the “Swift-Boat” vets who attacked Kerry and thought their demands for the release of Kerry’s records were not only unreasonable but also an indication of the vicious nature of ultra-partisan GOP politics. But with the possibility of losing a Senate seat for the Democrats (polls also show that Sestak is a weaker general-election candidate than Specter), the Inquirer is no longer so squeamish about messing with former military men.

Ultimately, the race will be decided by voter sentiment about Specter. Much of his campaign material emphasizes his 30 years in the Senate and his ability to bring home the bacon for his state as one of the most expert practitioners of earmark spending. But in a year in which voters are clearly saying that they think politics as usual isn’t the answer, Specter’s old strengths may turn out to be big weaknesses. While this trend is a clear boost to Republicans — not least to former Rep. Pat Toomey, a principled libertarian and the man whom polls show able to beat either Democrat in the November election — these ideas may have an impact on May 17, when Democrats vote as well. Under these circumstances, swift-boating Sestak, even if liberals who once were outraged by such tactics when it they had turned on their own heroes now endorse them, may not be enough to save the slippery Specter.

With less than two weeks to go until the Pennsylvania Democratic primary that will decide the fate of Senator Arlen Specter, the race between the incumbent party-switcher and the liberal congressman who is hoping to knock him off has gotten tighter and nastier.

After holding a huge lead over Rep. Joe Sestak for most of the past year, Specter is shown by the latest polls to lose his lead. An Allentown Morning Call tracking poll showed Specter with just a five-point lead (45 percent to 40) on May 5, down three points from May 2. Though a Quinnipiac poll from May 2 showed Specter with a larger lead (48 percent to 39), it still showed remarkable gains for Sestak since he had trailed Specter in that survey by as much as 21 points only a month earlier.

And along with the tighter poll numbers have come the inevitable negative ads. Specter had thought he would cruise to victory in the primary because of name recognition, a big edge in campaign contributions, and the overwhelming support he has received from Democratic leaders from President Obama, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, and most of the county Democratic committees. But faced with Sestak’s rising numbers, in the last couple of weeks, Specter has now resorted to trying to stress his opponent’s negatives. The senator is now airing a TV ad in which he claims that Sestak, a retired Navy admiral, was relieved of his post as chief of planning for the Navy in 2005 because he created a “poor command climate” — though Sestak has always said that his exit from the Navy was due to policy differences with a new chief of naval operations, Admiral Mike Mullen. Sestak has now responded to Specter’s ad with one of his own, in which he accuses the senator of “swift-boating” him and lying about his record. For good measure, he’s also released another one tying Specter to his Republican past, including his support for figures that are demons to Democratic activists: George W. Bush, former senator Rick Santorum, and Sarah Palin.

Though Specter’s turncoat status has made it hard for him to cozy up to the sort of hardcore liberals who vote in Democratic primaries, it is interesting to note that the chief institutional voice of Pennsylvania liberalism — the Philadelphia Inquirer — has taken its cue from Obama and not only endorsed Specter but also backed his attacks on Sestak’s record and character. In an editorial published today, the Inky follows Specter’s lead and demands that Sestak release his private Navy records if he wants to quiet the discussion related to the issue.

Yet 6 years ago, when conservative activists were raising embarrassing questions about the naval record of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, the Inquirer took a very different point of view. At that time, the liberal newspaper decried the “Swift-Boat” vets who attacked Kerry and thought their demands for the release of Kerry’s records were not only unreasonable but also an indication of the vicious nature of ultra-partisan GOP politics. But with the possibility of losing a Senate seat for the Democrats (polls also show that Sestak is a weaker general-election candidate than Specter), the Inquirer is no longer so squeamish about messing with former military men.

Ultimately, the race will be decided by voter sentiment about Specter. Much of his campaign material emphasizes his 30 years in the Senate and his ability to bring home the bacon for his state as one of the most expert practitioners of earmark spending. But in a year in which voters are clearly saying that they think politics as usual isn’t the answer, Specter’s old strengths may turn out to be big weaknesses. While this trend is a clear boost to Republicans — not least to former Rep. Pat Toomey, a principled libertarian and the man whom polls show able to beat either Democrat in the November election — these ideas may have an impact on May 17, when Democrats vote as well. Under these circumstances, swift-boating Sestak, even if liberals who once were outraged by such tactics when it they had turned on their own heroes now endorse them, may not be enough to save the slippery Specter.

