Commentary Magazine


Topic: Santorum

Romney Does the “Tonight Show”

Did my ears deceive me? Was that the “Tonight Show” audience Tuesday night giving Mitt Romney big ovations? On everything from foreign policy to health care and the tax code to Rick Santorum?

They cheered when Mitt said President Obama shouldn’t have hinted to Dmitri Medvedev – even away from a hot mic – that there would be more “flexibility” on missile defense once Obama was reelected. They cheered when Mitt said that if Vladimir Putin was really on our side, he would be fighting for freedom, not for oppression. They cheered when Mitt said he hopes to be the Republican nominee (and laughed when he spontaneously suggested Santorum as press secretary in a Romney administration). They cheered when Mitt said we should encourage businesses to bring foreign profits back to the U.S. They even cheered when Mitt said it’s a dangerous world, and we shouldn’t reduce the size of our military! Oh, and there was a smattering of applause for Marco Rubio; maybe a few tourists from Florida?

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Did my ears deceive me? Was that the “Tonight Show” audience Tuesday night giving Mitt Romney big ovations? On everything from foreign policy to health care and the tax code to Rick Santorum?

They cheered when Mitt said President Obama shouldn’t have hinted to Dmitri Medvedev – even away from a hot mic – that there would be more “flexibility” on missile defense once Obama was reelected. They cheered when Mitt said that if Vladimir Putin was really on our side, he would be fighting for freedom, not for oppression. They cheered when Mitt said he hopes to be the Republican nominee (and laughed when he spontaneously suggested Santorum as press secretary in a Romney administration). They cheered when Mitt said we should encourage businesses to bring foreign profits back to the U.S. They even cheered when Mitt said it’s a dangerous world, and we shouldn’t reduce the size of our military! Oh, and there was a smattering of applause for Marco Rubio; maybe a few tourists from Florida?

Not quite the reaction one might have expected from a sophisticated audience in La La Land.

And, by the way, as for the stiff, awkward, plastic Romney of legend? If he ever existed, he certainly didn’t put in an appearance at Jay Leno’s desk.  In fact, Romney was at ease, relaxed, smart and funny throughout. Really. Check out in particular his brief free associations on possible VP candidates.

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Another Pennsylvania Humiliation in Store for Santorum?

Rick Santorum’s supporters are still bravely pretending he has a viable chance to stop Mitt Romney from winning the Republican presidential nomination. There’s little chance of that happening, but the one prerequisite for his campaign to continue past April is for the former senator to win a smashing victory in his home state of Pennsylvania. But a Philadelphia Daily News/Franklin & Marshall poll published today shows that Santorum will be lucky to squeak out even a narrow victory in the one large state he has any hope of winning in the upcoming weeks. The survey shows Santorum holding a narrow 30-28-percentage point lead over Romney with Ron Paul at 9 percent and Newt Gingrich fading into complete insignificance at 6 percent.

To say that such a result is a potential catastrophe for the tottering Santorum campaign is an understatement. Earlier this week, Santorum said he was looking ahead to winning primaries in May in some states where he might hope his strong backing from evangelicals would make the difference. But if Santorum is trounced in every other state that votes in April, a narrow win or even a loss in Pennsylvania would be a clear sign  his run is coming to an end.

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Rick Santorum’s supporters are still bravely pretending he has a viable chance to stop Mitt Romney from winning the Republican presidential nomination. There’s little chance of that happening, but the one prerequisite for his campaign to continue past April is for the former senator to win a smashing victory in his home state of Pennsylvania. But a Philadelphia Daily News/Franklin & Marshall poll published today shows that Santorum will be lucky to squeak out even a narrow victory in the one large state he has any hope of winning in the upcoming weeks. The survey shows Santorum holding a narrow 30-28-percentage point lead over Romney with Ron Paul at 9 percent and Newt Gingrich fading into complete insignificance at 6 percent.

To say that such a result is a potential catastrophe for the tottering Santorum campaign is an understatement. Earlier this week, Santorum said he was looking ahead to winning primaries in May in some states where he might hope his strong backing from evangelicals would make the difference. But if Santorum is trounced in every other state that votes in April, a narrow win or even a loss in Pennsylvania would be a clear sign  his run is coming to an end.

Santorum’s difficulties at home should come as no surprise to those who have been following his efforts. Though Santorum’s impressive victories in the Middle West and South have erased some of the sting from his landslide defeat for re-election to the U.S. Senate in 2006, that defeat is still very much in the minds of most Pennsylvanians. If, as James Carville memorably said of the state, Pennsylvania is “Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between,” Santorum lost six years ago in no small measure because he forgot you can’t run there as if the Alabama part was the only place that voted. Santorum’s appeal on social issues has won him a string of victories in the Deep South, but it is not to be forgotten that his perceived extremism was a major factor in his 2006 defeat.

Mitt Romney is a good fit for many Pennsylvania Republicans. They think his more centrist approach, which is anathema in the Deep South, might actually give them a chance to carry the state in November. Many Tea Partiers still hold a grudge against Santorum for backing Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey in a 2004 senatorial primary. The fact that Toomey vouched for Romney’s conservative credentials at a conference in the state last week was not lost on many in the state GOP.

With four weeks to go until Pennsylvanians go to the polls on April 24, Santorum has plenty of time to try and pad his slim lead. But his biggest problem is that it is going to be increasingly difficult to maintain the illusion he actually still has a chance to be the Republican nominee. With nearly half the delegates already chosen and with most of the states that have yet to vote not dominated by the evangelicals who helped win him several primaries, it is no longer enough for Santorum to merely be the leading “not Romney.” Gingrich’s collapse means he really does have the one-on-one matchup with Romney that he always desired, but it turns out this doesn’t guarantee him victory. Indeed, with Pennsylvania evenly split between the two, the end may be nearer for Santorum’s campaign than even his critics may have thought.

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Brit Hume v. Sarah Palin

Rick Santorum’s profanity-laced outburst at Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times has elicited a fair amount of comment in the political world, as one might imagine – including among Fox News analysts. If you’d like to hear two very different interpretations of Senator Santorum’s reaction, you can watch Brit Hume here and Sarah Palin here.

Hume wasn’t harsh in his critique of Santorum, saying he was probably “fatigued” and showed “some exasperation,” but added that Zeleny is a “reasonable guy” who asked a legitimate question and would have taken Santorum at his word when it came to a clarification. Palin, on the other hand, said this:

Santorum’s response to that liberal-leftist, in-the-tank for Obama press character really revealed some of Rick Santorum’s character. And it was good and it was strong and it was about time because he’s saying enough is enough of the liberal media twisting a conservative’s words, putting words in his mouth, taking things out of context and even just making things up. So when I heard Rick Santorum’s response, I was like ‘Well, welcome to my world Rick’ and ‘Good on ya.’ Don’t retreat. You are saying “enough is enough. I was that glad he called out this reporter. He and the other candidates all of them need to do more of this. Because believe me the American people are tired of what that leftist media continue to do to conservatives.

So there you have it – Jeff Zeleny is, according to Hume, a “reasonable guy” while to Palin he is a “liberal-leftist, in-the-tank-for-Obama press character.” Hume says Santorum was fatigued and exasperated; Palin thinks Santorum and the other GOP candidates should do more of this kind of media push back (presumably including the profanity). One of the commentators is detached; the other is embittered.

Between Hume and Palin, who do you think is the more sober, mature, thoughtful and reasonable?

I’ll report, you decide.

 

Rick Santorum’s profanity-laced outburst at Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times has elicited a fair amount of comment in the political world, as one might imagine – including among Fox News analysts. If you’d like to hear two very different interpretations of Senator Santorum’s reaction, you can watch Brit Hume here and Sarah Palin here.

Hume wasn’t harsh in his critique of Santorum, saying he was probably “fatigued” and showed “some exasperation,” but added that Zeleny is a “reasonable guy” who asked a legitimate question and would have taken Santorum at his word when it came to a clarification. Palin, on the other hand, said this:

Santorum’s response to that liberal-leftist, in-the-tank for Obama press character really revealed some of Rick Santorum’s character. And it was good and it was strong and it was about time because he’s saying enough is enough of the liberal media twisting a conservative’s words, putting words in his mouth, taking things out of context and even just making things up. So when I heard Rick Santorum’s response, I was like ‘Well, welcome to my world Rick’ and ‘Good on ya.’ Don’t retreat. You are saying “enough is enough. I was that glad he called out this reporter. He and the other candidates all of them need to do more of this. Because believe me the American people are tired of what that leftist media continue to do to conservatives.

