Posted on | January 13, 2012 | 47 Comments
“The final tally in the New Hampshire primary showed Rick Santorum clinched fourth place and Newt Gingrich took fifth, according to the New Hampshire secretary of state.
“Throughout late Tuesday night and early [Wednesday] morning when the votes were tallied, Gingrich had been fourth, but Santorum overtook him, beating him by just 138 votes, with 23,174 votes for Gingrich and 23,312 for Santorum.”
— Boston Globe
On the phone with a friend this afternoon, we were talking about the Perry problem, which is beginning to depress me. Da Tech Guy is trying to be philosophical about it, but I’m getting discouraged, because it’s turning out as badly as I’d feared, and perhaps even worse. Frightening vibes of vindictive sadism are emanating from the Perry camp, and this is never a good sign.
Three days after Christmas, a CNN poll finally validated what I and others had been saying for weeks: Rick Santorum’s tireless campaigning in Iowa was producing a last-minute surge. And suddenly Santorum, who had spent months grousing about his relative lack of media coverage, was swarmed by reporters everywhere he went.
Almost as quickly, the Perrybots attacked. They had spent three weeks expecting that once Mitt Romney’s attack ads destroyed Gingrich in Iowa, the beneficiary would be The Only Candidate Who Could Beat Romney™ (as they had been marketing their guy since mid-summer). The fact that Iowa Republicans shifted instead to Santorum drove the Perrybots into unprecedented paroxysms of frothing rage.
What especially infuriated them was that the Perry campaign, which had been saturating Iowa with some $3 million of ads — including an ad that attacked both Gingrich and Romney — hadn’t anticipated Santorum’s December surge. So by the time it became apparent that Santorum was surging, it was too late for Perry to do anything more than hit Santorum with a last-minute radio ad, plus some cheap underhanded smear tactics like disseminating anonymous anti-Santorum flyers. (Which the Perry people then deviously tried to blame on Ron Paul’s campaign.)
Despite everything that the Perry campaign and its proxies could throw in at the last minute, however, Santorum came within eight votes of beating Romney in Iowa and, as I said to my friend on the phone today, “How much different would it have been if Erick Erickson hadn’t spent five days slamming Santorum at Red State? Couldn’t that have cost Santorum the votes he needed to beat Romney?”
Of course, the anti-Santorum messages didn’t stop after Iowa and this vengeful negativity from Perry’s people — as if Santorum unjustly deprived them of something that was rightly theirs — was not unnoticed, either by the Santorum campaign staff or by various journalists covering the campaign. A rather eminent pundit asked me last weekend in New Hampshire, “What the hell happened to Erickson?”
What is especially annoying about this is that, for all the harm inflicted on Santorum, they haven’t done Perry any good at all. He’s still down at the bottom of the GOP heap and, even if he gains ground in South Carolina now — as at least one anomalous poll suggests — all Perry can do is drain votes away from either Gingrich or Santorum, the two candidates with a plausible chance to beat Romney there.
So I was telling this to my friend, who has already joined the “Roll Over for Romney” camp, and explaining that I intend to fight as long as there is anything left to fight with, but was frustrated by the apparent determination of the Perry people that, if their guy can’t be the “Not Romney” alternative, then they’ll destroy whatever other “Not Romney” has a chance, just for the pure hateful spite of it.
It grieves me terribly to see such petulance from people I’ve long regarded as political allies, just as it embarrasses me to have to cite Bill Kristol (!) as an example of clear-thinking courage:
Thus Karl Rove in the Wall Street Journal last Thursday: If Romney, having beaten Santorum by all of eight votes in Iowa, wins in New Hampshire, where he has a summer home and has been campaigning for six years—well, then we should all just accept the inevitability of Romney. After all, then “Romney is 2-0.” And if he’s 2-0, by whatever margins and in states with 11 electoral votes—“he becomes the prohibitive favorite” for the nomination.
Really? Well, no. But the point [of Rove’s argument] is to convince Santorum supporters, and those of you who might consider becoming Santorum supporters, that he has no chance, so as to create a self-fulfilling prophecy of Romney inevitability. After all, “Mr. Santorum shouldn’t kid himself; he faces huge obstacles. . . . He hasn’t had to endure withering scrutiny but will shortly. His chief opponent has tremendous organizational and financial advantages and has been through the rigors of a presidential primary race.” Rove does note with gracious condescension, “Mr. Santorum has a shot, and that’s all he could have hoped for.”
Actually, Santorum can hope to win. He has been running to win. And after what he pulled off in Iowa, it’s foolish to suggest he doesn’t have a chance to win. His Iowa performance, and his speech Tuesday night, were impressive enough to suggest to primary voters in subsequent states that they should make an effort to judge both his capacity to win and his capacity to govern.
Exactly so. For a long time, Santorum’s critics said he seemed “whiny” or “sanctimonious,” but in the past few weeks, Santorum seems to have gained confidence and found his voice, and people are responding to his positive message. Unlike either Gingrich or Perry, Santorum never resorted to using “Occupy Wall Street” arguments against Mitt Romney. And Santorum’s ad have been optimistic and inspirational:
The Santorum campaign has said they’ll spend $1 million to spread that message in South Carolina, and there is reason to hope that, with a week to go — and two debates — before next Saturday’s vote, he can finally score a breakthrough win.
Despite my own pro-Santorum bias, however, I’d be OK if somehow Gingrich pulls ahead to beat Romney. If the point is to stop Romney from clinching in South Carolina, it doesn’t really matter who stops him. But there are only so many anti-Romney votes to go around, and every vote wasted on Perry (currently 20.9 points behind Romney in the RCP average of South Carolina polls) is in effect a vote for Romney.
Think about it: When the votes in South Carolina are counted on the night of Jan. 21, if Romney wins by a margin smaller than the vote total for Rick Perry, the supporters of Perry will have inadvertantly handed the nomination to the RINO they spent six months denouncing as unacceptable to conservatives.
By all normal political logic, Perry’s humiliating fifth-place showing in Iowa should have been the end of his campaign, but his staff and consultants insisted that he had to keep going, if only to give them a chance to spend the rest of the millions in campaign cash he’d collected. Yet they have refined the avoidance of blame to a high art, so I’m sure when all is said and done, Dave Carney and his (well-compensated) friends will lay all the blame for their failures on some convenient scapegoat.
But this is depressing me, and I don’t want to be depressed. What I want is for people to wake the hell up and start thinking for themselves, and realize that trends in human affairs are never really inevitable. The actions of individuals make a difference, and if you have the courage to stand up and speak out, you can make trends happen, rather than always being the victim of somebody else’s trend.
That’s why I like Rick Santorum: He’s the guy who says you don’t have to vote for Romney just because somebody told you Romney’s “electable”
All the noise from all these pundits won’t amount to a hill of beans, if the people of South Carolina decide to take a stand and tell the pundits to go straight to hell. Join the fight — and fear the vest!