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Specter’s Cynicism — No Secret Then or Now

Jennifer, the story about Arlen Specter’s alleged promise is certainly amusing. Former Senator Rick Santorum has spent the last few years trying to alibi his way out of his support for Arlen Specter against Pat Toomey in the 2004 Pennsylvania Republican Senate primary. For Santorum, his backing for Specter is kind of like what health-care reform is for Mitt Romney, an embarrassment that never goes completely away. No matter how he rationalizes it, everyone knows it was a cynical move that betrayed Pennsylvania conservatives and ultimately proved to be a disaster for the Republican party.

But the point about any promises Specter may or may not have made to Santorum about future Supreme Court nominations back then is that both parties to the alleged conversation understood perfectly well that there is no such as a binding promise, let alone a principle when it comes to Pennsylvania’s senior senator. After all, only hours after squeaking out a narrow victory over Toomey, that was due in large part to the enthusiastic support he received from George W. Bush and Santorum, Specter held a press conference distancing himself from both of them.

Moreover, if we’re going to talk about attempts to bribe candidates into dropping out of races, as Representative Joe Sestak claims the Obama administration has tried to do to get him to call off his primary challenge to Specter, there is also the question of what Bush and Santorum may or may not have offered Toomey to do the same back in 2004. But, unlike these Keystone State blabbermouths, the straight-arrow former congressman from Allentown kept mum about the prodigious efforts that were made to get him to halt his primary challenge to Specter six years ago. Whatever it was, he turned them down and simply ran on his conservative and libertarian principles. He fell short then, but if current opinion polls are to be believed, Toomey’s moment may be at hand.

The fact that Specter is a shameless opportunist wasn’t exactly a secret the last time he ran for re-election. And yet his prestige and power as an incumbent was such that he got away with it. There will be no shortage of theories about the meaning of this fall’s election, and, no doubt, national trends as well as the egregiousness of Specter’s party switch will play major roles in determining the outcome. But it may just be as simple as Abraham Lincoln’s wisdom about the impossibility of “fooling all of the people all of the time” finally being vindicated in Pennsylvania this year.

Jennifer, the story about Arlen Specter’s alleged promise is certainly amusing. Former Senator Rick Santorum has spent the last few years trying to alibi his way out of his support for Arlen Specter against Pat Toomey in the 2004 Pennsylvania Republican Senate primary. For Santorum, his backing for Specter is kind of like what health-care reform is for Mitt Romney, an embarrassment that never goes completely away. No matter how he rationalizes it, everyone knows it was a cynical move that betrayed Pennsylvania conservatives and ultimately proved to be a disaster for the Republican party.

But the point about any promises Specter may or may not have made to Santorum about future Supreme Court nominations back then is that both parties to the alleged conversation understood perfectly well that there is no such as a binding promise, let alone a principle when it comes to Pennsylvania’s senior senator. After all, only hours after squeaking out a narrow victory over Toomey, that was due in large part to the enthusiastic support he received from George W. Bush and Santorum, Specter held a press conference distancing himself from both of them.

Moreover, if we’re going to talk about attempts to bribe candidates into dropping out of races, as Representative Joe Sestak claims the Obama administration has tried to do to get him to call off his primary challenge to Specter, there is also the question of what Bush and Santorum may or may not have offered Toomey to do the same back in 2004. But, unlike these Keystone State blabbermouths, the straight-arrow former congressman from Allentown kept mum about the prodigious efforts that were made to get him to halt his primary challenge to Specter six years ago. Whatever it was, he turned them down and simply ran on his conservative and libertarian principles. He fell short then, but if current opinion polls are to be believed, Toomey’s moment may be at hand.

The fact that Specter is a shameless opportunist wasn’t exactly a secret the last time he ran for re-election. And yet his prestige and power as an incumbent was such that he got away with it. There will be no shortage of theories about the meaning of this fall’s election, and, no doubt, national trends as well as the egregiousness of Specter’s party switch will play major roles in determining the outcome. But it may just be as simple as Abraham Lincoln’s wisdom about the impossibility of “fooling all of the people all of the time” finally being vindicated in Pennsylvania this year.

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Specter’s Latest Problem

The Pennsylvania Senate race has had its share of accusations of political shenanigans, if not illegal behavior. First, there was the suggestion that the White House was offering Rep. Joe Sestak a job to get out of the race. Now this:

Rep. Joe Sestak’s Senate campaign seized on a statement by former GOP Sen. Rick Santorum Saturday that he traded his 2004 endorsement of Sen. Arlen Specter for a promise that the senior senator would support President Bush’s judicial nominees.

