Throughout the race, pundits have wondered whether a Mitt Romney nomination would keep the conservative base at home next November. Now they may have their answer. Conservatives don’t gloss over Romney’s flaws, and many cheer on his GOP opponents when they skewer his moderate positions. Rick Santorum has recently gone all out on the Romney-is-a-RINO theme, running ads comparing Romney to President Obama. But there is a line. And Santorum barreled right through it when he blurted out that America might as well stick with Obama instead of taking a risk on Romney yesterday.

Conservatives were outraged, and Santorum quickly attempted to backpedal.

Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey, a Santorum supporter (and an excellent model for how a pundit can endorse a candidate and still provide fair and balanced election coverage), had this response to the controversy:

It seems that Senator Santorum has forgotten the purpose of the Republican primary.  It’s to choose the most successful candidate to beat Obama in the general election.  It isn’t to test a few candidates to see whether the goal of beating Obama is worth the bother.

And why do we need to beat Obama?  The economic policies of this administration have been an utter disaster.  The Senate won’t pass any budgets, not even the President’s, while he’s in the Oval Office.  Energy prices are going through the roof thanks to the massive regulatory hurdles his administration has created to production and refining, especially on federal lands.  An ObamaCare repeal will only happen if Obama is no longer President, assuming that the Supreme Court doesn’t throw the whole law out this summer. …

I will go to the caucuses tomorrow.  I expect Senator Santorum to have recovered his sense of reality and apologize for that statement by that time.  If not, I may end up arguing for another candidate when we meet to discuss the next phase at our Republican caucus.

Morrissey goes into further detail about what an Obama second term would mean for conservatives, but readers of Commentary get the picture. Not only did Santorum show a lack of discipline, as Jonathan pointed out earlier, he’s also driving conservatives to come out in defense of Romney – which doesn’t exactly help Santorum at this point.

The whole incident suggests that despite some of the grumbling from the right about Romney’s moderate record, conservatives have a clear sense of the stakes next November. Romney may not be ideal when compared to some of the Republican dream candidates, i.e. Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio. But if the choice is between Romney and Obama, conservatives aren’t going to sit on the sidelines and let the president waltz breezily into a second term.

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