Commentary Magazine


Topic: Santorum

Santorum’s Life With a Political Cannibal

Rick Santorum has enough problems these days with his gaffe insisting on English being the official language of Puerto Rico and the impact of his insistence on raising troubling social issues such as contraception and pornography even though these discussion do him no good. But the real gift that keeps on giving for Santorum is his decision in 2004 to back Arlen Specter’s bid for re-election against an impeccable conservative challenge, then Rep. Pat Toomey. The issue has caused him no end of embarrassment in subsequent years, especially after Specter backed President Obama’s stimulus boondoggle and then ObamaCare after turning his coat and switching to the Democrats in 2009.

The issue will get another hearing this month because, as Politico reports, Specter’s political memoir Life With the Cannibals will soon be released. In it, Specter details Santorum’s help in 2004 as well as his 2009 advice about how to hold onto the seat he would lose, ironically enough, to Toomey in 2010. Specter’s book won’t help Santorum among conservatives who regard the decision as one more instance of how the Pennsylvanian’s desire to be a “team player” often came into conflict with his conservative values. But as much as Santorum deserves to be criticized for his decision, a little perspective on that race is in order.

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Rick Santorum has enough problems these days with his gaffe insisting on English being the official language of Puerto Rico and the impact of his insistence on raising troubling social issues such as contraception and pornography even though these discussion do him no good. But the real gift that keeps on giving for Santorum is his decision in 2004 to back Arlen Specter’s bid for re-election against an impeccable conservative challenge, then Rep. Pat Toomey. The issue has caused him no end of embarrassment in subsequent years, especially after Specter backed President Obama’s stimulus boondoggle and then ObamaCare after turning his coat and switching to the Democrats in 2009.

The issue will get another hearing this month because, as Politico reports, Specter’s political memoir Life With the Cannibals will soon be released. In it, Specter details Santorum’s help in 2004 as well as his 2009 advice about how to hold onto the seat he would lose, ironically enough, to Toomey in 2010. Specter’s book won’t help Santorum among conservatives who regard the decision as one more instance of how the Pennsylvanian’s desire to be a “team player” often came into conflict with his conservative values. But as much as Santorum deserves to be criticized for his decision, a little perspective on that race is in order.

First of all, though Specter credits Santorum for pulling him through a difficult primary in which he wound up beating Toomey in a close race, it should also be remembered that the most important conservative backing the incumbent in Pennsylvania that year was not Santorum. It was George W. Bush, who believed keeping Specter on the ticket was vital to his chances of winning Pennsylvania in a tough battle for re-election.

Another point often obscured in discussions of that election is that the issue was not so much, as Santorum now insists, a matter of ensuring that conservative Supreme Court justices were confirmed in Bush’s second term (though even Santorum and Specter’s most virulent conservative critics can’t fault his efforts to secure the confirmation of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito) as it was giving Bush a chance in Pennsylvania and holding onto a slim GOP majority in the Senate that fall. The assumption then was that Toomey simply couldn’t hold the seat. That’s why everyone in the Republican establishment including Santorum (who was then a member of the Senate leadership) moved heaven and earth in 2003 to persuade Toomey to back off.

That assumption was incorrect, as I think Toomey could have beaten then Rep. Joseph Hoeffel, the Democrat who eventually lost to Specter in November 2004. But none of the trio of Bush, Karl Rove and Santorum thought it was worth gambling a Senate majority on Toomey when they assumed Specter would have an easy time in a general election. As it turned out, Specter didn’t win by the landslide the GOP thought he would, a result that was a harbinger of future trouble for the senator.

It should also be remembered that literally hours after declaring victory in the primary, Specter held a news conference in Philadelphia in which he repaid both Bush and Santorum by giving them the back of his hand by stating he didn’t consider himself bound to support the president’s measures in the coming years. Those who believe Specter’s recent statements about private conversations he had with Santorum about court confirmations in 2004 should remember that double cross as well as the countless other betrayals that can be credited to Specter when they take his word for it when he says he made no promises to his colleague.

As for Santorum’s intervention call in 2009 seeking to “help” Specter hold onto his seat by persuading him to vote against the stimulus, that, too, deserves some perspective. Heading into 2009, the feud between Specter and Toomey had seemingly been forgotten. At that time, a tacit agreement between the two existed in which Toomey would forgo another primary challenge against Specter in exchange for the latter’s support for the conservative’s run for the post of governor of Pennsylvania. So in urging Specter to stick with his party on the stimulus, Santorum was an advocate not so much for the “team” as for peace in a still bitterly divided Pennsylvania GOP. But once Specter left the GOP reservation on the stimulus, the anger of conservatives was such that Toomey felt obliged to abandon his plans to run for governor and instead challenge Specter. Specter rightly understood that without Bush and Santorum holding his coat, he had no chance of winning a Republican primary and jumped to the Democrats. In an act of poetic justice, Specter lost the Democratic primary the next year to a more liberal candidate, Rep. Joe Sestak, who was, in turn, defeated by Toomey in November.

Santorum deserves blame, as do Bush and Rove, for enabling Specter to survive for six more years. But the moral of the story is not so much Santorum’s lack of principle (an argument that a onetime liberal GOP Senate candidate like Mitt Romney is ill-placed to make) as it is the difficulty of dealing with as slippery a character as Specter. Though Specter now presents himself as being too pure to survive any longer in the dark world of American politics, he was himself the worst example of an unprincipled politician that we have had in the last 30 years. As his 2004 opponent Hoeffel memorably said of him, “It’s hard to run against Arlen on the issues because he’s on both sides of every one.” If Santorum is to be shamed for his 2004 decision, he is as entitled as anyone to lament how hard it was serving alongside a “cannibal”-like Specter in the Senate for 12 years.

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Santorum Is His Own Worst Enemy

Everyone gets it. Rick Santorum is a moral and upright citizen who doesn’t look kindly on gambling, non-procreative sex and birth control. But with the price of gas spiking, the violence in Syria and the chaos in Afghanistan, it’s probably not the best time for him to bring up his opinion on the national pornography “pandemic.” Santorum posted this statement on his website promising to crack down on obscenity as president, and it’s predictably drawn a wave of controversy:

“America is suffering a pandemic of harm from pornography. A wealth of research is now available demonstrating that pornography causes profound brain changes in both children and adults, resulting in widespread negative consequences. Addiction to pornography is now common for adults and even for some children. The average age of first exposure to hard-core, Internet pornography is now 11. Pornography is toxic to marriages and relationships. It contributes to misogyny and violence against women. It is a contributing factor to prostitution and sex trafficking. …

The Obama administration has turned a blind eye to those who wish to preserve our culture from the scourge of pornography and has refused to enforce obscenity laws. While the Obama Department of Justice seems to favor pornographers over children and families, that will change under a Santorum administration.”

It’s not that Santorum’s position is out of step for a presidential candidate. Romney and Gingrich have both made similar pledges to enforce obscenity laws as president. The difference is, they haven’t turned it into a major part of their campaign platforms.

Romney and Gingrich also haven’t framed the obscenity issue as a “pandemic” and painted it in such stark moral terms. They made generic campaign promises. But for Santorum, this clearly means much more to him than just a vague vow to appease values voters. It may not hurt him in the primary race, though it could hit a nerve with libertarian-leaning Republicans who aren’t looking for morality lectures. And it’s one of his many statements that would boomerang on him in a general election.

 

Everyone gets it. Rick Santorum is a moral and upright citizen who doesn’t look kindly on gambling, non-procreative sex and birth control. But with the price of gas spiking, the violence in Syria and the chaos in Afghanistan, it’s probably not the best time for him to bring up his opinion on the national pornography “pandemic.” Santorum posted this statement on his website promising to crack down on obscenity as president, and it’s predictably drawn a wave of controversy:

“America is suffering a pandemic of harm from pornography. A wealth of research is now available demonstrating that pornography causes profound brain changes in both children and adults, resulting in widespread negative consequences. Addiction to pornography is now common for adults and even for some children. The average age of first exposure to hard-core, Internet pornography is now 11. Pornography is toxic to marriages and relationships. It contributes to misogyny and violence against women. It is a contributing factor to prostitution and sex trafficking. …

The Obama administration has turned a blind eye to those who wish to preserve our culture from the scourge of pornography and has refused to enforce obscenity laws. While the Obama Department of Justice seems to favor pornographers over children and families, that will change under a Santorum administration.”

It’s not that Santorum’s position is out of step for a presidential candidate. Romney and Gingrich have both made similar pledges to enforce obscenity laws as president. The difference is, they haven’t turned it into a major part of their campaign platforms.

Romney and Gingrich also haven’t framed the obscenity issue as a “pandemic” and painted it in such stark moral terms. They made generic campaign promises. But for Santorum, this clearly means much more to him than just a vague vow to appease values voters. It may not hurt him in the primary race, though it could hit a nerve with libertarian-leaning Republicans who aren’t looking for morality lectures. And it’s one of his many statements that would boomerang on him in a general election.

