The only way Michigan could not have hurt Mitt Romney's bid for the GOP nomination was if he surpassed expectations and won big. An eight- or nine-point margin would have shown that Romney wasn't as weak as he looked; as with his win in Florida, in which the former Massachusetts governor won by 14.5 percentage points, it would have assured GOP leaders that despite weeks of bad news and worse performance, Romney can still turn himself around.
When Michigan Democrat Crystal Larson voted today in Dearborn Heights, she told CNN it “felt like I made a deal with the devil.” The devil, in this case, is Rick Santorum, whose quest to upset Mitt Romney in his native state is getting a boost from Operation Hilarity, the Daily Kos effort to convince Democrats like Larson to throw a wrench into the GOP campaign.
Mother Jones’ Andy Kroll reports that top Republican continue to “whisper” about a campaign to draft a new candidate into the presidential race, should Mitt Romney falter in Michigan:
On CNN Tuesday morning, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), chair of the House homeland security committee, hinted at a whisper campaign among “top Republicans” who want a GOP favorite such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) to enter the race if Romney loses the Michigan or Arizona primaries or struggles on Super Tuesday, when ten states controlling 437 delegates hold GOP primaries on March 6.
Rick Santorum's newfound frontrunner status can primarily be attributed to the weakness of Mitt Romney's candidacy. The former frontrunner has bobbled away his advantage through unforced errors and an inability to convince Republican voters that he truly is one of them. Santorum was just in the lucky position of being the last plausible Romney alternative. Though most of the credit lies on Romney's shoulders, the shift in political rhetoric over the past month has helped Santorum. The resurgence of culture-war issues like birth control arrived at a prime moment for a candidate whose career has been predicated on appealing to the social values of the religious right.
You know the parable of the scorpion and the frog: The scorpion asks the frog to carry him across the river, and the frog says, "But what if you sting me?" The scorpion replies, "Why would I sting you? If I do that we'll both drown." Then midway across the river, the scorpion stings the frog. "Why?" the frog cries, as they begin to sink to their doom. "It's my nature," replies the scorpion.
I keep thinking of this as in one election after another Republicans lash out at one large group of American voters after another in the hopes of holding on to the affections of the older white men who form the party's base. The people who run the party know that their continual efforts to stir up resentment, bitterness, and at times outright hatred at people who are not older white men do profound long-term damage to the party. But as a collectivity, the GOP just can't help itself. It's their nature...
“Sen. Santorum has shown himself to be an economic lightweight,” Romney said. “And I don’t think people want to nominate an economic lightweight to go up against the president, who also is an economic lightweight and has it made it hard for America to get working again.”
This is a perfect summation of Mitt Romney’s problem in the Republican presidential primary. There’s no doubt that Romney has a better handle on economic issues than Rick Santorum, just as there was never any doubt that the former Massachusetts governor was more competent than his previous competitors. But Republican voters aren’t looking for a consultant-in-chief; they want someone who can communicate their values. On a good day, Romney can fake it well, and if this were a less ideological field of candidates, that might have been enough.
The national media hasn't paid much attention to Iowa since Rick Santorum's caucus victory, but numbers released over the weekend tell an important story for national progressives. The Des Moines Register—the most respected state pollster during caucus season—asked Iowans about their feelings on same-sex marriage and found that a 56-percent majority are just fine with the state's current laws on same-sex unions and oppose any effort to amend the state's constitution.
With Michigan’s crucial Republican primary looming on Tuesday, Rick Santorum was doing his best George Wallace impression over the weekend, gunning for Tea Party votes by denouncing those “pointy-headed intellectuals” who always think they know better than real folk. “President Obama wants everybody in America to go to college,” Santorum said at an Americans for Prosperity rally.
Throughout the 2012 race Rick Santorum has tried his best to distance his campaign from his image as a vehicle for the religious right. He has scorned the media for asking questions on the culture wars, spends his days touring the Midwest to tout his plan for manufacturing, all while leaving social moralizing at the dog whistling level. But on Sunday, the old fire and brimstone Santorum was back in full force in an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos when the discussion turned to John F. Kennedy's 1960 speech on the separation between church and state. "What kind of country do we live that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case? That makes me throw up," Santorum said.
To follow-up on Jamelle's analysis of Rick Santorum's repudiation of fundamental First Amendment values, it's worth considering some comments made by Santorum in 2008, when he wasn't running for president and could be even more candid:
At this point, most people who cover the Republican presidential campaign—or Republican politics in general—are accustomed to Rick Santorum and his right-wing social conservatism. Even still, this deserves way, way more attention than it’s currently receiving.
“Earlier in my political career, I had the opportunity to read the speech, and I almost threw up,” Santorum told an audience at the College of Saint Mary Magdalen.
In an ABC News interview Sunday, George Stephanopoulos asked Santorum why the speech would make him throw up, to which the candidate replied:
Americans have come to expect a certain patrician baseline from their political class. Congress is stocked full of millionaires, and in the 2008 campaign Joe Biden was considered working class for riding Amtrak, despite having a net worth in the hundreds of thousands. No one bats an eye now when Rick Santorum whines about his meager means on the debate stage then releases tax returns revealing that he rakes in over $900K a year.
Jonathan Chait has a great feature in New York Magazine on the frantic fear among Republicans that this is their last chance to stop the leftward drift of the United States as it becomes younger, browner, and more educated. He zeroes in on the apocolyptic rhetoric of GOP lawmakers and presidential candidates, but his most important point, I think, is this:
So Rick Santorum was being interviewed on "This Week" yesterday, and he said that when he read John F. Kennedy's famous 1960 speech in Houston to a group of Protestant ministers, he "almost threw up." The context for Kennedy's speech was that the man who would become America's first Catholic president was being subjected to a venomous campaign of religious hatred, in which people like the men in that audience were telling voters that if Kennedy were elected, he would be nothing but a tool of the Vatican, doing the Pope's dastardly bidding instead of what was in the best interest of Americans. So Kennedy gave this speech, in which he asserted that he believed in an absolute separation between church and state, for the protection of both. The ministers in attendance, most of whom considered the Catholic Church an un-Christian abomination, were unmoved. The Kennedy campaign quickly cut ads excerpting the speech, which they used to rally Catholic voters. But here's how Santorum described his horror at Kennedy's message:
"To say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes you throw up. What kind of country do we live that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case? That makes me throw up."
Of course, Kennedy said nothing of the sort. Quite the opposite, in fact -- he said that no one should be denied public office because of their religion, and that he believed in an America "where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all." The problem Rick Santorum has with Kennedy's message is this: If you're a religious minority, then official neutrality in matters of religion is a guarantor of freedom. But if you're in the majority, then protection isn't what you need. Here's the part of Kennedy's speech that I think really gave Santorum the dry heaves...
If you are a committed Democrat or partisan Republican, then it seems that, for today at least, you have two polls to choose from. Republicans can look with glee at a USA Today and Gallup poll of registered voters in swing states, where former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum holds a 50–45 lead over President Obama, and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney takes first place at 48 to 46.