So there you have it – Jeff Zeleny is, according to Hume, a “reasonable guy” while to Palin he is a “liberal-leftist, in-the-tank-for-Obama press character.” Hume says Santorum was fatigued and exasperated; Palin thinks Santorum and the other GOP candidates should do more of this kind of media push back (presumably including the profanity). One of the commentators is detached; the other is embittered.

Between Hume and Palin, who do you think is the more sober, mature, thoughtful and reasonable?

I’ll report, you decide.

 

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Yelling at the NYT Won’t Help Santorum

At one time or another, it’s something most conservatives have wanted to do. While campaigning in Wisconsin, Santorum did: He blew up on a New York Times‘ reporter, questioning his journalistic integrity, his willingness to report on instead of create the news. Many conservatives cheered Santorum’s bravery, his willingness to take on the media bias at the New York Times and elsewhere. Will this be enough to fire up the conservative base in time for Santorum to have a shot at beating Romney for the nomination? In a word: no. Nothing short of a miracle could make that happen at this point, looking at the delegate math.

During the debates Newt Gingrich gained serious traction taking on the liberal establishment of all stripes, leading to the only standing ovation during a debate that I can remember. Has Santorum decided to take a page from his opponent’s book, deciding to go on the offensive to remind conservatives why he’s their only logical pick?

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At one time or another, it’s something most conservatives have wanted to do. While campaigning in Wisconsin, Santorum did: He blew up on a New York Times‘ reporter, questioning his journalistic integrity, his willingness to report on instead of create the news. Many conservatives cheered Santorum’s bravery, his willingness to take on the media bias at the New York Times and elsewhere. Will this be enough to fire up the conservative base in time for Santorum to have a shot at beating Romney for the nomination? In a word: no. Nothing short of a miracle could make that happen at this point, looking at the delegate math.

During the debates Newt Gingrich gained serious traction taking on the liberal establishment of all stripes, leading to the only standing ovation during a debate that I can remember. Has Santorum decided to take a page from his opponent’s book, deciding to go on the offensive to remind conservatives why he’s their only logical pick?

Since those debates, Gingrich’s support has plummeted and pundits are now on deathwatch, waiting for his campaign to finally announce its conclusion. Santorum’s appeal, meanwhile, has kept him in the final two contenders past Super Tuesday, something next to no one saw coming even a few months ago. Many a pundit has commented on what they believe Santorum’s appeal is to the base, why he has outlasted every other hype candidate to the final mile of the GOP nomination race. I think his ability to stay in the race this late in the game is thanks primarily to two factors: He stuck it out, kept his cool, and stayed on message long enough to become the Not-Romney at the right time. He also comes across as a pretty nice guy, if you don’t read into the liberal media narrative that he’s a General in the War on Women, that is.

Santorum appeals to the socially conservative that were faced with Gingrich, a serial philanderer and Cain, a man whose candidacy unraveled with new reports of shady behavior with women every day until he eventually succumbed and dropped out. He’s a family man who, at the apex of his run, took a few days off to spend time with his special needs daughter who had been hospitalized with serious complications. He wears a sweater vest unironically; he really does come across as the guy next door.

It’s best for Santorum to keep in mind what it is about his candidacy that appeals to voters. While videos of dust-ups with the New York Times may get a lot of spin, airtime and YouTube hits, the first thing I noticed was this: Twenty seconds after Santorum exclaims “It’s bullshit!” – a blonde head, half the height of everyone else around her, comes into view. Santorum lost his cool and cursed in front of what appears to be a young girl who was standing in line to get her campaign placard signed. This isn’t the candidate social conservatives have rallied around and it won’t get Santorum any closer to the nomination.

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Santorum Wants to be “Mr. May”

Byron York reports that Rick Santorum told a gathering of Washington reporters today while he knows the outlook for him isn’t bright in Wisconsin next week, he’s looking forward to winning in lots of states the following month. Given that the latest poll shows him losing badly in Wisconsin, his lowering of expectations there is smart. But the problem with his attempt to rationalize the defeats that are in store for him in the near future is that by the time May rolls around the landscape of the race may have been altered to his disadvantage.

The problem with being “Mr. May” is that even if Santorum can win some primaries that month — and even he concedes that running the table in a diverse group of states including some that Romney will probably win is unlikely — is that he really needed to be the man of the month in February and March when the nomination was still up for grabs. Santorum did win some states in those months, but he also lost some big ones, and the result is that waiting until deep into the spring to play catch up means he’s doomed himself to runner-up status.

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Byron York reports that Rick Santorum told a gathering of Washington reporters today while he knows the outlook for him isn’t bright in Wisconsin next week, he’s looking forward to winning in lots of states the following month. Given that the latest poll shows him losing badly in Wisconsin, his lowering of expectations there is smart. But the problem with his attempt to rationalize the defeats that are in store for him in the near future is that by the time May rolls around the landscape of the race may have been altered to his disadvantage.

The problem with being “Mr. May” is that even if Santorum can win some primaries that month — and even he concedes that running the table in a diverse group of states including some that Romney will probably win is unlikely — is that he really needed to be the man of the month in February and March when the nomination was still up for grabs. Santorum did win some states in those months, but he also lost some big ones, and the result is that waiting until deep into the spring to play catch up means he’s doomed himself to runner-up status.

In the wake of his victory during the weekend in Louisiana, Santorum is still pretending the Republican race is far from decided and that, as was the case earlier in the campaign, several more momentum changes are to be expected. But having already had the chance to really alter the dynamic of the GOP contest in states like Michigan, Ohio and Illinois and lost, it’s just not possible to go on pretending he has a ghost of a chance to win a majority of delegates. Even more to the point, by the time May arrives, he will have already lost another few contests that will make the current hole in which he finds himself (relative to Mitt Romney) far deeper.

If we concede, as Santorum already seems to have done, that he will lose Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia next week and almost certainly get creamed in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware later in the month, that leaves his home state of Pennsylvania as the only one where he has a chance in April. Even if he wins there, and that is by no means a certainty and will in any case be diminished by his failure to again field a full slate of delegates, Santorum will enter May even farther behind than he already is now. His prospects may be better in North Carolina, Indiana and West Virginia on May 8, but by then even most conservatives will have gotten the message that prolonging the GOP contest is pointless. Even if Santorum refuses to take the hint and pull out sometime that month, by June, Romney will be so close to winning the necessary majority of delegates that any decision on Santorum’s part won’t be significant.

Of course, being a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, Santorum may not be aware that the designation of “Mr. May” isn’t necessarily a good thing. Some 30 years ago, the late George Steinbrenner labeled outfielder Dave Winfield with that moniker–and didn’t mean it as a compliment. What the New York Yankees needed he said was another “Mr. October” (i.e. Reggie Jackson) not a “Mr. May” who played like a star when the chips weren’t on the line. In this case, most Republicans seem to have decided that Romney is their “Mr. November” this year. It remains to be seen whether he can deliver, but whether he does or not, Santorum’s boasts about potential victories in the spring will be long forgotten by the time the real action happens in the fall.

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Louisiana Won’t Shift Race Momentum

Moments after the polls closed in Louisiana tonight, Rick Santorum was proclaimed the victor. Polls had shown the former senator with a big lead going into Saturday and it appears the state’s heavy concentration of evangelicals and Deep South conservatives has given him a big victory. But though Santorum spoke of Louisiana once again changing the dynamic of the GOP race, it’s too late for that. Though the first few months of the campaign were characterized by frequent momentum shifts, with almost half of the delegates to the Republican National Convention already chosen, the pattern of the contest is now already set in stone. Mitt Romney’s lead, which won’t be affected much by Santorum’s win tonight, is too big.

The chance for that next big momentum change Santorum was looking for has already come and gone. The opportunity for that game changing victory was there for the taking in Michigan, Ohio and Illinois where a win over Romney would have demonstrated that Santorum could take large and diverse states, not just the ones dominated by evangelicals. But having lost each one of those tests, Louisiana won’t make up for those defeats. That means tonight’s party may be one of the last moments for Santorum’s supporters to celebrate as he faces likely defeat in a string of states that will vote next.