 

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Gingrich Helping Romney in Illinois

The latest surveys of Illinois Republicans ought to put at least a bit of a damper on the growing speculation about a GOP stalemate leading to a brokered convention. The Fox Chicago News poll shows Mitt Romney holding onto a solid 37-31 percentage point lead over Rick Santorum in next Tuesday’s primary, with Newt Gingrich trailing badly at 14 percent. A new Rassmussen poll gives Romney an even bigger lead with a 41-32 percentage point lead with Gingrich also at 14 percent. Yet Romney, who is reportedly outspending Santorum in the state by a 5-1 margin, is taking no chances in Illinois. Nor should he. The Land of Lincoln may well be the last clear shot Santorum has to knock off the frontrunner in a major state where few thought he would have a chance to pull off an upset that could potentially alter the dynamic of the contest. Having narrowly failed to do so in Michigan and Ohio, Illinois is perhaps Santorum’s last opportunity on the primary calendar to show the party he can do more than just place a close second in a state where the GOP is not dominated by evangelicals.

Though Santorum, who has often outperformed his poll results (such as he did this past Tuesday in Mississippi and Alabama) is certainly still within striking range in Illinois, his biggest obstacle is not so much the deluge of Romney ad attacks (though that certainly doesn’t help his cause) as it is the decision of Newt Gingrich to stay in the race. Gingrich has spent the last couple of days promoting the idea that only by remaining on the ballot can Romney be denied the chance to gain a majority of the delegates before the convention. That’s a dubious notion that is being seconded by some Romney supporters seeking to stir the pot. But as in Michigan and Ohio, Gingrich’s only role is that of spoiler. Were he to get out now, it would give Santorum at the very least an extra few percentage points that may mean the difference between a stunning first place finish and another disappointing second place result that will have to be spun as a moral victory.

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The latest surveys of Illinois Republicans ought to put at least a bit of a damper on the growing speculation about a GOP stalemate leading to a brokered convention. The Fox Chicago News poll shows Mitt Romney holding onto a solid 37-31 percentage point lead over Rick Santorum in next Tuesday’s primary, with Newt Gingrich trailing badly at 14 percent. A new Rassmussen poll gives Romney an even bigger lead with a 41-32 percentage point lead with Gingrich also at 14 percent. Yet Romney, who is reportedly outspending Santorum in the state by a 5-1 margin, is taking no chances in Illinois. Nor should he. The Land of Lincoln may well be the last clear shot Santorum has to knock off the frontrunner in a major state where few thought he would have a chance to pull off an upset that could potentially alter the dynamic of the contest. Having narrowly failed to do so in Michigan and Ohio, Illinois is perhaps Santorum’s last opportunity on the primary calendar to show the party he can do more than just place a close second in a state where the GOP is not dominated by evangelicals.

Though Santorum, who has often outperformed his poll results (such as he did this past Tuesday in Mississippi and Alabama) is certainly still within striking range in Illinois, his biggest obstacle is not so much the deluge of Romney ad attacks (though that certainly doesn’t help his cause) as it is the decision of Newt Gingrich to stay in the race. Gingrich has spent the last couple of days promoting the idea that only by remaining on the ballot can Romney be denied the chance to gain a majority of the delegates before the convention. That’s a dubious notion that is being seconded by some Romney supporters seeking to stir the pot. But as in Michigan and Ohio, Gingrich’s only role is that of spoiler. Were he to get out now, it would give Santorum at the very least an extra few percentage points that may mean the difference between a stunning first place finish and another disappointing second place result that will have to be spun as a moral victory.

From the very beginning of the race, Romney has benefitted from a divided field that has enabled him to win victories he might never have achieved had he been left to face a single, credible conservative. It may be a matter of opinion whether Santorum qualifies as that person, but so long as Gingrich continues to muddy the conservative waters, it will be to Romney’s advantage.

Though observers are right to point out that Romney can ultimately win by piling up enough delegates even in states where he loses, the one real danger to his candidacy is for Santorum to rack up some upsets in states where he was thought to have no hope. Illinois is one such contest. Wisconsin, which is a winner-take-all primary in early April, is another. If Romney fails to win them, then he becomes prey to the sort of doubts that really could unravel his plans and lead to the brokered convention scenario that is a pundit’s fantasy and a GOP nightmare.

Gingrich may claim he is staying in to promote his “big ideas” agenda, but by allowing Romney to win a plurality in Illinois that he might not get without having another conservative in the race, Gingrich is sabotaging what might be Santorum’s last best chance to become the nominee. That is good news for Romney at a time when he needs to put together a winning streak that will convince his party he really is Mr. Inevitable.

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Gingrich Death Watch May Be on Hold

After Newt Gingrich’s defeats in Mississippi and Alabama this week, the expectation in some quarters was that the former speaker would realize  he had no hope to win the nomination and bow out of the race. Certainly that’s what Rick Santorum and his supporters were hoping. It would set up the one-on-one matchup with Mitt Romney that they think will give him a chance to turn the GOP race around. Though there have been signs some in Gingrich’s campaign are looking for the exit signs, the candidate is giving no indication he’s giving up yet. Last week, I came up with seven reasons why Gingrich won’t quit, and I think they are still valid. But apparently he has come up with another one to justify the continuation of his presidential run: staying in the race hurts Romney.

This seems counterintuitive as Gingrich’s presence on the ballot diverted a portion of the conservative vote away from Santorum and probably cost the Pennsylvanian first place finishes in Michigan and Ohio. It might do the same next week in Illinois, a primary that could be a turning point in the race should Santorum pull an upset. The idea put forward by Gingrich’s camp is that because the GOP’s rules this year have encouraged proportional delegate allocation, keeping the nomination battle a three-way race (not counting libertarian outlier Ron Paul who is polling in the single digits just about everywhere these days) means Romney will be deprived of the ability to rack up large delegate hauls, thus making it impossible for him to reach a majority before the convention. Though this is a weak argument, it may be all Gingrich requires to justify continuing his ego-gratifying presidential run.

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After Newt Gingrich’s defeats in Mississippi and Alabama this week, the expectation in some quarters was that the former speaker would realize  he had no hope to win the nomination and bow out of the race. Certainly that’s what Rick Santorum and his supporters were hoping. It would set up the one-on-one matchup with Mitt Romney that they think will give him a chance to turn the GOP race around. Though there have been signs some in Gingrich’s campaign are looking for the exit signs, the candidate is giving no indication he’s giving up yet. Last week, I came up with seven reasons why Gingrich won’t quit, and I think they are still valid. But apparently he has come up with another one to justify the continuation of his presidential run: staying in the race hurts Romney.

This seems counterintuitive as Gingrich’s presence on the ballot diverted a portion of the conservative vote away from Santorum and probably cost the Pennsylvanian first place finishes in Michigan and Ohio. It might do the same next week in Illinois, a primary that could be a turning point in the race should Santorum pull an upset. The idea put forward by Gingrich’s camp is that because the GOP’s rules this year have encouraged proportional delegate allocation, keeping the nomination battle a three-way race (not counting libertarian outlier Ron Paul who is polling in the single digits just about everywhere these days) means Romney will be deprived of the ability to rack up large delegate hauls, thus making it impossible for him to reach a majority before the convention. Though this is a weak argument, it may be all Gingrich requires to justify continuing his ego-gratifying presidential run.

This thesis is endorsed by Michael Steele, the former Republican National Committee chair who is largely responsible for this scheme in the first place and is rightly reviled by most in the GOP for doing so. Steele told the New York Times a Santorum-Gingrich double teaming of Romney would be a bigger burden to the frontrunner than a setup in which he was forced to confront a single conservative opponent.

There is, however, a fatal flaw in such thinking. After April 1, there are nearly as many winner-take-all primaries scheduled, including important races in Wisconsin and California, as there are proportional ones. Others will elect delegates on a winner-take-all basis by congressional district. In such states, Gingrich’s remaining on the ballot would almost certainly help Romney.

What Gingrich really seems to be hoping is that by staying in the race and accumulating more delegates even while losing he would increase his leverage if neither Romney nor Santorum secured enough votes to win the nomination on the first ballot. Though one could argue his leverage with Santorum will never be higher than it is today should he be willing to make a bargain of some sort with the Pennsylvanian, Gingrich’s dream scenario is really one where he could play the kingmaker at Tampa with Romney or with some theoretical dark horse who might emerge from a deadlock.

In a year where so much that was unexpected happened, we should all hesitate before scoffing at Gingrich’s reasoning. But this still seems to be more science fiction than political science. The plain fact of the situation is that unless Gingrich gets out and/or gets behind Santorum, the odds are Romney will wrap up the nomination by June. If Gingrich, who seems motivated as much by hatred for Romney as by his own ambition, seems to be working at cross purposes to his own interests, all we can say is anyone who remembers some of the bad judgment he showed in the speaker’s chair knows this wouldn’t be the first time he has done so.

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How Much Has Romney Outspent Santorum?

Rick Santorum played up his victories last night by pointing out that Mitt Romney has significantly outspent him throughout the race. “People have said, you know, you’re being outspent, and everybody’s talking about all the math and all the things – that this race is inevitable,” Santorum told his supporters. “Well for somebody who thinks this race is inevitable, [Romney’s] spent a whole lot of money against me for being inevitable.”

This is an attack line that Santorum’s likely to hammer in repeatedly in the run-up to the Illinois primary, especially since Romney and his allies are already shelling out enough money to flood the Illinois air waves with ads for the next week. Santorum, who has been trailing significantly in the fundraising department, has been blasting out emails asking for contributions so it can keep up with Romney today.

