Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Santorum Surge

What explains the rise in the polls of improbable Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum? Much of the commentary I've been reading falls back on the suggestion that a lot of hard core Republican primary voters just don't like, or don't trust Mitt Romney very much. He's a flip-flopper; he's a secret moderate; he just doesn't connect well with voters, etc. Most of the commentary also seems to suggest that these primary voters are acting against their own self interests. It is precisely because Mitt Romney has taken some moderate positions in the past that he has heretofore--at least on paper--been perceived as the strongest Republican challenger. By disregarding the Establishment choice, conventional wisdom suggests that conservative GOP primary voters have simply taken leave of their senses.

I question the conventional wisdom to some extent. Another part of what has been happening recently is that the economy has been receding in importance as a campaign issue. Recent jobs numbers and growth numbers bring nothing but good news for the president's re-election chances. As more and more moderate and independent voters give President Obama credit for turning a terrible economy around, it's a lot harder to make the argument that we need another change in direction in economic policy. And to the extent economic policy is still an issue, the issue has changed its character. Many voters are now attuned to issue of economic fairness--the still-struggling middle class now seems more aware that the wealthiest 1% have obtained a larger and larger share of the nation's wealth over the past several decades. To the extent economic fairness has come to the fore as an issue, Mitt Romney might be the worst possible candidate to address it. He thinks the issue of economic inequality should only be spoken of in quiet rooms. He epitomizes the wealthiest slice of the top one percent. And he advocates policies that will only make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

Maybe one reason the Republican presidential race has been so volatile this year has nothing to do with the personalities of the candidates. It may have more to do with the search for a plausible theme on which to challenge the current administration. Maybe that's why we're suddenly talking about contraception, and religion, and values. And maybe the resurgence of those sorts of issues explains the recent surge of that symbol of old-fashioned morality, Rick Santorum.

How should Obama supporters feel about this? As I've posted before, the best outcome would be for the Republicans to nominate their strongest candidate, and for the president to defeat that candidate convincingly. So I'm not going to root for whomever might be the weakest candidate, but I'm also not going to try to figure out which one of the remaining Republican challengers is the strongest candidate either. I don't know what the Republicans' strongest message would be this year, but I don't think a campaign to re-instate old-time morality is going to be any more successful than a campaign to re-instate the failed economic policies of the Bush administration. The Republican Party needs to come up with a more forward-looking, positive, unifying message if it wants to have any hope of making a credible challenge.

1 comment:

  1. The economy is still crap and getting worse but Romney is a Mormon and this is his greatest enemy.

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