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Moments after the polls closed in Louisiana tonight, Rick Santorum was proclaimed the victor. Polls had shown the former senator with a big lead going into Saturday and it appears the state’s heavy concentration of evangelicals and Deep South conservatives has given him a big victory. But though Santorum spoke of Louisiana once again changing the dynamic of the GOP race, it’s too late for that. Though the first few months of the campaign were characterized by frequent momentum shifts, with almost half of the delegates to the Republican National Convention already chosen, the pattern of the contest is now already set in stone. Mitt Romney’s lead, which won’t be affected much by Santorum’s win tonight, is too big.

The chance for that next big momentum change Santorum was looking for has already come and gone. The opportunity for that game changing victory was there for the taking in Michigan, Ohio and Illinois where a win over Romney would have demonstrated that Santorum could take large and diverse states, not just the ones dominated by evangelicals. But having lost each one of those tests, Louisiana won’t make up for those defeats. That means tonight’s party may be one of the last moments for Santorum’s supporters to celebrate as he faces likely defeat in a string of states that will vote next.

The April results will pad Romney’s delegate advantage and bring him much closer to the magic number of 1,144. Santorum will fight hard in Wisconsin but trails badly and given the results in other Midwestern states that he has already lost, there’s no reason to believe he’ll do better there. April 3, when Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia vote will be good for Romney. Looking ahead the only state that will vote in April where Santorum has a shot is his home base in Pennsylvania. But even though he currently leads in the polls, there are danger signs even there for him. Plagued even there, as he has been throughout the country, apparently he won’t have delegate slates in every district meaning that even if he holds on and wins the popular vote there, Romney may still win a majority of delegates. That could make April 24, exactly one month after Louisiana votes, a day of reckoning for Santorum as Romney wins in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware bury his hopes.

It should be acknowledged that Santorum’s primary run has been an amazing accomplishment. With virtually no organization and short of money, he has amassed an impressive series of victories and an impressive delegate total. If heading into this year, Republicans spoke of Mike Huckabee’s out-of-nowhere showing in 2008 as the template for conservative upstarts, Santorum has done far better. It won’t be nearly enough to win him the Republican nomination but it has reclaimed his reputation as a successful politician and given him a future in his party.

So while no one should begrudge Santorum his celebration tonight or his right to spend the next few weeks trying to pull off a miracle, it’s only a matter of time until Romney clinches. Nothing that happened Saturday in Louisiana can change that.

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Who’s the Real Conservative? Ask Toomey

Some will call it payback but to those who know and or have followed Pat Toomey’s political career closely, it’s just yet another instance of his logical mind following a question to its proper conclusion. Pennsylvania’s junior senator told a gathering of conservative activists today that questions about the conservatism of Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney are unfounded. “I think Mitt Romney is a conservative, and I think if elected, he’ll govern as a conservative,” Toomey said at a meeting of the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference. Coming on the heels of another virtual endorsement from one of the Senate’s other leading conservatives, South Carolina’s Jim DeMint, the Toomey statement is strong ammunition for the Romney campaign, especially in the lead up to the Pennsylvania Primary on April 24.

It is a given that some observers will merely put down this statement as a belated reprisal for Rick Santorum’s infamous decision to back Arlen Specter against Toomey in a 2004 Senate primary race. But Toomey and Santorum put that dispute behind them long ago. The Toomey statement is actually far worse for Santorum than merely getting even for his role in keeping him out of the Senate eight years ago. Toomey, the former head of the Club for Growth, is as principled a conservative on fiscal issues as one can find in the Senate or anywhere else and his acceptance of Romney’s bona fides is a telling statement about what he thinks about both the frontrunner as well as the challenger.

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Some will call it payback but to those who know and or have followed Pat Toomey’s political career closely, it’s just yet another instance of his logical mind following a question to its proper conclusion. Pennsylvania’s junior senator told a gathering of conservative activists today that questions about the conservatism of Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney are unfounded. “I think Mitt Romney is a conservative, and I think if elected, he’ll govern as a conservative,” Toomey said at a meeting of the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference. Coming on the heels of another virtual endorsement from one of the Senate’s other leading conservatives, South Carolina’s Jim DeMint, the Toomey statement is strong ammunition for the Romney campaign, especially in the lead up to the Pennsylvania Primary on April 24.

It is a given that some observers will merely put down this statement as a belated reprisal for Rick Santorum’s infamous decision to back Arlen Specter against Toomey in a 2004 Senate primary race. But Toomey and Santorum put that dispute behind them long ago. The Toomey statement is actually far worse for Santorum than merely getting even for his role in keeping him out of the Senate eight years ago. Toomey, the former head of the Club for Growth, is as principled a conservative on fiscal issues as one can find in the Senate or anywhere else and his acceptance of Romney’s bona fides is a telling statement about what he thinks about both the frontrunner as well as the challenger.

Though Santorum has campaigned as the true conservative in the race as opposed to the “Massachusetts moderate,” there’s little doubt that Toomey has always been to his right when it came to government spending, entitlements and earmarks. Santorum spent his 12 years in the Senate working hard to bring home the federal bacon to the state Toomey has always disdained that sort of pork barrel politics even when he was representing the Allentown area in the House from 1998 to 2004. When Toomey says, as he did today that Romney stands for “the principles of limited government” that means something.

While I doubt that Toomey would take an active role in the primary or campaign for Romney (now that really would be payback), today’s statement will be a reminder to many Pennsylvania conservatives of all the things they don’t like about Santorum. It’s also why those who assume that Santorum would romp in his home state are probably exaggerating his appeal. While he is ahead in the polls and deserves to be favored, it is by no means a foregone conclusion that he will win.

Even more to the point, Toomey and DeMint are signaling to movement conservatives and Tea Partiers around the nation that it is time for them to close ranks behind the inevitable Republican standard bearer. While Santorum will undoubtedly continue to nip at Romney’s heels at least until Pennsylvania votes, it’s one more sign that the race is coming to a conclusion.

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Time for Santorum to Chill

On Thursday GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum said Republicans should give President Obama another term if Santorum isn’t the GOP nominee. “You win by giving people a choice,” according to Santorum. “You win by giving people the opportunity to see a different vision for our country, not someone who’s just going to be a little different than the person in there.” Santorum added: “If they’re going to be a little different, we might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk of what may be the Etch A Sketch candidate for the future.”

Whatever concerns conservatives have about Governor Romney, the idea that Obama would be (from a Republican perspective) a superior president is insane, for reasons that don’t need to be recited here. Bear in mind that Santorum enthusiastically endorsed Romney in 2008 — and Romney is no less conservative now than he was then. On the other hand, I suppose a conservative who argues that Obama would be better than Romney might also argue that Arlen Specter would be superior to Pat Toomey.

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On Thursday GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum said Republicans should give President Obama another term if Santorum isn’t the GOP nominee. “You win by giving people a choice,” according to Santorum. “You win by giving people the opportunity to see a different vision for our country, not someone who’s just going to be a little different than the person in there.” Santorum added: “If they’re going to be a little different, we might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk of what may be the Etch A Sketch candidate for the future.”

Whatever concerns conservatives have about Governor Romney, the idea that Obama would be (from a Republican perspective) a superior president is insane, for reasons that don’t need to be recited here. Bear in mind that Santorum enthusiastically endorsed Romney in 2008 — and Romney is no less conservative now than he was then. On the other hand, I suppose a conservative who argues that Obama would be better than Romney might also argue that Arlen Specter would be superior to Pat Toomey.


What we’re seeing, I suspect, is a candidate who knows deep in his bones that he won’t win the nomination and as a result he’s lashing out. In doing so, Santorum isn’t doing himself any favors. It’s important that those in his campaign and who have standing in his life do all they can to prevent Santorum from becoming bitter, self-righteous, and self-destructive. Rick Santorum has run an impressive campaign in many respects; he’s done better than almost anyone imagined. And he’s certainly resuscitated his political career. But he risks undoing much of what he’s achieved with these intemperate attacks.