But while it’s true that Romney has outspent Santorum by a 10-1 margin, BuzzFeed reports that the disparity shrinks when you consider spending-per-delegate:

Romney is, however, getting his money’s worth: Measured by spending-per-delegate, the measure that matters, he’s running a more efficient campaign than one of his Republican rivals, Ron Paul, and a campaign that’s roughly equivalent to Newt Gingrich’s. Santorum, meanwhile, is running a more efficient campaign, but not by the order of magnitude the raw numbers suggest. Romney’s campaign has only spent about twice as much, per delegate, than Santorum; that figure increases to about three times as much if you include the SuperPACS — but nothing like the ten-to-one margin that emerges from the overall spending comparison.

There are also other gains that are more difficult to measure, i.e. the fact that some the primaries carry more weight than others regardless of the number of delegates they have. Romney has picked up more of the states that are considered “must-wins” than Santorum has, and hence those victories are more valuable.

Rick Santorum played up his victories last night by pointing out that Mitt Romney has significantly outspent him throughout the race. “People have said, you know, you’re being outspent, and everybody’s talking about all the math and all the things – that this race is inevitable,” Santorum told his supporters. “Well for somebody who thinks this race is inevitable, [Romney’s] spent a whole lot of money against me for being inevitable.”

This is an attack line that Santorum’s likely to hammer in repeatedly in the run-up to the Illinois primary, especially since Romney and his allies are already shelling out enough money to flood the Illinois air waves with ads for the next week. Santorum, who has been trailing significantly in the fundraising department, has been blasting out emails asking for contributions so it can keep up with Romney today.

But while it’s true that Romney has outspent Santorum by a 10-1 margin, BuzzFeed reports that the disparity shrinks when you consider spending-per-delegate:

Romney is, however, getting his money’s worth: Measured by spending-per-delegate, the measure that matters, he’s running a more efficient campaign than one of his Republican rivals, Ron Paul, and a campaign that’s roughly equivalent to Newt Gingrich’s. Santorum, meanwhile, is running a more efficient campaign, but not by the order of magnitude the raw numbers suggest. Romney’s campaign has only spent about twice as much, per delegate, than Santorum; that figure increases to about three times as much if you include the SuperPACS — but nothing like the ten-to-one margin that emerges from the overall spending comparison.

There are also other gains that are more difficult to measure, i.e. the fact that some the primaries carry more weight than others regardless of the number of delegates they have. Romney has picked up more of the states that are considered “must-wins” than Santorum has, and hence those victories are more valuable.

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The GOP Race Remains Long, Hard Slog

The results from last night’s GOP primaries and caucuses – wins for Rick Santorum in Mississippi and Alabama and wins for Mitt Romney in Hawaii and American Samoa — simply confirmed some existing trends. It’s a two-man race.

Mitt Romney won the night in terms of delegates (41 v. 35 for Rick Santorum). Governor Romney remains the frontrunner, with a huge lead in total delegates (498 v. 239 for Santorum). He’s won 50 percent of all the delegates awarded to date and 45 percent of the delegates needed to clinch the nomination He’s also won more than a million more votes than Santorum during the course of the campaign so far.

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The results from last night’s GOP primaries and caucuses – wins for Rick Santorum in Mississippi and Alabama and wins for Mitt Romney in Hawaii and American Samoa — simply confirmed some existing trends. It’s a two-man race.

Mitt Romney won the night in terms of delegates (41 v. 35 for Rick Santorum). Governor Romney remains the frontrunner, with a huge lead in total delegates (498 v. 239 for Santorum). He’s won 50 percent of all the delegates awarded to date and 45 percent of the delegates needed to clinch the nomination He’s also won more than a million more votes than Santorum during the course of the campaign so far.

As Jonathan noted earlier, Romney has still failed to win over the conservative base of his party. He continues to have difficulty winning support of evangelicals and blue collar, lower-income, and less-educated people. While admittedly playing “away from home,” the former Massachusetts governor – despite a huge money advantage – once again missed a chance to deliver something close to a knock-out blow to his main rival, Santorum. And so the race remains a long, hard slog, with a decreasing likelihood that things will be settled before June 26 (the date of the last election, in Utah).

Rick Santorum, with two impressive wins in Mississippi and Alabama (where he was trailing in polls just before the votes were cast), lives to fight another day. Santorum did well among very conservative voters, evangelicals, and members of the Tea Party. He emerges from last night energized and renewed in spirit, hoping he gets what he desperately wants and needs: a one-on-one contest with Romney.

As others have pointed out, Newt Gingrich had another very bad night, losing in a region he ought to own. (His spokesman R.C. Hammond had called both Alabama and Mississippi “must wins” for his candidate. Those words have been rendered inoperative.) Yet Gingrich seems committed to stay in the race, at least based on his comments last evening. It’s not entirely clear why he should. As Bill Kristol points out, Gingrich has lost 20 out of 24 races in which both Gingrich and Santorum have both been on the ballot. All told, Gingrich has won only two states during the course of two-and-a-half months. He’s had ample opportunities to convince the GOP electorate that he rather than Santorum ought to be the conservative alternative to Romney. But the voters have sided, in an overwhelming fashion, with Santorum over Gingrich. Santorum has now bested Gingrich in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi — all states that Gingrich, if he were a viable nominee, should have won. The former speaker’s rage at Mitt Romney is palpable; and yet by staying in the race, Gingrich is helping the former Massachusetts governor by splitting the non-Romney vote. (CNBC’s John Harwood reports that based on a conversation he had with a friend of Sheldon Adelson, the casino owner may have written his last check for Gingrich’s super PAC, which would be a devastating blow to Gingrich.)

If Mississippi and Alabama were must wins for Santorum, then Illinois becomes extremely significant for Romney. If he fails in the contest there next Tuesday, in a state he should prevail in, then the doubts around his candidacy, which have never gone away, will only grow, even as his chances of winning the nomination in the first round of balloting shrink.

The fundamental dynamics of the race didn’t change last night. Mitt Romney continues to roll on, amassing delegates even as he loses contests, doing enough to remain the dominant leader but not enough to seal the deal. Any hopes for an early resolution to the contest is long gone. Like Democrats in 2008, this race will last until (in all likelihood) late June. Mitt Romney will almost surely arrive at the convention in Tampa with the most delegates, though he may not have the 1,144 he needs to wrap up the nomination. If that happens, he would remain the favorite to win. But the convention could end up being much more interesting and dramatic than Romney and his advisers had ever hoped it would be.

 

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What Can Santorum Offer Gingrich?

After last night’s twin triumphs in the Deep South for Rick Santorum, the future of the Republican presidential race has come down to one question: is there anything the Pennsylvanian can do to entice Newt Gingrich to drop out and endorse him or to just suspend his campaign? Though the delegate math still favors Mitt Romney, next week’s Illinois primary looms as yet another do-or-die test in much the same way Michigan and Ohio did. Santorum fell short in both of those states, allowing Mr. Inevitable to survive, though just barely. With polls showing Santorum only trailing Romney in Illinois by a few percentage points, the question is what can he do to make up the gap this time?

The obvious answer for Santorum is to somehow persuade Gingrich to get out of the race. I wrote last week detailing seven reasons why I thought the former speaker wouldn’t do it. I still think I’m right about that, but after defeats in Mississippi and Alabama, there is no longer any conceivable scenario by which Gingrich could be nominated. His mere presence on the ballot helps divide the conservative vote and might, as it did in Michigan and Ohio, allow Romney to squeak out a victory. If Gingrich is at all inclined to bargain with Santorum then his bargaining power will never be greater than it is at this moment. That leaves us to ponder whether the speaker might be willing to accept a promise of a place on the ticket or a cabinet post in exchange for backing Santorum.

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After last night’s twin triumphs in the Deep South for Rick Santorum, the future of the Republican presidential race has come down to one question: is there anything the Pennsylvanian can do to entice Newt Gingrich to drop out and endorse him or to just suspend his campaign? Though the delegate math still favors Mitt Romney, next week’s Illinois primary looms as yet another do-or-die test in much the same way Michigan and Ohio did. Santorum fell short in both of those states, allowing Mr. Inevitable to survive, though just barely. With polls showing Santorum only trailing Romney in Illinois by a few percentage points, the question is what can he do to make up the gap this time?

The obvious answer for Santorum is to somehow persuade Gingrich to get out of the race. I wrote last week detailing seven reasons why I thought the former speaker wouldn’t do it. I still think I’m right about that, but after defeats in Mississippi and Alabama, there is no longer any conceivable scenario by which Gingrich could be nominated. His mere presence on the ballot helps divide the conservative vote and might, as it did in Michigan and Ohio, allow Romney to squeak out a victory. If Gingrich is at all inclined to bargain with Santorum then his bargaining power will never be greater than it is at this moment. That leaves us to ponder whether the speaker might be willing to accept a promise of a place on the ticket or a cabinet post in exchange for backing Santorum.

On Santorum’s side of that equation, there are two good arguments against making such an offer.

One is that it is possible Gingrich is about to fade out of the picture anyway. Why pay a high price for his support when it might not be worth much in the coming months?

The other is a bit more principled. Having seen what Gingrich was like when he was Speaker of the House, could Santorum really bring himself to put such an inconsistent and often unfocused person only a heartbeat away from the presidency?