“The reason I endorsed Arlen Specter is because we were going to have two Supreme Court nominees coming up,” said Santorum, responding to a question at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. “I got a commitment from Arlen Specter that no matter who George W. Bush would nominate, he would support that nominee,” he added.

Sestak’s campaign called it “one of the most glaring red flags” that has come to light about Specter to date.

Is Santorum describing a quid pro quo — a deal in which Specter was to ignore his obligation to examine Supreme Court justices? (Recall that this would have applied to Harriet Miers had she not withdrawn.) Specter denies there was any deal, and there is no way in the he-said-he-said tussle to discern whether it is Santorum or Specter who is telling the truth. Santorum has every reason to try to sink Specter; Specter has every reason to deny the allegation.

It does, however, point to the greatest problem Specter may face — the obvious lack of principle and loyalty, the infinite flexibility. The only fixed principle is, apparently, “do whatever benefits Arlen Specter.” This time around, his opportunism may backfire. It may turn out that he picked the wrong time to run as a Democrat. It would be a fitting lesson in the limits of political expediency.

The Pennsylvania Senate race has had its share of accusations of political shenanigans, if not illegal behavior. First, there was the suggestion that the White House was offering Rep. Joe Sestak a job to get out of the race. Now this:

Rep. Joe Sestak’s Senate campaign seized on a statement by former GOP Sen. Rick Santorum Saturday that he traded his 2004 endorsement of Sen. Arlen Specter for a promise that the senior senator would support President Bush’s judicial nominees.

“The reason I endorsed Arlen Specter is because we were going to have two Supreme Court nominees coming up,” said Santorum, responding to a question at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. “I got a commitment from Arlen Specter that no matter who George W. Bush would nominate, he would support that nominee,” he added.

Sestak’s campaign called it “one of the most glaring red flags” that has come to light about Specter to date.

Is Santorum describing a quid pro quo — a deal in which Specter was to ignore his obligation to examine Supreme Court justices? (Recall that this would have applied to Harriet Miers had she not withdrawn.) Specter denies there was any deal, and there is no way in the he-said-he-said tussle to discern whether it is Santorum or Specter who is telling the truth. Santorum has every reason to try to sink Specter; Specter has every reason to deny the allegation.

It does, however, point to the greatest problem Specter may face — the obvious lack of principle and loyalty, the infinite flexibility. The only fixed principle is, apparently, “do whatever benefits Arlen Specter.” This time around, his opportunism may backfire. It may turn out that he picked the wrong time to run as a Democrat. It would be a fitting lesson in the limits of political expediency.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Sen. Harry Reid is doubling down on ObamaCare and will jam it through with 50 votes if he can evade all the parliamentary challenges. Republicans question whether he has the votes for reconciliation. I’m not sure Nancy Pelosi has 218 on her side. But it sure does put to rest the notion that Democrats are listening to voters after the Scott Brown debacle.

You wonder how he says it with a straight face: “President Obama warned lawmakers on both sides of the aisle Saturday not to turn the upcoming White House health-care summit into ‘political theater,’ but rather ‘to seek common ground in an effort to solve a problem that’s been with us for generations.’”

Yuval Levin and James C. Capretta observe: “Well, so much for the pivot to jobs. Late last week, the Obama administration and congressional Democrats made clear that, rather than turn to voters’ economic concerns in this winter of discontent, they want to persist in pushing the health care proposals they have championed for a year—proposals voters have rejected by every means at their disposal. … It is now clear that the ‘summit’ the president has called for February 25 is not intended to consider different approaches to health care financing, but rather to create an illusion of momentum that might just lull disoriented congressional Democrats into ramming the health care bill through the budget reconciliation process.”

John Bolton tries to explain to the Obami that “negotiation is not a policy. It is a technique.” And on Iran, it has failed.

Rick Santorum apologizes for helping to elect Arlen Specter in 2004.

Ron Paul wins the straw poll at CPAC, leading credence to the view that the gathering isn’t all that relevant. (But then again, CPAC straw polls haven’t really foreshadowed the nominee in past years.) Paul was then booed, and “CPAC organizers were plainly embarrassed by the results, which could reduce the perceived impact of a contest that was once thought to offer a window into which White House hopefuls were favored by movement conservatives.”

