The Other McCain

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What Santorum Said, What He Meant, and What Romneybots Want You to Think

Posted on | March 23, 2012 | 51 Comments

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana
I posted the video last night, but considering the reaction, let’s once more let everybody see for themselves what Rick Santorum said:

“Republicans and conservatives who are so worried about, you know, getting control back — ‘We have to win and so we have to nominate someone who can appeal to more’ — no, you win by giving people a choice. You win by giving people the opportunity to see a different vision for our country, not someone who’s just going to be a little different than the person in there. If you’re going to be a little different, we might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk with what may be the Etch A Sketch candidate of the future.”

Santorum was making the same argument Phyllis Schlafly made in her 1964 classic, A Choice Not an Echo. He is saying something he has said many times — and something Newt Gingrich has also said — that Romney fails to offer a clear contrast to Obama. In this context, when Santorum said “we might as well stay with what we have,” he clearly meant to express what the reaction of regular voters would be, if presented with someone who is just “a little different” than the incumbent.

Santorum did not express himself clearly, but awkwardness of expression is not the same as endorsing Barack Obama’s re-election.

The “Etch-a-Sketch” crew is claiming that Santorum actually said he would vote for Obama, thus prompting Santorum to issue a statement:

Republican Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum made the following comment in reaction to the claim he would vote for President Obama.
Rick Santorum said: “I would never vote for Barack Obama over any Republican and to suggest otherwise is preposterous. This is just another attempt by the Romney Campaign to distort and distract the media and voters from the unshakeable fact that many of Romney’s policies mirror Barack Obama’s. I was simply making the point that there is a huge enthusiasm gap around Mitt Romney and it’s easy to see why – Romney has sided with Obama on healthcare mandates, cap-and-trade, and the Wall Street bailouts. Voters have to be excited enough to actually go vote, and my campaign’s movement to restore freedom is exciting this nation. If this election is about Obama versus the Obama-Lite candidate, we have a tough time rallying this nation. It’s time for bold vision, bold reforms and bold contrasts. This election is about more than Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, or Rick Santorum – this campaign is about freedom and I will fight to restore your freedoms.”

UPDATE: Other conservatives are coming to Santorum’s defense, including Matt Lewis at The Daily Caller:

His argument is (and you can disagree with it) is that voters just might make the calculus that, if you’re going to have to settle for Obama Lite any way, you might as well stick with Obama.
… If you’re going to have to settle for RomneyCare, why not stick with ObamaCare?
(Note: I know Santorum said “we,” but I’ve heard the shtick enough times to know what he meant. And what he meant was that “we” — the voters — want a clearer contrast.)
Santorum has been making this argument for months. This is a regular line of attack.

(Hat-tip: Pundette via Smitty on Twitter.) Lewis notes that, when a candidate has been saying the same thing over and over for months — as presidential candidates must do in their stump speeches — they sometimes gaffes by attempting to improvise a fresh iteration of what is (to them) a familiar point.

Santorum probably didn’t realize what he had said (as opposed to what he meant to say) and didn’t recognize how it might be misinterpreted until after it blew up into a huge “controversy.” And, frankly, I believe, many voters wouldn’t disagree even with what he actually said: Why take a chance on Romney — a guy who has been on both sides of every major issue — rather than just muddle along with the status quo?

A lot of voters indeed think that way, and the “Roll Over for Romney” crowd — who want conservatives to stop resisting Mr. Inevitable — are likely to re-learn an unfortunately familiar lesson if Mitt is the nominee.

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