Gingrich may also reason that his bargaining power will increase rather than decline if neither Romney nor Santorum wins a majority of delegates by the time the primaries end. Though he may not be so foolish as to believehe could be a compromise solution in a brokered convention, it’s hard to imagine Gingrich being willing to toss in the towel at this moment when he still thinks he might be able to play the kingmaker this summer.

Yet, if Gingrich really wants to remain a factor in the presidential race, a deal that made him Santorum’s running mate might be his best bet. Indeed, one can actually imagine him getting the equally loquacious and egotistic Vice President Joe Biden to agree to Lincoln-Douglas style debates.

As for Santorum, as unpalatable as the prospect of getting into bed with a prima donna like Gingrich may be, he also needs to ask himself how much he really wants to be president and whether he is willing to pay any political price to win.

If Gingrich stays on the ballot rather than on the sidelines, the odds are Romney finds a way to win Illinois and still manages to take the nomination. For all of his bravado about the delegate math not mattering, Santorum understands at this stage, it is everything. Unless he can get his one-on-one matchup with Romney and get it soon, Santorum will probably fall short of the mark. A grand deal with Gingrich that promised him the vice presidency might actually be the only way he can achieve this scenario.

Of course, all this is pure speculation. It will probably never happen due to Santorum’s reluctance to deal with Gingrich and the former speaker’s delusions about his own non-existent chances. But if Santorum and Gingrich really believe Romney must be stopped, then sooner or later they are bound to think about the possibility of a deal.

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Newt’s New Campaign Goal Makes No Sense

The Gingrich campaign finally seems to be acknowledging that it’s mathematically impossible for them to win the nomination in the traditional way at this point. So Newt has now settled on a new goal: stay in the race in order to prevent Mitt Romney from collecting the 1,144 delegates needed to wrap up the nomination. Byron York reports:

Gingrich no longer says he can capture the 1,144 delegates required to wrap up the Republican nomination. Instead, he now speaks frankly about a new plan: Keep Romney from getting to 1,144 by the end of the GOP primary season in June, and then start what Gingrich calls a “conversation” about who should be the Republican nominee. That conversation, the plan goes, would lead to a brokered GOP convention at which Gingrich would emerge as the eventual nominee.

“Our goal first is to keep Romney well below 1,000,” Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said an hour before Gingrich addressed a small crowd of disappointed supporters gathered at the Wynfrey Hotel. “It doesn’t have to be 1,000, or 1,050 — it has to be below 1,100.” If Gingrich succeeds, Hammond continued, “This will be the first time in our party in modern politics that we’re going to go to the convention floor.”

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The Gingrich campaign finally seems to be acknowledging that it’s mathematically impossible for them to win the nomination in the traditional way at this point. So Newt has now settled on a new goal: stay in the race in order to prevent Mitt Romney from collecting the 1,144 delegates needed to wrap up the nomination. Byron York reports:

Gingrich no longer says he can capture the 1,144 delegates required to wrap up the Republican nomination. Instead, he now speaks frankly about a new plan: Keep Romney from getting to 1,144 by the end of the GOP primary season in June, and then start what Gingrich calls a “conversation” about who should be the Republican nominee. That conversation, the plan goes, would lead to a brokered GOP convention at which Gingrich would emerge as the eventual nominee.

“Our goal first is to keep Romney well below 1,000,” Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said an hour before Gingrich addressed a small crowd of disappointed supporters gathered at the Wynfrey Hotel. “It doesn’t have to be 1,000, or 1,050 — it has to be below 1,100.” If Gingrich succeeds, Hammond continued, “This will be the first time in our party in modern politics that we’re going to go to the convention floor.”

Of course, if the goal is to undermine Romney’s chance at the nomination, the last thing Gingrich should be doing is staying in the race. The longer he stays in, the more he helps Romney by siphoning support away from Rick Santorum and splitting the conservative vote.

And if there were ever a time when Santorum needed Gingrich out of the race, it’s now, with the crucial Illinois primary just a week away. Coming off his two victories in Alabama and Mississippi, Santorum has the momentum at this point to potentially take Illinois – and deal a devastating blow to the Romney campaign in the process.

The latest poll from the Chicago Tribune shows Romney leading Santorum by just four points, 35 percent to 31 percent, with Gingrich trailing at 12 percent. If Gingrich drops out, endorses Santorum, and urges his supporters to vote for him, it could easily push the former Pennsylvania senator over the top in the state. And if, after dropping out, Gingrich agreed to pledge the delegates he’s already won to Santorum, it could completely change the dynamic of the race and actually make it competitive again.

Gingrich has the potential to do more damage to the Romney campaign than any other candidate at this point. But that would require him to drop out of the race, something he hasn’t shown any interest in doing. Instead, he’s trying to justify his losing campaign by saying he’s staying in the race to hurt Romney. Is anyone actually buying that excuse?

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Santorum Momentum Poses a Challenge to Romney’s Math

The two primaries in Alabama and Mississippi were a trap for Rick Santorum because anything but victories for him could have been construed as devastating blows to his campaign. Wins by Mitt Romney would have demonstrated his ability to win in any part of the country including states where conservatives and evangelical voters predominate. Wins by Newt Gingrich would have given him a reason to go on other than his ego. But by sweeping both Deep South states that voted on Tuesday, Santorum added two more triumphs to the already impressive list of states that he has won. The delegate math will not be altered much today due to the proportional allocation system as well as Romney’s expected wins in Hawaii and American Samoa. But though Romney can still have a reasonable expectation of ultimately winning the nomination, Santorum’s momentum places the notion of his inevitability in doubt.

Even if, as I expect, Gingrich stays in the race after losing the last two states where he could have been said to have had a chance to win, Santorum is now in a position to do some real damage to the Romney juggernaut in the upcoming weeks. With polls already showing Romney having only a slight lead over Santorum in a large state like Illinois where he ought to win, Tuesday’s victories allow the Pennsylvanian to hope  he can add to his string of upsets. If Santorum ends March by stacking up victories in Illinois, Louisiana and Missouri, then although he will still be trailing badly in the delegate count, his path to the nomination won’t look quite so much of a fantasy as it did a few weeks ago. Though Romney will still have impressive advantages, so long as the votes are still be counted state by state, momentum has a way of overwhelming math.

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The two primaries in Alabama and Mississippi were a trap for Rick Santorum because anything but victories for him could have been construed as devastating blows to his campaign. Wins by Mitt Romney would have demonstrated his ability to win in any part of the country including states where conservatives and evangelical voters predominate. Wins by Newt Gingrich would have given him a reason to go on other than his ego. But by sweeping both Deep South states that voted on Tuesday, Santorum added two more triumphs to the already impressive list of states that he has won. The delegate math will not be altered much today due to the proportional allocation system as well as Romney’s expected wins in Hawaii and American Samoa. But though Romney can still have a reasonable expectation of ultimately winning the nomination, Santorum’s momentum places the notion of his inevitability in doubt.

Even if, as I expect, Gingrich stays in the race after losing the last two states where he could have been said to have had a chance to win, Santorum is now in a position to do some real damage to the Romney juggernaut in the upcoming weeks. With polls already showing Romney having only a slight lead over Santorum in a large state like Illinois where he ought to win, Tuesday’s victories allow the Pennsylvanian to hope  he can add to his string of upsets. If Santorum ends March by stacking up victories in Illinois, Louisiana and Missouri, then although he will still be trailing badly in the delegate count, his path to the nomination won’t look quite so much of a fantasy as it did a few weeks ago. Though Romney will still have impressive advantages, so long as the votes are still be counted state by state, momentum has a way of overwhelming math.

At the bottom of this equation remain two hard facts that remain the key factors in the GOP race.

One is the undeniable problem that Romney has with conservative voters. Due to his flip-flops on the issues during the years, they neither trust nor particularly like him. Though he has tried hard to demonstrate that his positions are now as conservative as any of his rivals, he simply doesn’t have a way to convince evangelicals or Tea Partiers that he understands and shares their values. Should he become the Republican nominee, I believe most would ultimately back him as the only alternative to four more years of Barack Obama but until then, the majority on the right will always prefer to cast their primary and caucus ballots for someone they can more readily identify with. Though even most conservatives know that Santorum is less electable than Romney, he will be able to count on the votes of conservatives so long as there is any chance he can win the nomination.

The second fact is that Romney continues to benefit from a divided conservative field. Though Gingrich spent most of his speech Tuesday night mocking Romney rather than acknowledging his own defeat, the man he derides as a “Massachusetts moderate” is the prime beneficiary of his decision to stay in the race. Though the Gingrich factor will not be as significant in the upcoming weeks, any votes that he takes away from Santorum could be decisive in handing a crucial state like Illinois to Romney in the same way that his presence helped deliver Michigan and Ohio to the frontrunner.

While Romney must still be considered the likely Republican nominee, Santorum’s victories will make his task far more difficult and ensure that even if he emerges from the gauntlet of hard fought primaries on top, he will be significantly weakened as well as having had his resources depleted. The more primaries Santorum wins, the more time Republicans will spend beating each other up rather than focusing on Obama’s weaknesses.

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Santorum Sweep Would Make Romney’s Task Harder and Longer

A slow vote count in both Alabama and Mississippi has left the outcome of both primaries in doubt until 10pm. Both states appeared to be a three-way scrum in which Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich were all within a few points of each other. Nevertheless, Santorum has been projected to win Alabama and has taken a lead in Mississippi leaving open the question of just how significant such a double victory would be if, in fact, he hangs on in both states.