According to press accounts, during one of the debates, when Santorum grew frustrated, his wife Karen walked up to him during a commercial break and told him, “Chill.”

That was good counsel then and it’s good counsel now.

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Santorum’s Fatal Flaw

Rick Santorum was making a meal out of Mitt Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom’s Etch A Sketch gaffe yesterday when the former senator got a little carried away. Honing in on the idea that Romney was a political chameleon who didn’t provide a clear alternative to President Obama, Santorum didn’t just stick to his usual line that nominating a moderate would guarantee a loss for the Republicans in November. Instead, he went one step farther:

“If they’re going to be a little different, we might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk of what may be the Etch A Sketch candidate for the future.”

Santorum may not have actually intended to say that re-electing Barack Obama is preferable to replacing him with Mitt Romney. But that’s the way it came out. And, for all of Romney’s well-known flaws, this sort of an overstatement illustrates one of Santorum’s: his penchant for going off message and saying things that will come back to haunt him. The candidate has always prided himself on being unscripted but along with the spontaneity comes a tendency to go on too long when answering a question. That often leads Santorum into uncharted territory. He doesn’t need a teleprompter. What he really needs is an internal editor.

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Rick Santorum was making a meal out of Mitt Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom’s Etch A Sketch gaffe yesterday when the former senator got a little carried away. Honing in on the idea that Romney was a political chameleon who didn’t provide a clear alternative to President Obama, Santorum didn’t just stick to his usual line that nominating a moderate would guarantee a loss for the Republicans in November. Instead, he went one step farther:

“If they’re going to be a little different, we might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk of what may be the Etch A Sketch candidate for the future.”

Santorum may not have actually intended to say that re-electing Barack Obama is preferable to replacing him with Mitt Romney. But that’s the way it came out. And, for all of Romney’s well-known flaws, this sort of an overstatement illustrates one of Santorum’s: his penchant for going off message and saying things that will come back to haunt him. The candidate has always prided himself on being unscripted but along with the spontaneity comes a tendency to go on too long when answering a question. That often leads Santorum into uncharted territory. He doesn’t need a teleprompter. What he really needs is an internal editor.

This overstatement about Romney not being better than Obama isn’t going to cost him too many votes this weekend in Louisiana where he is heavily favored. But it is the reason why he has always found himself in unnecessary scrapes about tangential issues throughout his career. He may blame most of this on the press and there is some truth to this. But no journalist has ever put a gun to Santorum’s head and forced him to talk about contraception or pornography or to compare gay relationships to bestiality. Nor did anyone force him to write a book filled with such nuggets that were manna from heaven for Democratic opposition researchers during his landslide defeat for reelection to the Senate in 2006. He did it himself and usually without forethought merely because he chose to follow a question to its logical though impolitic conclusion.

In positioning himself as a bitter-end opponent of Romney, Santorum might think he can win some extra votes in the next few weeks as the primary campaign winds down to its inevitable conclusion. But if he doesn’t put a lid on such statements soon he will be doing himself some significant long-range damage. At some point this spring, Santorum will be forced to come to the conclusion that his presidential chances are lost and he will have to concede. That may be a bitter pill to him but if he wants to have a future in the Republican Party, he will need to do it. As I wrote earlier this week, Santorum’s remarkable primary run has re-established him as a national figure in the GOP. Should Romney lose this fall, he will immediately be seen as a major contender for 2016. But his chances in the future will be compromised if he spends the next few months sabotaging Romney.

Santorum has already walked back the comment and acknowledged that he will support the winner of the GOP nomination. But anyone who wonders why Santorum is falling short in this race and why he might not ever get to the top of the heap can look no further than his lack of verbal discipline. Unless and until Rick Santorum learns to watch what he says once he starts talking, he will never beat the Romneys of this world. For all of his passion and intelligence, the betting here is that he never will.

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Jews for Jesus and Santorum

Rick Santorum’s already minimal chances to win Jewish votes in November just got a tiny bit smaller. Politico reports that the GOP presidential candidate spoke in 2010 at a conference of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, a group whose adherents claim Jewish identity while also professing belief in the divinity of Jesus. Santorum picked up $6,000 for the speaking gig that went unnoticed at the time but now must be considered a minor embarrassment for the former senator.

Messianics, like the better-known group that calls themselves Jews for Jesus, are ardent supporters of the Jewish state and wanted Santorum to speak at their event because of his pro-Israel views. But Christians who may be puzzled by any Jewish resentment about his appearance need to understand two things about this controversy. The first is that the only one thing upon which virtually all Jews — no matter where they stand on the religious or political spectrum — agree on is that belief in Jesus makes a person a Christian rather than a Jew. There is also a strong consensus that Messianic groups are engaging in deceptive practices when they seek to proselytize Jews to join them. Therefore, any connection with such groups is bound to be seen as controversial.

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Rick Santorum’s already minimal chances to win Jewish votes in November just got a tiny bit smaller. Politico reports that the GOP presidential candidate spoke in 2010 at a conference of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, a group whose adherents claim Jewish identity while also professing belief in the divinity of Jesus. Santorum picked up $6,000 for the speaking gig that went unnoticed at the time but now must be considered a minor embarrassment for the former senator.

Messianics, like the better-known group that calls themselves Jews for Jesus, are ardent supporters of the Jewish state and wanted Santorum to speak at their event because of his pro-Israel views. But Christians who may be puzzled by any Jewish resentment about his appearance need to understand two things about this controversy. The first is that the only one thing upon which virtually all Jews — no matter where they stand on the religious or political spectrum — agree on is that belief in Jesus makes a person a Christian rather than a Jew. There is also a strong consensus that Messianic groups are engaging in deceptive practices when they seek to proselytize Jews to join them. Therefore, any connection with such groups is bound to be seen as controversial.

It should be specified that Messianics are as free as any other Americans to believe whatever they wish and to practice their faith as they see fit. But almost all Jews view Messianic campaigns to target them for conversion to Christianity — which are integral to the beliefs of these groups —as insidious efforts to undermine their survival as a community.

Part of this stems from demography. After 2,000 years of persecution that culminated in the Holocaust, any endeavor that seeks to further diminish the number of Jews is not taken lightly. Even more to the point, the long history of forced conversions to Christianity has left a foul taste in the mouths of Jews even if such memories have little to do with contemporary spiritual competition. Either way, it must be understood that the visceral distaste that the overwhelming majority of Jews have for the Messianics is not to be taken lightly.

It should also be understood that during his years in the House of Representatives and the Senate, no member worked harder to be a friend to the Jewish community than Santorum even though he never won a majority of their votes. While he was out of office, Santorum relied in part on speaking fees to support his large family and no one is alleging that he did anything unethical or improper here. Nor can he be accused of actually engaging in any proselytizing of Jews on the Messianics’ behalf.

Due to his conservative social views, Santorum had little chance of taking advantage of Jewish dissatisfaction with President Obama’s policies toward Israel. Jewish conservatives already inclined to back Santorum will probably understand that he meant no insult to the Jewish community so it’s not likely that this will cost him any votes. But this story won’t do anything to increase their numbers.

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No Basis for Skepticism About Inevitability

The widespread consensus among pundits and political operators that Mitt Romney’s nomination is no longer in doubt has generated some predictable pushback from conservatives who are still trying to convince themselves that it is possible to stop him. Some seized on this analysis by the Wall Street Journal of the delegate math from earlier in the week as proof that the road ahead for the frontrunner was still steep since it made it clear that Romney had to keep winning at least 50 percent of the delegates in play to clinch before the Tampa convention. When you combine that with the dismay over the Etch A Sketch gaffe as well as the ongoing angst about the candidate’s bona fides still being expressed by respected commentators such as William Kristol, it is possible to imagine there is still room for skepticism about the inevitability of the outcome.

But the are two problems for those trying to concoct such a scenario. The first is that no matter how you play around with the delegate math, nothing short of a Romney collapse will prevent him from getting a majority of convention delegates by the end of June. The second is that even if you think Romney will still find a few more banana peels to slip on in the upcoming weeks, a deadlocked convention requires one of his competitors to catch fire during this period. Yet the only possible alternative is Rick Santorum, a candidate who has already proven repeatedly that he cannot compete in any state that isn’t dominated by evangelicals.