Well, it did accomplish one thing: Tim Pawlenty earned bipartisan bad reviews. Gail Collins: “He doesn’t seem naturally irate. People call him T-Paw, which sounds like a character in a children’s cartoon — maybe a lovable saber-toothed tiger with big feet. Or a pre-Little League game in which children who can’t hit anything with a bat are allowed to just thwack at the ball with their fists. Politicians often get into trouble when they’re trying to sound more furious than they feel.”

Dana Milbank: “Obama’s greatest mistake was failing to listen to Emanuel on health care. Early on, Emanuel argued for a smaller bill with popular items, such as expanding health coverage for children and young adults, that could win some Republican support. He opposed the public option as a needless distraction. The president disregarded that strategy and sided with Capitol Hill liberals who hoped to ram a larger, less popular bill through Congress with Democratic votes only. The result was, as the world now knows, disastrous.” And we know Emanuel’s position on this — and the KSM trial (opposed), and closing Guantanamo (opposed) — because he’s leaked it, trying to let everyone know it’s not his fault that the president is going down the tubes.

Sen. Harry Reid is doubling down on ObamaCare and will jam it through with 50 votes if he can evade all the parliamentary challenges. Republicans question whether he has the votes for reconciliation. I’m not sure Nancy Pelosi has 218 on her side. But it sure does put to rest the notion that Democrats are listening to voters after the Scott Brown debacle.

You wonder how he says it with a straight face: “President Obama warned lawmakers on both sides of the aisle Saturday not to turn the upcoming White House health-care summit into ‘political theater,’ but rather ‘to seek common ground in an effort to solve a problem that’s been with us for generations.’”

Yuval Levin and James C. Capretta observe: “Well, so much for the pivot to jobs. Late last week, the Obama administration and congressional Democrats made clear that, rather than turn to voters’ economic concerns in this winter of discontent, they want to persist in pushing the health care proposals they have championed for a year—proposals voters have rejected by every means at their disposal. … It is now clear that the ‘summit’ the president has called for February 25 is not intended to consider different approaches to health care financing, but rather to create an illusion of momentum that might just lull disoriented congressional Democrats into ramming the health care bill through the budget reconciliation process.”

John Bolton tries to explain to the Obami that “negotiation is not a policy. It is a technique.” And on Iran, it has failed.

Rick Santorum apologizes for helping to elect Arlen Specter in 2004.

Ron Paul wins the straw poll at CPAC, leading credence to the view that the gathering isn’t all that relevant. (But then again, CPAC straw polls haven’t really foreshadowed the nominee in past years.) Paul was then booed, and “CPAC organizers were plainly embarrassed by the results, which could reduce the perceived impact of a contest that was once thought to offer a window into which White House hopefuls were favored by movement conservatives.”

Well, it did accomplish one thing: Tim Pawlenty earned bipartisan bad reviews. Gail Collins: “He doesn’t seem naturally irate. People call him T-Paw, which sounds like a character in a children’s cartoon — maybe a lovable saber-toothed tiger with big feet. Or a pre-Little League game in which children who can’t hit anything with a bat are allowed to just thwack at the ball with their fists. Politicians often get into trouble when they’re trying to sound more furious than they feel.”

Dana Milbank: “Obama’s greatest mistake was failing to listen to Emanuel on health care. Early on, Emanuel argued for a smaller bill with popular items, such as expanding health coverage for children and young adults, that could win some Republican support. He opposed the public option as a needless distraction. The president disregarded that strategy and sided with Capitol Hill liberals who hoped to ram a larger, less popular bill through Congress with Democratic votes only. The result was, as the world now knows, disastrous.” And we know Emanuel’s position on this — and the KSM trial (opposed), and closing Guantanamo (opposed) — because he’s leaked it, trying to let everyone know it’s not his fault that the president is going down the tubes.

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Toomey’s Path to Victory: Don’t Listen to Rick

In today’s New York Post, COMMENTARY magazine contributor Abby Wisse Schachter writes about the voters’ “revolt in Pennsylvania,” as conservative Republican Pat Toomey now leads incumbent and newly minted Democrat Arlen Specter by a 45-to-31 percent margin in the latest Franklin & College poll. Given the rising tide of dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress; the cynical Specter party switch may turn out to have been in vain.