It should be understood that in contrast to earlier primaries, this is one night in which all the pressure was on Santorum and Gingrich with very little on Romney. Few expected Romney to do well in the Deep South where evangelical voters predominate. A win in either Alabama or Mississippi would be a coup for the frontrunner and prove that his was truly a national candidacy. But even if he fails to win, he doesn’t lose much ground in the all-important delegate count since the proportional allocation of delegates won’t give any of the three contenders much of an advantage after such a close race. And with Hawaii, whose caucus results may well be known before Alabama finishes its ultra-slow vote count, will likely give Romney a win offsetting any damage done in the South by Santorum. Nevertheless, a double victory for Santorum would enable the Pennsylvanian to once again claim that he is the true standard-bearer for conservatives. It would also place more pressure on Newt Gingrich to withdraw though I doubt there is anything that could compel the former speaker to abandon his candidacy.

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A slow vote count in both Alabama and Mississippi has left the outcome of both primaries in doubt until 10pm. Both states appeared to be a three-way scrum in which Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich were all within a few points of each other. Nevertheless, Santorum has been projected to win Alabama and has taken a lead in Mississippi leaving open the question of just how significant such a double victory would be if, in fact, he hangs on in both states.

It should be understood that in contrast to earlier primaries, this is one night in which all the pressure was on Santorum and Gingrich with very little on Romney. Few expected Romney to do well in the Deep South where evangelical voters predominate. A win in either Alabama or Mississippi would be a coup for the frontrunner and prove that his was truly a national candidacy. But even if he fails to win, he doesn’t lose much ground in the all-important delegate count since the proportional allocation of delegates won’t give any of the three contenders much of an advantage after such a close race. And with Hawaii, whose caucus results may well be known before Alabama finishes its ultra-slow vote count, will likely give Romney a win offsetting any damage done in the South by Santorum. Nevertheless, a double victory for Santorum would enable the Pennsylvanian to once again claim that he is the true standard-bearer for conservatives. It would also place more pressure on Newt Gingrich to withdraw though I doubt there is anything that could compel the former speaker to abandon his candidacy.

The danger for Romney, however, is not so much in the effect of tonight’s voting on the delegate count but on the momentum that it might give Santorum heading into Missouri, Louisiana and Illinois later this month. Santorum will be favored in Louisiana and Missouri but Illinois is the sort of state that Romney is expected to win. Romney managed to squeak out close wins in Michigan and Ohio over Santorum. But the more credibility that Santorum gets by piling up primary victories the harder it will be for Romney to pull out Illinois.

Romney already knows he’s locked in a long, hard slog to get to the nomination even if the delegate math indicates that he will prevail in the end. But the longer he must keep fighting and fending off bitter attacks on his credibility, the harder it will be for him to unite his party behind his candidacy once the dust settles.

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A Lot on the Line in Southern Primary Tossups for Santorum

After consecutive weeks of coping with do-or-die primaries in Michigan and Ohio, it is fair to say the pressure’s off Mitt Romney this week. While his candidacy would receive a major boost from victories in either Mississippi or Alabama, he’s not under the same pressure to win there. With evangelicals predominating in both of these southern states, the assumption is either Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum ought to be the favorite. Yet with both challengers competing hard to win there, the frontrunner may have as good a chance as any of them.

But the outcome in Mississippi and Alabama will have major implications for both Santorum and Gingrich. Santorum has spent the last month playing the role of the principal “not Romney” in the GOP race. But wins in these states by anybody but him will undermine that claim, perhaps fatally. Anything that burnishes Gingrich’s assertion that he is the true conservative hope will play into Romney’s hands, because it will mean that a divided field won’t be winnowed down to Santorum’s desired one-on-one matchup with the former Massachusetts governor. If Santorum is to be the conservative standard bearer in the fight for the Republican nomination, he’s got to beat both Gingrich and Romney in the South.

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After consecutive weeks of coping with do-or-die primaries in Michigan and Ohio, it is fair to say the pressure’s off Mitt Romney this week. While his candidacy would receive a major boost from victories in either Mississippi or Alabama, he’s not under the same pressure to win there. With evangelicals predominating in both of these southern states, the assumption is either Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum ought to be the favorite. Yet with both challengers competing hard to win there, the frontrunner may have as good a chance as any of them.

But the outcome in Mississippi and Alabama will have major implications for both Santorum and Gingrich. Santorum has spent the last month playing the role of the principal “not Romney” in the GOP race. But wins in these states by anybody but him will undermine that claim, perhaps fatally. Anything that burnishes Gingrich’s assertion that he is the true conservative hope will play into Romney’s hands, because it will mean that a divided field won’t be winnowed down to Santorum’s desired one-on-one matchup with the former Massachusetts governor. If Santorum is to be the conservative standard bearer in the fight for the Republican nomination, he’s got to beat both Gingrich and Romney in the South.

The latest polls from the two states from Public Policy Polling show both states to be a virtual three-way tossup. But the bad news for Santorum is he seems to be in third place in both–trailing Gingrich by six percentage points in Mississippi and Romney by two points in Alabama. While he can look forward to another strong performance this weekend in Missouri, third place finishes, no matter what the margin might be, will be a blow to a campaign that has little margin for error.

Romney has much to gain and little to lose in the Deep South. Gingrich, a candidate with little real hope for the nomination, just seems to want a victory or two in order to justify continuing his ego-driven campaign. But Santorum, whose victories and close losses in major states has persuaded his backers he has a real chance, needs wins badly. If somehow he can prevail in both on the strength of his powerful appeal to evangelicals and other social conservatives, the pressure will grow on Gingrich to withdraw. Failing that, the argument that he presents a credible rather than a symbolic challenge to Romney will lose strength.

All of this means that for the first time in this race, Santorum is the one with the pressure on him. By Wednesday, Santorum’s pretensions to genuine contention will be either exposed or bolstered.

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Why Obama’s Slipping Nationally

Despite the Democratic Party’s determined efforts to paint Republicans as out-of-touch with the mainstream (particularly on contraception issues, women’s rights and foreign policy), President Obama’s numbers are sliding in general election matchups with the GOP candidates, according to the latest Rasmussen and Washington Post-ABC News polls.

Rasmussen found that Obama is now trailing Mitt Romney by five points, while WaPo/ABC found him tied with both Romney and Santorum.

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Despite the Democratic Party’s determined efforts to paint Republicans as out-of-touch with the mainstream (particularly on contraception issues, women’s rights and foreign policy), President Obama’s numbers are sliding in general election matchups with the GOP candidates, according to the latest Rasmussen and Washington Post-ABC News polls.

Rasmussen found that Obama is now trailing Mitt Romney by five points, while WaPo/ABC found him tied with both Romney and Santorum.

 

Both polls cite different reasons for Obama’s weakened standing. Rasmussen finds that Romney’s support has increased among Republicans, and he’s attracting in more defectors from the opposing party than Obama is:

Romney’s support among Republican voters has moved up to 83 percent, just about matching the president’s 84 percent support among Democrats. However, only six percent of GOP voters would vote for Obama if Romney is the nominee. Twice as many Democrats (12 percent) would cross party lines to vote for Romney. The former governor of Massachusetts also has an eight-point advantage among unaffiliated voters.

The numbers show that Obama needs to focus more on getting his own party in line, before he can start reaching out to independent voters and Republicans. But so far, the attempts to paint Romney and the GOP as extreme on social issues, unsympathetic to the middle class, and recklessly aggressive on foreign policy haven’t seemed to have much impact.

Another problem for the Obama campaign is that, despite the positive economic news over the past couple of months, the president still gets low ratings on economic performance. This seems to be because rising gas prices is replacing unemployment as a major personal financial concern. According to the WaPo poll:

Gas prices are a main culprit: Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they disapprove of the way the president is handling the situation at the pump, where rising prices have already hit hard. Just 26 percent approve of his work on the issue, his lowest rating in the poll. Most Americans say higher prices are already taking a toll on family finances, and nearly half say they think that prices will continue to rise, and stay high.

Obama had been trying to play both sides of the fence on Keystone XL construction until last week, when he actively lobbied against a Senate bill that would move the pipeline project forward. Unless he flips on this issue, it’s going to dog his campaign as long as gas prices keep rising. Nobody expects gas prices to drop immediately if the Keystone XL gets the green light, but the public wants to hear some long-term plan for dealing with rising gas prices – temporary credits aren’t going to cut it.

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Delegate Math Not Altered By Kansas

The biggest prize in the assortment of various states and territories up for grabs in the Republican presidential contests this weekend went to Rick Santorum, who took Kansas with another smashing victory. The former senator got more than 51 percent of the vote, with Mitt Romney placing a distant second and barely eclipsing the 20 percent mark that was necessary for him to win some delegates there. But while another showing in which evangelical support led to a victory bolstered Santorum, the delegate math wasn’t altered much by the results. Santorum got 33 of Kansas’ delegates to the Republican National Convention with Romney picking up just 7. But while Santorum was winning Kansas, Romney cleaned up in Wyoming as well as in Guam, the Northern Marianas and the U.S. Virgin Islands, nearly offsetting the Pennsylvanian’s advantage. When the dust settles, Romney will still have more delegates than all of his GOP rivals combined.