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The widespread consensus among pundits and political operators that Mitt Romney’s nomination is no longer in doubt has generated some predictable pushback from conservatives who are still trying to convince themselves that it is possible to stop him. Some seized on this analysis by the Wall Street Journal of the delegate math from earlier in the week as proof that the road ahead for the frontrunner was still steep since it made it clear that Romney had to keep winning at least 50 percent of the delegates in play to clinch before the Tampa convention. When you combine that with the dismay over the Etch A Sketch gaffe as well as the ongoing angst about the candidate’s bona fides still being expressed by respected commentators such as William Kristol, it is possible to imagine there is still room for skepticism about the inevitability of the outcome.

But the are two problems for those trying to concoct such a scenario. The first is that no matter how you play around with the delegate math, nothing short of a Romney collapse will prevent him from getting a majority of convention delegates by the end of June. The second is that even if you think Romney will still find a few more banana peels to slip on in the upcoming weeks, a deadlocked convention requires one of his competitors to catch fire during this period. Yet the only possible alternative is Rick Santorum, a candidate who has already proven repeatedly that he cannot compete in any state that isn’t dominated by evangelicals.

As Nate Silver writes in today’s New York Times, all Romney has to do to win the nomination is to win 46 percent of the delegates still up for grabs. But even a pessimistic evaluation of his chances in the remaining states to vote would give him far more than 50 percent. Romney has already won more than double those won by his competitors and the tough part of the calendar for him will be over this weekend after Louisiana votes. Silver estimates his chances now of gaining a majority of delegates at 91 percent, which strikes me as reasonable if a bit on the low end. The odds of Santorum getting a majority are virtually zero. In politics, as in sports, you have to always remember that anything can happen. Yet the only ways by which Romney is beaten now involves scenarios that are about as likely as his campaign bus getting struck by a meteorite.

It should also be remembered that none of this is happening in a vacuum. As John Podhoretz wrote in today’s New York Post, those hoping for a brokered convention haven’t thought through the consequences of their dream coming true. Irrespective of what anybody thinks about Romney, such a thing would be, as John pointed out, nothing short of a catastrophe for the GOP and guarantee Barack Obama’s re-election as well as doom the party’s Congressional hopes.

One of the reasons why the discussion about the race has moved to one about how exactly the endgame will play out it is that everyone knows this. The idea that Rick Santorum would act in such a way as to deliberately sabotage Romney’s chances in November merely to make an ideological point or out of spite is absurd and shows little insight into his character or record as a politician. Once it’s clear that his hand has been played out, he will withdraw to preserve his future in the party. I’d estimate that moment comes in mid-May at the latest. But whether I’m right about that date or not, unless Santorum miraculously starts winning the sort of states where he has been consistently beaten this year, he will not seek to prolong the race beyond the point where he has no chance of winning.

That might not be what some bitter-end opponents of Romney want to hear but the sooner they make their peace with the inevitable GOP nominee, the better his chances of winning in November will be.

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Mitt Romney, De Facto Nominee

I concur with my colleagues. The GOP presidential race isn’t officially over, but the outcome is (absent an act of God) decided. As many of us thought at the outset of this contest, Mitt Romney will be the GOP nominee.

It took longer, and the struggle has been harder, than Romney and his supporters would have liked. But he’s going to win the nomination of a party whose base has been wary of him from the start and while packing some heavy bricks (in the form of RomneyCare) in his rucksack. That is an impressive achievement in its own right.

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I concur with my colleagues. The GOP presidential race isn’t officially over, but the outcome is (absent an act of God) decided. As many of us thought at the outset of this contest, Mitt Romney will be the GOP nominee.

It took longer, and the struggle has been harder, than Romney and his supporters would have liked. But he’s going to win the nomination of a party whose base has been wary of him from the start and while packing some heavy bricks (in the form of RomneyCare) in his rucksack. That is an impressive achievement in its own right.

The exit poll results from Illinois (analyzed here) are interesting. What they show is that Romney has improved his standing by a considerable margin among groups that he’s done well with throughout this primary season. For example, Romney routed Santorum among Catholics (21 percentage points); those with a four-year college degree (also by 21 points); those earning at least $100,000 (by 36 points); those who describe themselves as moderate or liberal (by 20 points); and among voters who describe themselves as somewhat conservative (the margin was 23 points) and non-evangelicals (27 points). Romney also won among Tea Party supporters (by six points) and improved his standing among working class voters and those earning between $50,000-$100,000 a year (he tied Santorum in that category). The former Massachusetts governor also made inroads among evangelical Christians (he lost this group to Santorum by 10 points, a large margin but less than in comparable states). Romney did lose to Santorum by a wide margin (13 points) among those who self-identify as very conservative.

What we saw, then, is that the basic pattern of this campaign played out in Illinois, but Romney did better with almost every demographic group than he did in Ohio and Michigan. The GOP primary race template remains in place, except that Romney is growing much stronger with those groups that are inclined to support him while his opponents are doing a good deal weaker. Newt Gingrich ceased to be much of a factor a while ago, while Rick Santorum has not been able to broaden his appeal. In retrospect, Santorum’s failure to win in Ohio and Michigan did irreparable damage to his candidacy; Illinois will be seen as the state that finally broke him.

As for the state of the race right now, Governor Romney has won right around half the delegates needed to win the nomination (560 out of 1,144). He has to win less than half of the remaining delegates (roughly 45 percent) in order to secure the nomination. He’s won more than 1.3 million more votes than Santorum, his closest challenger. And Romney has won 21 of the 33 contests held so far. The chances of a brokered convention remain small; and the odds that the nomination would go to anyone other than Romney are near zero. That reality will gradually dawn on the supporters of Gingrich and Santorum, and perhaps even on the two candidates themselves.

There’s no question that between now and the general election Governor Romney needs to buttress his standing among evangelicals, rural and non-college educated voters, and those who consider themselves very conservative. He needs their enthusiastic support f he hopes to dislodge President Obama in the Fall. Governor Romney also has some repair work to do with independents; the primary campaign took its toll on him with independents. But those tasks, while not easy, are eminently doable. For now, Mitt Romney, really for the first time, can breathe a sigh of relief. Almost everyone can now see that he will win the nomination of the Republican Party. And he has a better than even chance of becoming America’s 45th president.

There are worse ways to begin the Spring than that.

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Santorum’s Remarkable Journey

I agree completely with Alana and Jonathan that the end game is at hand regarding the Republican nomination. Barring a major development, Romney is now unstoppable. He has a commanding lead in delegates and his two main opponents, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, are facing increasingly difficult situations and rapidly diminishing possibilities. Santorum has yet to win in a state not dominated by hard-line conservatives and evangelicals, states that are safely in the Republican column come November anyway. Gingrich finished in Illinois behind fringe candidate Ron Paul.

But while Rick Santorum is now very unlikely to win the nomination, it’s been a remarkable journey for him. Just consider, he was a two-term senator, having won in Republican years (1994 and 2000) and then was clobbered in the Democratic year of 2006, losing as an incumbent by 18 percentage points. That’s a pretty thin résumé to run on. He was seriously underfunded throughout most of the campaign, unable even to get on the ballot in some districts and in Virginia.

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I agree completely with Alana and Jonathan that the end game is at hand regarding the Republican nomination. Barring a major development, Romney is now unstoppable. He has a commanding lead in delegates and his two main opponents, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, are facing increasingly difficult situations and rapidly diminishing possibilities. Santorum has yet to win in a state not dominated by hard-line conservatives and evangelicals, states that are safely in the Republican column come November anyway. Gingrich finished in Illinois behind fringe candidate Ron Paul.

But while Rick Santorum is now very unlikely to win the nomination, it’s been a remarkable journey for him. Just consider, he was a two-term senator, having won in Republican years (1994 and 2000) and then was clobbered in the Democratic year of 2006, losing as an incumbent by 18 percentage points. That’s a pretty thin résumé to run on. He was seriously underfunded throughout most of the campaign, unable even to get on the ballot in some districts and in Virginia.

And yet, here he is, clearly the runner-up. And, as he pointed out in his concession speech last night, he has obviously influenced the frontrunner. Romney’s victory speech—he is by no means a natural orator, but it was best I’ve heard him give—came right out of the Santorum playbook: framing the upcoming general election as a battle between personal freedom and ever greater state control of the American economy and, thus, American lives.

