Airwaves Soon to Be Covered In Santorum

Now that Rick Santorum is the new frontrunner for the Republican nomination—let's pause for a moment and reflect on how bizarre that notion is—the struggle to define him on the airwaves in advance of the next round of primaries begins. Let's watch two ads, each unconvincing in its own way. First up, we have Santorum's own ad, which might be called, "Admired by right-wing media nutballs everywhere!"

That's right, Glenn Beck thinks Santorum is the next George Washington and, in 2005, Time magazine weirdly called him one of the nation's 25 most influential evangelicals, despite the fact that he's Catholic, and therefore not an evangelical. The magazine's explanation was that even though Santorum is not an evangelical himself, he hangs out with them a lot. Which is kind of like calling Eminem one of the most important black people in the music industry. But hey, if some evangelicals seeing this ad think Santorum is one of them and not an adherent of the Whore of Babylon over in Rome, what's the harm?

This ad may not communicate much in particular about Santorum, but it sticks to his core message: I'm really, really, really conservative, and Mitt Romney isn't. Which brings us to the new ad from Restore Our Future, the Romney super PAC which will now be turning its well-funded Eye of Sauron toward Santorum, having successfully vanquished Newt Gingrich and every other Republican from Romney's path:

Weak tea? Absolutely. The argument right now in the GOP primaries isn't about who has spent the least time in Washington, it's about things like electability and ideological purity. But Romney is going to have a hard time attacking Santorum on ideological grounds. It isn't like they're going to go with, "Rick Santorum: he's a crazy Puritan, and he seems a little obsessed with gay sex, if you know what we mean." If you're a Republican looking for the candidate who'll wage the culture war with the greatest ferocity, Santorum is your guy.

Which is why it's a little surprising that Romney isn't trying to make the electability argument more explicitly. The fact is that Rick Santorum's beliefs on the things he cares most about are repellent to most Americans. While he may be able to relate more to downscale voters than Romney on a personal level, you just know that any campaign with Santorum in it is going to inevitably spend a lot of time talking about what people should or shouldn't do with their dirty parts. He just can't help himself. And that's a loser for Republicans.

On the other hand, Romney and his supporters may believe, quite reasonably, that for primary voters the electability question is inexorably intertwined with ideological purity. After every Republican loss, a good number of GOP base voters tell themselves that if only they had more consistently and loudly stood up for the most extreme version of their philosophy, everything would have worked out better. So telling them that Santorum isn't electable because he's too conservative—true though that might be—isn't going to be very persuasive.

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