Romney is clearly on track to win enough delegates to clinch the nomination at the Tampa convention, but he will do so without sweeping the GOP board as conservatives continue to rally around Santorum as not only the leading “not Romney” but also as their standard-bearer on social issues. Far from being discouraged, the Pennsylvanian’s backers are doubling down on their determination to fight Romney all the way to the convention while also seeking to find some way to persuade Newt Gingrich to leave the race and thus allow Santorum the opportunity for a one-on-one battle with the frontrunner. Though the ultimate outcome is not much in doubt, Republicans appear set to spend the next few months in engaging in a long drown-out struggle that will leave the victor in a weakened state to face off against President Obama in the fall.

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The biggest prize in the assortment of various states and territories up for grabs in the Republican presidential contests this weekend went to Rick Santorum, who took Kansas with another smashing victory. The former senator got more than 51 percent of the vote, with Mitt Romney placing a distant second and barely eclipsing the 20 percent mark that was necessary for him to win some delegates there. But while another showing in which evangelical support led to a victory bolstered Santorum, the delegate math wasn’t altered much by the results. Santorum got 33 of Kansas’ delegates to the Republican National Convention with Romney picking up just 7. But while Santorum was winning Kansas, Romney cleaned up in Wyoming as well as in Guam, the Northern Marianas and the U.S. Virgin Islands, nearly offsetting the Pennsylvanian’s advantage. When the dust settles, Romney will still have more delegates than all of his GOP rivals combined.

Romney is clearly on track to win enough delegates to clinch the nomination at the Tampa convention, but he will do so without sweeping the GOP board as conservatives continue to rally around Santorum as not only the leading “not Romney” but also as their standard-bearer on social issues. Far from being discouraged, the Pennsylvanian’s backers are doubling down on their determination to fight Romney all the way to the convention while also seeking to find some way to persuade Newt Gingrich to leave the race and thus allow Santorum the opportunity for a one-on-one battle with the frontrunner. Though the ultimate outcome is not much in doubt, Republicans appear set to spend the next few months in engaging in a long drown-out struggle that will leave the victor in a weakened state to face off against President Obama in the fall.

Kansas provides the latest evidence that Santorum’s ability to rally the conservative base to his standard is no longer in question. And after a gathering with his major backers in Texas this weekend in which more money was raised for his super PAC to spend on his candidacy, there is also no doubt he has the resources to stay in the race, albeit on not equal terms with the better-funded Romney. With a new Chicago Tribune poll showing him in striking distance of Romney in Illinois, another month of bruising big-state confrontations between the two is guaranteed.

But Gingrich’s determination to stay in the GOP mix presents a formidable obstacle to Santorum’s goal of a matchup against Romney. Tuesday’s contests in Mississippi and Alabama both look to be close, with any one of the three contenders having a chance. The good news for Romney is not just that polls show him ahead in Mississippi and even with the others in Alabama, but that two out of the three possible outcomes benefit him. If he wins in either or both states, it shows he has the ability to win in the South and demonstrates he can win GOP primaries in any part of the country. But he also benefits from a Gingrich win in either state, as a victory for the former speaker in any state from here on out will be all he will need to convince himself he should stay in the race.

On Thursday, Santorum hinted that he would consider Gingrich as his putative running mate. Such a bargain might present a unified conservative front against Romney, but it’s not clear this would be enough to persuade Gingrich to give up. Santorum can only hope that a collapse of the Georgian’s campaign after losses in Mississippi and Alabama will persuade him there is no reason to go on.

Yet no matter what Gingrich decides to do this week, it appears the narrative of the GOP race is now set. Romney will go on picking up the delegates that will eventually enable him to clinch the nomination though he has little hope of that happening before June. At the same time, Santorum will go on presenting him with a formidable challenge that will make it clear Romney hasn’t clinched the deal with his party’s base.

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Counting Romney’s Delegates

In the aftermath of Super Tuesday, it’s clear to almost everyone that Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are all but mathematically prevented from achieving a first-ballot victory at the convention. The real question is whether Mitt Romney will win the 1,144 delegates necessary by the end of voting in June (Utah is the last state to vote, on June 26). On that question there’s a lot of informed discussion.

Josh Putnam, a political scientist at Davidson College, has a projection model for the primaries (he had a pretty good one in 2008 for the Democrats, which turned out to be quite accurate). Professor Putnam’s analysis suggests that Governor Romney is very likely to get an all-out majority. Others, like RealClearPolitics’s Sean Trende, lays out a scenario in which after the Utah race Romney still ends up with less than the number of delegates needed to win the nomination.

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In the aftermath of Super Tuesday, it’s clear to almost everyone that Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are all but mathematically prevented from achieving a first-ballot victory at the convention. The real question is whether Mitt Romney will win the 1,144 delegates necessary by the end of voting in June (Utah is the last state to vote, on June 26). On that question there’s a lot of informed discussion.

Josh Putnam, a political scientist at Davidson College, has a projection model for the primaries (he had a pretty good one in 2008 for the Democrats, which turned out to be quite accurate). Professor Putnam’s analysis suggests that Governor Romney is very likely to get an all-out majority. Others, like RealClearPolitics’s Sean Trende, lays out a scenario in which after the Utah race Romney still ends up with less than the number of delegates needed to win the nomination.

Just to make things interesting, let’s assume that Romney does fall short of the necessary 1,144 delegates. If that’s the case, Romney is still the favorite to win the nomination because the odds are very much in his favor that he’ll arrive in Tampa with a large enough lead on Rick Santorum (or anyone else) that after the first round of voting he’ll secure the delegates he needs.

Is it possible that between now and late June Santorum takes off like a rocket while Romney begins to collapses, with the result being that (a) Santorum ends up almost neck-and-neck with Romney in the delegate count and (b) GOP delegates, after the first round of voting, flock to Santorum because Romney is simply too weak?

Such a scenario is not impossible, but it seems to me that the odds of it occurring are quite small. It would require a dramatic shift in voting patterns that would be not only unusual but unprecedented. (Through the first two months and 23 contests, Romney has won 47 percent of the awarded delegates, Santorum 24 percent, and Gingrich 14 percent.) I have a friend who says that new paradigms are forming at a faster rate than we can do them analytical justice. He may be right and I may be wrong. The good news is that this matter will be resolved within a few months.

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Will March be Cruel for Romney?

With about a third of the delegates chosen for the Republican convention, any reasonable analysis of the math shows Mitt Romney will almost certainly wind up being the nominee. But, as Sean Trende points out at Real Clear Politics, the frontrunner will have to wait until June at the earliest to amass the majority he needs to formally lock the contest up. That means perhaps as long as three more months for him to be attacked from the right as a “Massachusetts moderate,” which will make it harder for him to convince conservatives to turn out in November in the numbers needed to beat President Obama.

The really hard part for Romney is the prospect of a brutal March including contests in Kansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Missouri and Louisiana, where he will be the underdog to Rick Santorum. Though the upcoming weeks will bring some bright spots such as Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Illinois, where Romney will be favored, this will be a difficult period for the frontrunner as Santorum and Newt Gingrich (assuming he doesn’t drop out or become as marginal as Ron Paul), continue to abuse him as a product of the establishment whose health care record is indistinguishable from that of Obama. But as grim as that prospect may be for his campaign, if their candidate can pocket one or two of the states where he is thought to have little chance, it could alter an otherwise unpromising March narrative.

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With about a third of the delegates chosen for the Republican convention, any reasonable analysis of the math shows Mitt Romney will almost certainly wind up being the nominee. But, as Sean Trende points out at Real Clear Politics, the frontrunner will have to wait until June at the earliest to amass the majority he needs to formally lock the contest up. That means perhaps as long as three more months for him to be attacked from the right as a “Massachusetts moderate,” which will make it harder for him to convince conservatives to turn out in November in the numbers needed to beat President Obama.

The really hard part for Romney is the prospect of a brutal March including contests in Kansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Missouri and Louisiana, where he will be the underdog to Rick Santorum. Though the upcoming weeks will bring some bright spots such as Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Illinois, where Romney will be favored, this will be a difficult period for the frontrunner as Santorum and Newt Gingrich (assuming he doesn’t drop out or become as marginal as Ron Paul), continue to abuse him as a product of the establishment whose health care record is indistinguishable from that of Obama. But as grim as that prospect may be for his campaign, if their candidate can pocket one or two of the states where he is thought to have little chance, it could alter an otherwise unpromising March narrative.

Trende’s analysis of the upcoming contests predicts defeats for Romney in the south along with likely losses in Kansas and Missouri. A string of defeats to Santorum in those states along with what may be a replay in Illinois of his narrow victories in Michigan and Ohio would paint a portrait of a faltering “inevitable” candidate who is weakest in his party’s heartland. Even worse, it could create more pressure on Newt Gingrich to drop out in Santorum’s favor though, as I wrote yesterday, I think the odds of that happening are slim.

Yet as long as Gingrich stays in the race, Romney still has an opportunity to steal one or two southern states. Though there has not been much polling done for many of the upcoming primaries, the most recent one coming out of Alabama shows the assumption that he hasn’t a chance anywhere in the Deep South may be mistaken. An Alabama Education Association poll published on Wednesday of likely Republican voters gave Romney a 9-percentage point lead over both Santorum and Gingrich who are in a virtual tie for second. We have seen bigger leads than that turn around in less time than the few days left until Alabama and Mississippi vote, and a Santorum victory in Kansas this weekend may help provide a bit more momentum to his low-budget campaign in the south.