In other words, Santorum’s run, while it failed in its ultimate goal of the Republican nomination, brought him back from the land of the politically dead and forced the apparent winner towards his positions. He has earned a place at the table and, probably, a major job in a Romney administration.  That’s not a bad result when you think about it. It’s a whole lot more than Tim Pawlenty, Michelle Bachmann, or Rick Perry got out of their months on the rubber-chicken circuit.

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Time to Close? GOP Horse Race is Over

I echo Jonathan’s sentiments this morning when he wrote, “for the first time in this long and tortuous race, the end is clearly in sight.” After almost a full year of following an exhausting and dramatic primary race, it’s about time to switch over to the general election.

Of course nobody is encouraging that narrative more than the Romney campaign, which sent out a fundraising email immediately after its victory last night headlined “Time to Close”:

Tonight, we have taken one more step toward restoring the promise of America. And tomorrow we wake up and start again.

This November, we face a defining decision. Our economic freedom will be on the ballot, and I intend to offer the American people a clear choice.

Tonight’s win means we are that much closer to securing the nomination, uniting our party, and taking on President Obama. We are almost there. Help us close strong in the remaining contests by donating $10 today.

At this point, it seems to be a matter of when, not if, Romney secures the nomination. Of course, the major media outlets still are still covering this as if it’s still a horse race.

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I echo Jonathan’s sentiments this morning when he wrote, “for the first time in this long and tortuous race, the end is clearly in sight.” After almost a full year of following an exhausting and dramatic primary race, it’s about time to switch over to the general election.

Of course nobody is encouraging that narrative more than the Romney campaign, which sent out a fundraising email immediately after its victory last night headlined “Time to Close”:

Tonight, we have taken one more step toward restoring the promise of America. And tomorrow we wake up and start again.

This November, we face a defining decision. Our economic freedom will be on the ballot, and I intend to offer the American people a clear choice.

Tonight’s win means we are that much closer to securing the nomination, uniting our party, and taking on President Obama. We are almost there. Help us close strong in the remaining contests by donating $10 today.

At this point, it seems to be a matter of when, not if, Romney secures the nomination. Of course, the major media outlets still are still covering this as if it’s still a horse race.

Washington Post:

Despite the solid victory for Romney, who has eeked out more modest wins elsewhere in the Midwest, the contest is unlikely to dramatically shake up the basic geometry of the race. Though Illinois is a major prize for Romney, who will claim the majority of the state’s 54 delegates, the victory does not close the door on Rick Santorum, who will also win a portion of those delegates and has vowed to soldier on.

The Wall Street Journal:

Bolstered by his strong showing Tuesday in the Illinois primary, Mitt Romney has built a commanding lead, but the prize remains elusive. While he is winning in the delegate chase, he isn’t so far ahead that he is assured of entering the party convention this summer with the nomination sewn up.

Meanwhile, the New York Times is hyping the importance of the late-April Pennsylvania primary.

Santorum will fight on until at least late April, but, barring a major shakeup, his chances of winning the nomination have evaporated. He had a chance in Illinois, and a victory there could have showed a resurgence of momentum. But now it looks like he’ll follow the predicted path. He’ll win Louisiana, lose Wisconsin, and then slug it out until Pennsylvania. With each week, the calls for him to bow out gracefully will increase.

The question is, how long will the media shut their eyes to that reality? They have their own incentives for making it seem like the race is more competitive than it actually is. But at some point, it’s going to stretch credulity to keep covering the Santorum campaign as if he still has a serious chance of winning the nomination.

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Romney Juggernaut Sets Up GOP Endgame

After the walloping they took last night in Illinois, Rick Santorum’s supporters are hopeful that the next stop on the Republican primary calendar will cheer them up. Santorum is favored to win Saturday’s Louisiana Primary but that won’t change the fact that on Tuesday, he lost one of his last chances to win a state whose GOP is not dominated by evangelicals. The 47-35 percent beating he took in Illinois — which allowed Romney to win all but a handful of the state’s convention delegates — does more than merely reinforce the sense of Romney’s inevitability that is now acknowledged by all but the most diehard of his opponents’ supporters. The pattern of voting is such that there is now no longer any credible scenario that can be put forward in which Romney is denied a majority of the convention’s delegates by June.

Though the race will go on for at least another month, for the first time in this long and tortuous race, the end is clearly in sight. The April 24 Pennsylvania primary now looks to be an opportunity for Romney to close out his opponent by beating him in his home state. But even if Santorum can hold onto Pennsylvania, the May 8 trio of North Carolina, Indiana and West Virginia may be his last stand especially since Romney is likely to win most of the states that vote in April. The delegate math makes it impossible for Santorum to pretend that he can actually win the nomination on his own. Not even the complete collapse of Newt Gingrich’s candidacy — the former speaker finished dead last in the field of four behind Ron Paul — has been enough to prevent the frontrunner from assuming a commanding lead that will not be overtaken.

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After the walloping they took last night in Illinois, Rick Santorum’s supporters are hopeful that the next stop on the Republican primary calendar will cheer them up. Santorum is favored to win Saturday’s Louisiana Primary but that won’t change the fact that on Tuesday, he lost one of his last chances to win a state whose GOP is not dominated by evangelicals. The 47-35 percent beating he took in Illinois — which allowed Romney to win all but a handful of the state’s convention delegates — does more than merely reinforce the sense of Romney’s inevitability that is now acknowledged by all but the most diehard of his opponents’ supporters. The pattern of voting is such that there is now no longer any credible scenario that can be put forward in which Romney is denied a majority of the convention’s delegates by June.

Though the race will go on for at least another month, for the first time in this long and tortuous race, the end is clearly in sight. The April 24 Pennsylvania primary now looks to be an opportunity for Romney to close out his opponent by beating him in his home state. But even if Santorum can hold onto Pennsylvania, the May 8 trio of North Carolina, Indiana and West Virginia may be his last stand especially since Romney is likely to win most of the states that vote in April. The delegate math makes it impossible for Santorum to pretend that he can actually win the nomination on his own. Not even the complete collapse of Newt Gingrich’s candidacy — the former speaker finished dead last in the field of four behind Ron Paul — has been enough to prevent the frontrunner from assuming a commanding lead that will not be overtaken.

It is true that Romney is still losing among evangelical and very conservative GOP primary voters. But he is winning virtually every other demographic slice of the electorate including Tea Party supporters. While not being acclaimed with acclamation or even a great deal of enthusiasm, the notion that Republicans are unwilling to embrace Romney may be finally being put to rest. Those voting in GOP primaries continue to assert that the ability to beat President Obama in November is the most desirable quality in a candidate and there’s little doubt that Romney has the best chance of any Republican in the race.

Romney also appears to be hitting his stride as a candidate finally articulating a compelling case for his candidacy. His victory speech last focused on the theme of economic freedom rather than merely his usual laundry list of complaints about the president. If he can stay on that message, it will help him win over doubtful conservatives as well as reminding the rest of the electorate of his economic qualifications.

Though Santorum and Gingrich continue to complain about Romney’s huge financial advantage that excuse is also not exactly galvanizing the Republican base. The inability to raise the funds needed to compete or to run a campaign that is competent enough to file qualified delegate states wherever needed — points on which both challengers have fallen short — is hardly a recommendation for a presidential candidate. Even if Santorum is able to duplicate in Louisiana the same appeal that won him Mississippi and Alabama last week, that won’t convince anyone that he can win states with more diverse electorates, let alone amass enough delegates to prevent Romney from gaining a majority by June.

This sets up a GOP endgame in which Santorum, who has done far better than anyone ever thought possible last year, will play out the hand he has been dealt in the next few weeks. But there are few, if any, other wins waiting for him on the calendar. That will raise expectations that whether or not he wins Pennsylvania, his campaign will probably come to an end in the next four to six weeks.