Interestingly, Schachter quotes former Republican Senator Rick Santorum (who backed Specter against Toomey in the 2004 GOP primary, which the latter lost by a whisker) as advising Toomey to stick to the economy while continuing his campaign in the coming months. He’s right about that but given the way his own career in the Senate ended in a landslide loss to lackluster Democrat Bob Casey, Jr. in 2006, Santorum is probably the last person Toomey should be listening to. Nevertheless, Santorum’s rise and fall provides an interesting set of lessons for Northeastern Republicans.

• Good Timing is Crucial: Santorum was first elected to the Senate in 1994, the year of the GOP Congressional avalanche led by Newt Gingrich. He lost his seat in 2006, the year the Democrats took back both houses of Congress. If, as it seems to be the case today, 2010 will be a big Republican year, Toomey’s got this point nailed.

• Be Fortunate in Your Opponents: In 1994, Santorum beat Harris Wofford, an old-time New Deal Democrat who didn’t excite voters in a year when being the incumbent didn’t help. In 2000, when Santorum won an easy race for re-election, he faced conservative Democrat Rep. Ron Klink. Besides an unfortunate name and no statewide appeal, Klink was intensely disliked by his party’s liberal base. Toomey has this category in his favor too. Specter has the burden of being an incumbent who also lacks an enthusiastic base, since most Democrats are less than thrilled about backing a turncoat whose cynicism is legendary.

• Don’t Let Your Opponent Brand You as an Extremist: In 1994, both Santorum and Wofford were able to say that their opponents represented their party’s hard-liners. Neither was able to capture the center but in a Republican year Santorum won a narrow victory. In 2000, after six years of doing his best to portray himself as a politician more interested in serving his constituents than in ideology, Santorum was immune to the Democratic strategy of branding him as an extremist. But by 2006, after a second term during which he acted as if the audience he cared most about was his party’s base as he maneuvered for a possible future run for the White House (an ambition that, believe it or not, he still seems to harbor), the Democrats were easily able to label Santorum as the embodiment of the Conservative Christian movement. This is a potential danger for Toomey as he is every bit the social conservative Santorum was. But as a relatively fresh face on the statewide level, Toomey has the chance to show voters what he cares most about: free market economics. Being pro-life isn’t the kiss of death in Pennsylvania — many Democrats, including the man who beat Santorum in 2006, are against abortion — but coming across as a rigid extremist is fatal.

• Stick to Your Principles: Voters respect a candidate who sticks to his guns even if they disagree on some issues. In 2006, as a two-term incumbent who had become part of a Senate leadership that had presided over a vast expansion of federal spending, Santorum was no longer able to portray himself as a principled conservative on economic issues. Toomey has built all his campaigns for office on opposing not only more taxes and spending but also the whole system of patronage and earmarks by which politicians have always bought the votes of their constituents. In a year in which anger at government is again at a fever pitch, Toomey is perfectly positioned to run against Arlen Specter, whose whole career has been built on the existing corrupt system.

Thus, while Pat Toomey is right to welcome Santorum’s belated support, the latter’s best advice would be “do as I say, not as I did.”

In today’s New York Post, COMMENTARY magazine contributor Abby Wisse Schachter writes about the voters’ “revolt in Pennsylvania,” as conservative Republican Pat Toomey now leads incumbent and newly minted Democrat Arlen Specter by a 45-to-31 percent margin in the latest Franklin & College poll. Given the rising tide of dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress; the cynical Specter party switch may turn out to have been in vain.

Interestingly, Schachter quotes former Republican Senator Rick Santorum (who backed Specter against Toomey in the 2004 GOP primary, which the latter lost by a whisker) as advising Toomey to stick to the economy while continuing his campaign in the coming months. He’s right about that but given the way his own career in the Senate ended in a landslide loss to lackluster Democrat Bob Casey, Jr. in 2006, Santorum is probably the last person Toomey should be listening to. Nevertheless, Santorum’s rise and fall provides an interesting set of lessons for Northeastern Republicans.

• Good Timing is Crucial: Santorum was first elected to the Senate in 1994, the year of the GOP Congressional avalanche led by Newt Gingrich. He lost his seat in 2006, the year the Democrats took back both houses of Congress. If, as it seems to be the case today, 2010 will be a big Republican year, Toomey’s got this point nailed.