With evangelicals providing many, if not most of the votes in these states, pundits do well to give Santorum the edge. But if Romney is able to use his superior financial resources to pull out one or two wins it may be a sign that after his Super Tuesday victories that lengthened his delegate lead, some conservatives may be prepared to throw in the towel and make their peace with him. A victory in any one of those that we may have assumed would go to Santorum could be a game changer in that respect. If so, it could transform March from the cruelest month in the GOP calendar for Romney to one in which his nomination became that much more certain.

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A Race Without Gingrich?

Jonathan makes a persuasive case that Newt Gingrich will stick around for the long haul, but in the event that the former speaker does decide to drop out, how much would that boost Rick Santorum’s chances of winning the nomination? Nate Silver does the math, and finds the benefit could be significant:

Mr. Santorum would have carried four states that he actually lost. The first two are the ones Mr. Gingrich won originally, South Carolina and Georgia, although his margin would have been very small in South Carolina. His share of the Gingrich vote would also have been enough to push him past Mr. Romney in Ohio and Alaska. He would not have won Michigan — Mr. Gingrich received very few votes there so there was little marginal benefit to Mr. Santorum — although it would have flipped one congressional district and therefore given him the majority of delegates in the state. …

With those qualifications in mind, this general result should hold: Mr. Romney would still be significantly ahead in the delegate count. I have him with 404 delegates versus 264 for Mr. Santorum and 71 for Mr. Paul.

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Jonathan makes a persuasive case that Newt Gingrich will stick around for the long haul, but in the event that the former speaker does decide to drop out, how much would that boost Rick Santorum’s chances of winning the nomination? Nate Silver does the math, and finds the benefit could be significant:

Mr. Santorum would have carried four states that he actually lost. The first two are the ones Mr. Gingrich won originally, South Carolina and Georgia, although his margin would have been very small in South Carolina. His share of the Gingrich vote would also have been enough to push him past Mr. Romney in Ohio and Alaska. He would not have won Michigan — Mr. Gingrich received very few votes there so there was little marginal benefit to Mr. Santorum — although it would have flipped one congressional district and therefore given him the majority of delegates in the state. …

With those qualifications in mind, this general result should hold: Mr. Romney would still be significantly ahead in the delegate count. I have him with 404 delegates versus 264 for Mr. Santorum and 71 for Mr. Paul.

Under this model, Santorum would have more than 100 more delegates right now than he does currently. He’d been in a much more solid position but would still trail Romney by 140 delegates.

So, as much as the Santorum campaign is justified in trying to nudge Gingrich out, it’s simply not accurate to say Gingrich is the only thing holding Santorum back from slaying Romney. Even in a Newt-less race, Santorum would still have a tough path to the nomination. And the more states Gingrich sticks around for, the less Santorum stands to gain if/when the former speaker exits the field.

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Seven Reasons Why Newt Won’t Quit

In the wake of the Super Tuesday results that saw Newt Gingrich get beaten badly in every state but Georgia, more conservatives are talking about the necessity of the former House speaker dropping out of the presidential race if Mitt Romney is to be prevented from becoming the Republican nominee. Because Rick Santorum’s support was a multiple of his in every state but Georgia, the argument goes that it is incumbent on Gingrich to withdraw and allow Santorum to face Romney in a one-on-one battle in which the more conservative Pennsylvanian might be favored to win. Indeed, it can be argued that Gingrich’s presence on the ballot was the only reason why Santorum lost narrowly in both Michigan and Ohio in the last two weeks. If the sole object of conservatives is to nominate someone other than Romney, then Gingrich’s withdrawal appears to be not only logical but an imperative. However, the assumption that Gingrich will bow to these arguments ignores everything we know about him. Here are seven reasons why Newt isn’t likely to heed the call to withdraw:

1. He’s still holding on to hope of winning in other southern states. Gingrich’s camp is claiming he lost Tennessee because he’s concentrating on winning Alabama and Mississippi next week. But we were also told he was passing on some February contests to concentrate on Ohio where he turned out to be a non-factor this week. If there are any states where Gingrich does have a chance, it is in the Deep South, but given Santorum’s strength among evangelicals, the odds of him prevailing in either or both are dwindling. After another round of defeats, this excuse won’t hold much water.

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In the wake of the Super Tuesday results that saw Newt Gingrich get beaten badly in every state but Georgia, more conservatives are talking about the necessity of the former House speaker dropping out of the presidential race if Mitt Romney is to be prevented from becoming the Republican nominee. Because Rick Santorum’s support was a multiple of his in every state but Georgia, the argument goes that it is incumbent on Gingrich to withdraw and allow Santorum to face Romney in a one-on-one battle in which the more conservative Pennsylvanian might be favored to win. Indeed, it can be argued that Gingrich’s presence on the ballot was the only reason why Santorum lost narrowly in both Michigan and Ohio in the last two weeks. If the sole object of conservatives is to nominate someone other than Romney, then Gingrich’s withdrawal appears to be not only logical but an imperative. However, the assumption that Gingrich will bow to these arguments ignores everything we know about him. Here are seven reasons why Newt isn’t likely to heed the call to withdraw:

1. He’s still holding on to hope of winning in other southern states. Gingrich’s camp is claiming he lost Tennessee because he’s concentrating on winning Alabama and Mississippi next week. But we were also told he was passing on some February contests to concentrate on Ohio where he turned out to be a non-factor this week. If there are any states where Gingrich does have a chance, it is in the Deep South, but given Santorum’s strength among evangelicals, the odds of him prevailing in either or both are dwindling. After another round of defeats, this excuse won’t hold much water.

2. His source of funding hasn’t dried up yet. Gingrich hasn’t been raising much money lately but his super PAC isn’t broke and apparently casino mogul Sheldon Adelson hasn’t plugged the plug on him yet, perhaps because he rightly believes keeping his friend in the race will help his second choice, Romney. Considering that Gingrich was able to keep his campaign going on a shoestring throughout last summer and fall without much money in the bank, there’s no reason to think the lack of resources alone will persuade him to drop out now.

3. He doesn’t think much more of Santorum than of Romney. Gingrich may have been willing to praise Santorum back in January when he hoped that he would drop out and endorse him the way Herman Cain and Rick Perry did, but Gingrich appears to resent the notion that he has been supplanted by someone who was once very much his inferior in the GOP pecking order. Part of Gingrich’s enormous self-regard is his low opinion of those of his peers who are unwilling to treat him with the deference he thinks he deserves. This is a character trait that has often prevented Gingrich from playing nicely with the other children in the political sandbox.

4. He thinks Santorum can’t be elected. Though the polls and the primary results tell a different story, Gingrich really does believe that he is uniquely equipped to beat President Obama in November. While his calls for Lincoln-Douglas debates set the eyes of media pundits and politicians rolling, Gingrich may believe that Santorum’s political weaknesses, like those of Romney, make him unlikely to defeat Obama.

5. Dropping out would be an admission his critics were right. As we saw in his bizarre victory speech in Georgia this week, Gingrich is motivated as much by his desire to prove his numerous critics wrong as anything else. The idea that he can prevail despite his personal baggage and inconsistent policy record has become something of an article of faith with the former speaker. Pulling out now would mean everyone else was right and he was wrong, something that directly contradicts his view of reality.

6. He likes running for president. Withdrawal — especially in favor of someone he considers a lesser man — would not only be personally humiliating, it would put an end to all the attention the media has been paying to him. Gingrich sorely missed being the center of attention during his years out of office and though the burden of running for president is enough to crush many other men, he has thrived on it. Gingrich might have run just for the fun of being in the debates alone. Going back to being a political has-been is going to be tough, and like some athletes who hold on too long and have the uniforms torn off them, Newt will have to be dragged out of the race. He won’t leave it voluntarily no matter what the inducements might be.

7. Newt really thinks America deserves a Gingrich presidency. There are some politicians who run for president not so much because they want it but because they are so besotted with the notion of their own greatness that they think it is only fair to give their fellow citizens a chance to do the right thing and put them in the White House. Gingrich’s self-regard and love for his country is such that he will not willingly deny Americans this last opportunity to make him their president so long as even the faintest hope for such an outcome exists.

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Debating Romney’s Path to Nomination

As Rick Santorum tries to elbow Newt Gingrich out of the race, and Mitt Romney attempts to pressure them both to throw in the towel, the Daily Beast reports that none of the three candidates – not even Romney – have a clear path to the nomination at this point. Here’s the latest on Romney’s thorny delegate math.

Even if Mitt somehow won every delegate in every coming contest, he still wouldn’t clinch the nomination until Oregon’s primary on May 15.

And if Romney musters only 40 percent of the proportional delegates going forward—equivalent to his share of the popular vote total to date—it would mean the first Republican race undecided when the convention opened in a generation. …

Santorum, Gingrich, and Paul individually have no real path to winning the delegate fight—but collectively they are positioned to deny the nomination to Romney and kick the contest to the convention in Tampa, where all delegates are released after the first ballot.

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As Rick Santorum tries to elbow Newt Gingrich out of the race, and Mitt Romney attempts to pressure them both to throw in the towel, the Daily Beast reports that none of the three candidates – not even Romney – have a clear path to the nomination at this point. Here’s the latest on Romney’s thorny delegate math.