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Illinois Shows Santorum’s Weaknesses

The exit polls of Illinois Republican primary voters seem to illustrate some basic facts on the race. For all of the complaints about Mitt Romney’s inability to seal the deal with the GOP base he has still managed to cobble together a coalition of moderates and mainstream conservatives that enabled him to continue to pile up victories. With the networks already projecting a big win for Romney tonight, the frontrunner is not only building his big delegate lead, he is also showing his ability to win large pluralities having long since broken through the ceiling of 25 percent that once characterized his support. The Santorum camp may say that losing a large blue state like Illinois doesn’t mean anything in the long run and complain about being outspent but this was probably his last chance to challenge and beat Romney in a state that wasn’t dominated by evangelicals and extreme “very conservative” voters — the only groups the Pennsylvanian wins. If the exit polls are anything close to accurate, then he has lost any opportunity to dent Romney’s aura of inevitability.

The other interesting takeaway from the exit poll is the disastrous showing of Newt Gingrich. As was the case in Michigan and Ohio, Gingrich was a non-factor in Illinois. Indeed, he is so far off the pace, that it may no longer be possible to argue that he is splitting the conservative vote and thereby allowing Romney to win instead of Santorum. Santorum may be looking forward to winning in Louisiana this weekend, but there just aren’t enough big states where he is likely to win to seriously believe that he can be stopped. When you consider that Santorum was looking very competitive in Illinois just a week ago, it appears that the tide has turned against him.

The exit polls of Illinois Republican primary voters seem to illustrate some basic facts on the race. For all of the complaints about Mitt Romney’s inability to seal the deal with the GOP base he has still managed to cobble together a coalition of moderates and mainstream conservatives that enabled him to continue to pile up victories. With the networks already projecting a big win for Romney tonight, the frontrunner is not only building his big delegate lead, he is also showing his ability to win large pluralities having long since broken through the ceiling of 25 percent that once characterized his support. The Santorum camp may say that losing a large blue state like Illinois doesn’t mean anything in the long run and complain about being outspent but this was probably his last chance to challenge and beat Romney in a state that wasn’t dominated by evangelicals and extreme “very conservative” voters — the only groups the Pennsylvanian wins. If the exit polls are anything close to accurate, then he has lost any opportunity to dent Romney’s aura of inevitability.

The other interesting takeaway from the exit poll is the disastrous showing of Newt Gingrich. As was the case in Michigan and Ohio, Gingrich was a non-factor in Illinois. Indeed, he is so far off the pace, that it may no longer be possible to argue that he is splitting the conservative vote and thereby allowing Romney to win instead of Santorum. Santorum may be looking forward to winning in Louisiana this weekend, but there just aren’t enough big states where he is likely to win to seriously believe that he can be stopped. When you consider that Santorum was looking very competitive in Illinois just a week ago, it appears that the tide has turned against him.

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Romney Still Up By Double-Digits in Illinois

Mitt Romney is leading by 14-points in the American Research Group poll today, backing up yesterday’s Public Policy Polling survey that found Romney up by 15 points.

Mitt Romney leads the Illinois Republican presidential primary with 44%. Romney is followed by Rick Santorum with 30%, Newt Gingrich with 13%, and Ron Paul with 8%.

Romney leads Santorum 45% to 35% among self-identified Republicans, followed by Gingrich with 12% and Paul with 4%. Among self-identified independents and Democrats, Romney leads with 42%, followed by Paul with 20%, Gingrich with 17%, and Santorum with 16%.

Also note the gap between Santorum and Romney when it comes to women voters:

Romney leads Santorum 46% to 29% among women, followed by Gingrich with 12% and Paul with 8%.

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Mitt Romney is leading by 14-points in the American Research Group poll today, backing up yesterday’s Public Policy Polling survey that found Romney up by 15 points.

Mitt Romney leads the Illinois Republican presidential primary with 44%. Romney is followed by Rick Santorum with 30%, Newt Gingrich with 13%, and Ron Paul with 8%.

Romney leads Santorum 45% to 35% among self-identified Republicans, followed by Gingrich with 12% and Paul with 4%. Among self-identified independents and Democrats, Romney leads with 42%, followed by Paul with 20%, Gingrich with 17%, and Santorum with 16%.

Also note the gap between Santorum and Romney when it comes to women voters:

Romney leads Santorum 46% to 29% among women, followed by Gingrich with 12% and Paul with 8%.

Keep in mind; Santorum has performed better than polling projections, particularly in Alabama and Mississippi. And when it came to predicting the outcome in the Magnolia state, both PPP and ARG were way out of range, as Ed Morrissey explains:

Let’s not forget that both PPP and ARG didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory when it came to polling Mississippi.  Four days before the primaries, ARG had Santorum 15 points off the lead, with Gingrich edging Romney 35/31 and Santorum at 20%.  The day before the primary, PPP had Santorum trailing by six in third place.  Santorum ended up winning Mississippi by two points and 4500 votes.  That counts as a pretty big swing and a miss, even in primary polling.

But it’s less likely there will be a big discrepancy between the polling and final outcome in Illinois. At the Washington Post, Scott Clement notes that Alabama and Mississippi polls under-sampled evangelical turnout, a group Santorum tends to have broad support with.

This phenomenon may be muted in Illinois for at least one reason. The Huffington Post’s Mark Blumenthal finds a correlation between Santorum’s outperformance and the percentage of evangelicals in the state. As noted earlier, Illinois was about average in the percentage of evangelicals in 2008, while Alabama and Mississippi set records for the most evangelical electorates this year.

PPP found that evangelicals in Illinois support Santorum over Romney, but the margins aren’t wide enough to make much of a difference in the state.

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Santorum Won’t Sabotage Romney

The day after being embarrassed by Mitt Romney in Puerto Rico, Rick Santorum was taking tough in Illinois about a brokered Republican convention. Blasting the frontrunners as a “Massachusetts moderate,” Santorum vowed the convention would nominate a conservative, meaning that he would fight to the last ditch and last delegate to prevent a Romney nomination. But if the latest polls indicating a substantial Romney victory in Illinois are true, then perhaps Santorum will be singing a different tune in the upcoming weeks.

We’ve spent the last couple of weeks monitoring Newt Gingrich’s campaign for signals that he was about to pull out possibly in favor of Santorum. The Pennsylvanian can look forward to a possible victory in Louisiana this coming weekend. But after that, despite all of the brave talk coming from his campaign, the list of states that he can win is not that long. So if Santorum falls short tomorrow in Illinois as he did in Michigan and Ohio or, even worse, gets badly beaten there in the popular vote as well as in the individual delegate contests, it might be time for him to start reassessing his own options.

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The day after being embarrassed by Mitt Romney in Puerto Rico, Rick Santorum was taking tough in Illinois about a brokered Republican convention. Blasting the frontrunners as a “Massachusetts moderate,” Santorum vowed the convention would nominate a conservative, meaning that he would fight to the last ditch and last delegate to prevent a Romney nomination. But if the latest polls indicating a substantial Romney victory in Illinois are true, then perhaps Santorum will be singing a different tune in the upcoming weeks.

We’ve spent the last couple of weeks monitoring Newt Gingrich’s campaign for signals that he was about to pull out possibly in favor of Santorum. The Pennsylvanian can look forward to a possible victory in Louisiana this coming weekend. But after that, despite all of the brave talk coming from his campaign, the list of states that he can win is not that long. So if Santorum falls short tomorrow in Illinois as he did in Michigan and Ohio or, even worse, gets badly beaten there in the popular vote as well as in the individual delegate contests, it might be time for him to start reassessing his own options.

No matter what happens in the next weeks and months, Santorum has run a remarkable campaign. Considering that virtually no one other than himself thought he had a chance to even last this long, let alone win 10 primaries and caucuses, he’s come a very long way in the last six months. During this presidential election cycle, pundits wondered who would be the 2012 version of Mike Huckabee in terms of a dark horse who does far better than anyone imagined. But in future GOP presidential contests — whether the next one is 2016 or 2020 — we will be asking who will be the next Santorum since he has surpassed the paltry victories won by Huckabee.

But the mention of 2016 or 2020 ought to also cause us to wonder whether Santorum is really going to be willing to wreck the GOP convention just to prove a point about the need to prevent the nomination of a moderate or to give Romney some payback for all the abuse he has dished out in attack ads.

Right now, even if Santorum doesn’t get walloped in Illinois, the odds of him winning the nomination are slim. If he ends the primary season with a reasonable chance of stopping Romney, no one in the party could fault him for carrying his efforts to the national convention the way Ronald Reagan did in 1976 when the GOP nomination was a close-run thing. But if, after the next few weeks, Santorum is nowhere near Romney in terms of pledged delegates and Romney is quite close to clinching, the question that must asked and answered is whether Santorum is prepared to destroy his future in the party just to spite the eventual nominee.