• Be Fortunate in Your Opponents: In 1994, Santorum beat Harris Wofford, an old-time New Deal Democrat who didn’t excite voters in a year when being the incumbent didn’t help. In 2000, when Santorum won an easy race for re-election, he faced conservative Democrat Rep. Ron Klink. Besides an unfortunate name and no statewide appeal, Klink was intensely disliked by his party’s liberal base. Toomey has this category in his favor too. Specter has the burden of being an incumbent who also lacks an enthusiastic base, since most Democrats are less than thrilled about backing a turncoat whose cynicism is legendary.

• Don’t Let Your Opponent Brand You as an Extremist: In 1994, both Santorum and Wofford were able to say that their opponents represented their party’s hard-liners. Neither was able to capture the center but in a Republican year Santorum won a narrow victory. In 2000, after six years of doing his best to portray himself as a politician more interested in serving his constituents than in ideology, Santorum was immune to the Democratic strategy of branding him as an extremist. But by 2006, after a second term during which he acted as if the audience he cared most about was his party’s base as he maneuvered for a possible future run for the White House (an ambition that, believe it or not, he still seems to harbor), the Democrats were easily able to label Santorum as the embodiment of the Conservative Christian movement. This is a potential danger for Toomey as he is every bit the social conservative Santorum was. But as a relatively fresh face on the statewide level, Toomey has the chance to show voters what he cares most about: free market economics. Being pro-life isn’t the kiss of death in Pennsylvania — many Democrats, including the man who beat Santorum in 2006, are against abortion — but coming across as a rigid extremist is fatal.

• Stick to Your Principles: Voters respect a candidate who sticks to his guns even if they disagree on some issues. In 2006, as a two-term incumbent who had become part of a Senate leadership that had presided over a vast expansion of federal spending, Santorum was no longer able to portray himself as a principled conservative on economic issues. Toomey has built all his campaigns for office on opposing not only more taxes and spending but also the whole system of patronage and earmarks by which politicians have always bought the votes of their constituents. In a year in which anger at government is again at a fever pitch, Toomey is perfectly positioned to run against Arlen Specter, whose whole career has been built on the existing corrupt system.

Thus, while Pat Toomey is right to welcome Santorum’s belated support, the latter’s best advice would be “do as I say, not as I did.”

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McCain’s Base

The media coverage is catching up with reality, at least on John McCain’s acceptance by the conservative base. Gone are the “James Dobson is not pleased” and “Conservatives aren’t happy” stories. Now, grudging “Conservatives respect McCain but they aren’t enthusiastic” reporting dominates the scene.

Conservative support (as reflected in polling) hasn’t changed much. The coverage has. Why? Partially because conservatives may be willing to speak up on McCain’s behalf in the wake of the negative coverage of Barack Obama. Partially because of a fear that Obama will bring a grab-bag of 1960′s counterculture characters to the White House. Certainly conservative talk show hosts have a plethora of targets (e.g. Reverend Wright, Bill Ayers) far juicier than McCain’s past violations of conservative orthodoxy. (Even Rick Santorum offers McCain grudging support because, after all, “He’s not Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.”) At some point, also, it becomes silly to trot out more “conservatives aren’t happy” tale. The real story in base defection and fragmentation is, of course, on the Democratic side, where more and more incidents reflect the looming challenge in healing the wounds left by an increasingly vitriolic primary race. Even commentators on the left have begun to recognize this.

The media coverage is catching up with reality, at least on John McCain’s acceptance by the conservative base. Gone are the “James Dobson is not pleased” and “Conservatives aren’t happy” stories. Now, grudging “Conservatives respect McCain but they aren’t enthusiastic” reporting dominates the scene.

Conservative support (as reflected in polling) hasn’t changed much. The coverage has. Why? Partially because conservatives may be willing to speak up on McCain’s behalf in the wake of the negative coverage of Barack Obama. Partially because of a fear that Obama will bring a grab-bag of 1960′s counterculture characters to the White House. Certainly conservative talk show hosts have a plethora of targets (e.g. Reverend Wright, Bill Ayers) far juicier than McCain’s past violations of conservative orthodoxy. (Even Rick Santorum offers McCain grudging support because, after all, “He’s not Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.”) At some point, also, it becomes silly to trot out more “conservatives aren’t happy” tale. The real story in base defection and fragmentation is, of course, on the Democratic side, where more and more incidents reflect the looming challenge in healing the wounds left by an increasingly vitriolic primary race. Even commentators on the left have begun to recognize this.

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