Even if Mitt somehow won every delegate in every coming contest, he still wouldn’t clinch the nomination until Oregon’s primary on May 15.

And if Romney musters only 40 percent of the proportional delegates going forward—equivalent to his share of the popular vote total to date—it would mean the first Republican race undecided when the convention opened in a generation. …

Santorum, Gingrich, and Paul individually have no real path to winning the delegate fight—but collectively they are positioned to deny the nomination to Romney and kick the contest to the convention in Tampa, where all delegates are released after the first ballot.

Note that the Daily Beast reporters came to a different conclusion than Frontloading HQ’s Josh Putnam, a political scientist, who still believes Romney has a realistic chance of getting to the magic 1144:

What if you put Mitt Romney in the same model(s) under the same circumstances? Ah, I’m glad you asked.

  • In the first model where Romney would be at 50 percent support statewide and in each congressional district, the former Massachusetts governor would net 1254 delegates.
  • In the second model that accounts for a likely bare minimum of candidates over the threshold, Romney would surpass 1300 delegates at 1341.

Even if we simulate a scenario where Romney continues to only win half of the congressional districts, he still gets to 1152 delegates in the second more realistic model….

The bottom line here is that Romney has enough of a delegate advantage right now and especially coming out of today’s contests it is very unlikely that anyone will catch him, much less catch him and get to 1144.

The conclusions are strikingly different, and while Putnam shows his work, the Daily Beast doesn’t explain its math in as much detail. As someone who never majored in statistics, I won’t even begin to try to parse out the true answer at this point. Just know there are cases being made on both sides right now.

Beyond that, there was one point the Daily Beast article mentioned that is absolutely relevant in all scenarios: Barring a miracle, neither Santorum nor Gingrich have a path to reaching 1144. And yet they can make Romney’s route incredibly difficult at the very least, and in some scenarios even block him from being able to collect enough delegates.

The media is happy to drag the battle out as long as possible. But it’s unclear how much patience Republican voters have left for this race. Many conservatives have been supportive of a prolonged primary so far, ostensibly out of the hope it will lead to a brokered convention or a “thorough” vetting process. But the vetting of the Republican field has been pretty complete so far, and the longer the primary race remains a media distraction, the longer it will take before the GOP can fully focus on publicly airing out Obama’s record – and that’s pretty important if the party wants a shot at taking back the White House next November. There will come a time soon when the extended race will stop being a good thing for the Republican Party. And if the battle spills into June? Well, then it becomes a bad thing.

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Gingrich’s Delegate Math Hard to Figure

This afternoon, Newt Gingrich’s Twitter account linked to a video with the following teaser, “Take a look at some interesting delegate math. The race is far from over and we will win this nomination.” The video, uploaded to Newt’s YouTube account, is of one of his senior advisers outlining how it’s possible for Gingrich to clinch the Republican nomination, despite only having won the states of South Carolina and Georgia to date. It appears that Gingrich’s camp is relying on states that assign their delegates as late as May and early June, hoping to win large winner-take-all states like Texas to clinch the nomination.

Strangely, the video uploaded by Gingrich’s own staff also include Karl Rove’s immediate and stinging rebuke, where he explains that the Gingrich campaign cannot stay alive until May to compete in Texas when most states where Gingrich could be competitive proportionally allocate their delegates. Rove states,

You cannot win the nomination if like in tonight, in Virginia, where Mitt Romney got 41 delegates, at minimum, to zero for Gingrich and Santorum. So, you know, it’s plausible to say ‘stay alive til Texas’ and ‘win in Texas in the end.’ But between now and then you got to close the gap and you can’t close the gap a delegate, or two or three or four at a time. Particularly when you ran third in Tennessee and Oklahoma.

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This afternoon, Newt Gingrich’s Twitter account linked to a video with the following teaser, “Take a look at some interesting delegate math. The race is far from over and we will win this nomination.” The video, uploaded to Newt’s YouTube account, is of one of his senior advisers outlining how it’s possible for Gingrich to clinch the Republican nomination, despite only having won the states of South Carolina and Georgia to date. It appears that Gingrich’s camp is relying on states that assign their delegates as late as May and early June, hoping to win large winner-take-all states like Texas to clinch the nomination.

Strangely, the video uploaded by Gingrich’s own staff also include Karl Rove’s immediate and stinging rebuke, where he explains that the Gingrich campaign cannot stay alive until May to compete in Texas when most states where Gingrich could be competitive proportionally allocate their delegates. Rove states,

You cannot win the nomination if like in tonight, in Virginia, where Mitt Romney got 41 delegates, at minimum, to zero for Gingrich and Santorum. So, you know, it’s plausible to say ‘stay alive til Texas’ and ‘win in Texas in the end.’ But between now and then you got to close the gap and you can’t close the gap a delegate, or two or three or four at a time. Particularly when you ran third in Tennessee and Oklahoma.

Gingrich’s claims that a nomination is possible, despite these extreme mathematical improbabilities, reminds me of the 2008 primary season where Gov. Mike Huckabee stayed in the race far longer than he should have against Sen. John McCain. In what remains my favorite “Saturday Night Live” sketch of all time, Weekend Update’s Seth Meyers asks Huckabee why he had yet to concede, despite the mathematical impossibility of winning. The back and forth is great television, well-acted on Huckabee’s part, and ends with Huckabee admitting that while he could not possibly win, he would not be conceding in the near future.

In the four years since that appearance, Huckabee wrote a best-selling book, became a Fox News contributor and began hosting a Fox News program. What was inexplicable at the time of the SNL appearance suddenly became clear: Huckabee rode the coattails of his candidacy all the way to the bank.

As my colleague Alana Goodman explained today, the only path forward for Santorum to clinch the nomination is if Newt Gingrich drops out of the race, leaving the field open for Santorum to capture the not-Romney vote. In countless debates, Gingrich continually took the path of taking on Obama versus his Republican opponents. He has claimed taking down the president is his number one priority while at the same time, during his speech last night, explaining:

I don’t believe the Romney technique of outspending your opponent four- or five-to-one with negative ads will work against Barack Obama, because there is no possibility that any Republican is going to out-raise the incumbent president of the United States. Therefore, you can’t follow that strategy.

What you have to have is somebody who knows what they believe, understands how to articulate it so it cuts through all the media, offsets the bias of the elite media who are desperate to re-elect the president and has the guts to take the president head-on every single time he’s wrong.

If Gingrich truly believes this, if he thinks Romney cannot win against the incumbent president, I cannot fathom that a man as intelligent as he is actually believes he’s the man who can do it. What price tag does Gingrich put on the free publicity he’s garnering while he remains in the race? Is it high enough to forfeit what he’s claimed is the Republicans’ only chance at victory in November?

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Romney’s Good Night

I have a more hopeful take than some others, especially Jonathan, regarding the outcome of Super Tuesday. To be sure, Mitt Romney did not wrap it up. But he did very well, taking six of the ten states up for grabs. Crucially, he took Ohio, which was favorable territory for Rick Santorum, with a large rural and evangelical population. Romney had been down by double digits only two weeks ago, and he fought back to a victory. It was a narrow one, but, in this case, winning was what was important.

Even more important is the new delegate count. Romney now has 415, Santorum 176, Gingrich 105, Paul 47 (and drop-out Huntsman 2). 1144 are needed for the nomination. As Dick Morris pointed out on “Fox and Friends” this morning, for Santorum or Gingrich to eventually catch up and pass Romney, one of them will need to take two-thirds of the delegates yet to be selected, an almost impossible task unless Romney commits a really major mistake. Nothing if not cautious (and perhaps with his father’s infamous “brainwashing” gaffe firmly in mind) he is unlikely to do so.

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I have a more hopeful take than some others, especially Jonathan, regarding the outcome of Super Tuesday. To be sure, Mitt Romney did not wrap it up. But he did very well, taking six of the ten states up for grabs. Crucially, he took Ohio, which was favorable territory for Rick Santorum, with a large rural and evangelical population. Romney had been down by double digits only two weeks ago, and he fought back to a victory. It was a narrow one, but, in this case, winning was what was important.

Even more important is the new delegate count. Romney now has 415, Santorum 176, Gingrich 105, Paul 47 (and drop-out Huntsman 2). 1144 are needed for the nomination. As Dick Morris pointed out on “Fox and Friends” this morning, for Santorum or Gingrich to eventually catch up and pass Romney, one of them will need to take two-thirds of the delegates yet to be selected, an almost impossible task unless Romney commits a really major mistake. Nothing if not cautious (and perhaps with his father’s infamous “brainwashing” gaffe firmly in mind) he is unlikely to do so.

This mathematical reality, I think, will begin to permeate through the Republican ranks in the next few days. And as Romney’s “political gravity” increases, more and more Republicans will flow into his camp. Belief in inevitability begets inevitability. More, everyone realizes the sooner the nomination is settled, the better for Republican chances in the fall. There will be more money left for the general campaign and more time for the party to heal any wounds (although I think the wounds have been greatly exaggerated). And winning in the fall, according to yesterday’s exit polls, is far and away the most important consideration for Republican voters, well more than two times as important as conservative purity.

Barring a major mistake or other unforeseeable development, I think Romney won the nomination last night.

 

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