Though he continues to be abused as an extremist on social issues by the mainstream media, Santorum has established himself on the national stage as a figure to be reckoned with this year. If the Republicans don’t win in November, he will automatically become considered a strong candidate for 2016. He is also young enough at 53 to contemplate a presidential run in 2020 or beyond. While he is not the sort of person that I would expect to play a cynical game when it comes to presidential politics, it should also be remembered that he spent most of his political life as a “team player,” that was always ready to see the big picture on issues and elections.

After having won so many contests, he deserves to play out the hand he is dealt in the coming weeks. But put me down as being skeptical that Santorum would do anything out of spite or to merely drag down Romney once it is certain that his own chances are lost. In the last few months, Rick Santorum, a man whose 2006 Pennsylvania defeat marked him as something of a joke, has redeemed his reputation as a politician. Like him or not, and in contrast to Newt Gingrich, he is now someone with a future in Republican politics. I doubt Santorum will do anything to burn his bridges with his party.

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Mitt’s Island Landslide Sets Up Big Week

Rick Santorum invested a fair amount of precious, time and resources into campaigning for Sunday’s Puerto Rico Republican presidential primary. But it turned out to be a poor use of scarce resources for the GOP challenger at a time when he could least afford it. Mitt Romney cruised to a landslide victory in the Commonwealth. Romney won all 20 delegates up for grabs as residents of the island turned out in relatively strong numbers. Despite promoting himself as the senator from Puerto Rico, whatever hopes the Pennsylvanian might have had in Puerto Rico were probably sunk when he asserted that the island must adopt English as its official language if it wants statehood. Santorum got only 8 percent of the more than 100,000 votes cast, the sort of dismal result he might have gotten even without bothering to show up there last week as he did.

Romney can now brag that he has the ability to generate support for Hispanic voters even though none of this who turned out on Sunday will have the ability to vote for him in November. But no matter how you spin the result, the delegates he won gets him a bit closer to the nomination. Just as important, the win gives him an extra touch of momentum heading into the pivotal Illinois primary on Tuesday.

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Rick Santorum invested a fair amount of precious, time and resources into campaigning for Sunday’s Puerto Rico Republican presidential primary. But it turned out to be a poor use of scarce resources for the GOP challenger at a time when he could least afford it. Mitt Romney cruised to a landslide victory in the Commonwealth. Romney won all 20 delegates up for grabs as residents of the island turned out in relatively strong numbers. Despite promoting himself as the senator from Puerto Rico, whatever hopes the Pennsylvanian might have had in Puerto Rico were probably sunk when he asserted that the island must adopt English as its official language if it wants statehood. Santorum got only 8 percent of the more than 100,000 votes cast, the sort of dismal result he might have gotten even without bothering to show up there last week as he did.

Romney can now brag that he has the ability to generate support for Hispanic voters even though none of this who turned out on Sunday will have the ability to vote for him in November. But no matter how you spin the result, the delegates he won gets him a bit closer to the nomination. Just as important, the win gives him an extra touch of momentum heading into the pivotal Illinois primary on Tuesday.

While nothing that happens on Tuesday will knock Santorum out of the race, Illinois looms large in his hopes to topple the frontrunner. It represents one of the last chances he has to beat Romney in a large state. If he falls short as he did in Michigan and Ohio, then it will be difficult, if not impossible for him to claim that he is anything but a factional spoiler with no chance of winning the nomination.

Were Santorum to win in Illinois, and right now all the polls taken so far show him trailing, then it will be a huge boost for his presidential hopes. More importantly, it would be the sort of blow to his credibility that would make the Mr. Inevitable reputation that his campaign is trying so hard to promote look silly. At the same time, consecutive victories by Santorum in Illinois and then in Louisiana next weekend would be the sort of momentum shift that would have Republicans wondering if Santorum could win the nomination outright.

But Romney appears on track right now to put an end to that happy scenario for Santorum. A big win in Illinois would be the sort of thing that might lead many Republicans to tell Santorum that it was time for him to bring the contest to an end. Though his backers may be looking forward to a brokered convention, as a man who hopes he has future in the GOP, Santorum must know that there will be negative long range consequences for him if his actions sabotage Republican hopes in 2012 by hanging on long after he lost any chance to win. A big Romney win on Tuesday could lead to exactly this sort of a discussion in the GOP.

That’s why Romney is working hard in Illinois even though he has a lead. In a race that has been filled with ups and downs and upsets of every variety, if Romney outperforms expectations there as he did in Illinois, it could be the beginning of the end for Santorum.

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Puerto Rico: Rotten Borough or Real Test?

Today’s Puerto Rico primary may provide an interesting test for the Republican Party as much as for its rival presidential candidates. In a race that has turned out to be far closer than anyone might have thought, Puerto Rico’s 23 delegates are well worth the fight and both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have shown up and competed for them. Though there has been no polling done, it’s assumed that Romney has the edge because of the endorsement of Governor Luis Fortuno whose pro-statehood New Progressive Party is affiliated with the GOP. That assumption was reinforced by the controversy engendered by Santorum’s comment this week that Puerto Rico would have to adopt English if it wanted statehood. However, given Romney’s decision to take a very harsh stance on immigration, the possibility that Santorum will outperform those low expectations can’t be ignored.

But as much as political observers will be looking to see if Romney can exceed the 50 percent mark and thus win all of the 20 delegates up for grabs in Puerto Rico (the other three are at-large super delegates, two of whom have already endorsed Romney), the turnout numbers will also be interesting to watch. Four years ago turnout for a Puerto Rican GOP caucus was virtually nonexistent but some are holding out the possibility that today’s ballot will result in a large turnout of hundreds of thousands. If so, that may constitute a surprising riposte to all the talk about the low turnout for the Republican contests. It will also be a boost, albeit a minor one, for the statehood movement.

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Today’s Puerto Rico primary may provide an interesting test for the Republican Party as much as for its rival presidential candidates. In a race that has turned out to be far closer than anyone might have thought, Puerto Rico’s 23 delegates are well worth the fight and both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have shown up and competed for them. Though there has been no polling done, it’s assumed that Romney has the edge because of the endorsement of Governor Luis Fortuno whose pro-statehood New Progressive Party is affiliated with the GOP. That assumption was reinforced by the controversy engendered by Santorum’s comment this week that Puerto Rico would have to adopt English if it wanted statehood. However, given Romney’s decision to take a very harsh stance on immigration, the possibility that Santorum will outperform those low expectations can’t be ignored.

But as much as political observers will be looking to see if Romney can exceed the 50 percent mark and thus win all of the 20 delegates up for grabs in Puerto Rico (the other three are at-large super delegates, two of whom have already endorsed Romney), the turnout numbers will also be interesting to watch. Four years ago turnout for a Puerto Rican GOP caucus was virtually nonexistent but some are holding out the possibility that today’s ballot will result in a large turnout of hundreds of thousands. If so, that may constitute a surprising riposte to all the talk about the low turnout for the Republican contests. It will also be a boost, albeit a minor one, for the statehood movement.

Many pundits have taken it for granted that Puerto Rico will be the same sort of contest as Guam, the Northern Marianas, the Virgin Islands and Samoa, each of whom will send nine delegates to the Republican National Convention via non-binding caucuses. Romney will take almost all of these but not as a result of any massive turnout. Turnout for those caucuses was minimal which makes their representation at the convention disproportionate as well as something of a rotten borough in the fashion of 19th century English parliamentary constituencies.

However, if the Romney-Santorum race generates enough heat to create a decent turnout, it will not only make the results more meaningful but also might represent a symbolic boost for the GOP’s hopes for Hispanic votes. Heretofore, it has been assumed that only the presence of a Hispanic such as Florida’s Senator Marco Rubio on the national ticket would avert an Obama sweep of Hispanics much in the same manner that Democrats expect to carry the African-American vote. But the spectacle of a large outpouring of Puerto Ricans trooping to the polls to choose a GOP nominee may paint a somewhat different picture that is a bit more encouraging for Republicans.

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