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February 09, 2012

Santorum, Part Deux

Yesterday I asked you all what you think Rick Santorum's 3 state sweep means. Grim made some excellent points in a post over at his place:

You've doubtless seen the news from yesterday; obviously I am pleased to see Mr. Santorum do well. The key thing about yesterday's events, though, is not that they change the race all that much: they put Mr. Santorum in the lead in terms of the number of states won, but given the structure of the primary that has no bearing on who actually becomes the nominee.

What it may do is give him the airtime he needs to become better known to the voters.

His first thought is one I saw pretty much everywhere yesterday: "Santorum has now won 4 primaries. That's more than any other candidate." A frequent rebuttal to that one was, "Yes, but these were only beauty contests that don't mean anything." Neither statement satisfies me.

I don't think winning 3 primaries in a row (regardless of whether they yield delegates) can be dismissed as 'nothing'. For one thing, media coverage of presidential campaigns generally focuses on the ups and downs of the race at the expense of serious analysis and context:

My assistant, Jean Hwang, and I have been examining Post coverage since Nov. 11 of last year on issues, voters, fundraising, the candidates' backgrounds and horse-race stories on tactics, strategy and consultants. We also have looked at photos and Page 1 stories since Obama captured the nomination June 4.

The count was lopsided, with 1,295 horse-race stories and 594 issues stories. The Post was deficient in stories that reported more than the two candidates trading jabs; readers needed articles, going back to the primaries, comparing their positions with outside experts' views. There were no broad stories on energy or science policy, and there were few on religion issues.

If you believe (as I do) that uninformed voters are influenced by the repetitive themes the media chooses to hype, the momentum aspect of this particular horse race cannot be lightly dismissed. Voters are emotional creatures. We get caught up in the excitement of the contest. But this excitement can mislead. How many candidates have suddenly sped to the front of the race, only to suffer an equally swift reversal when their records were subjected to serious scrutiny for the first time? That's the downside of Mr. Santorum's sudden victories: up until now he was been mostly ignored by the media. Now, his greater access to the megaphone will be counterbalanced by heightened scrutiny of his record. And that's not a bad thing. How he handles this scrutiny will tell us much about him. It may well be the making of his candidacy.

I spent a little time looking at the data yesterday to put some context around what are admittedly early (and very few) primary results. What I was looking for was a simple way to provide some context. The chart below lists the primaries in order from the states that awarded the most delegates to the ones that awarded the fewest. the grey bar across the bottom shows the total delegates for each candidate. Red squares denote the winner in each state:

Here's what jumps out at me:

1. Regardless of who won, Romney picked up delegates in nearly every primary.

2. Gingrich has picked up delegates in only 2 primaries: SC (which he won) and Nevada.

3. Santorum picks up delegates in about half the primaries.

Win/loss tallies tell you nothing about the relative importance of winning or losing various primaries. If money is going to be an issue in the national race (and I think it's a foregone conclusion that it is) then that money needs to be spent wisely. So far, based on the few results we have here, Santorum and Romney appear to be more effective candidates. That said, it's still early.

The Wall Street Journal has a great graphic on the relative size of the candidates' war chests:

Sometimes we get so focused on the primaries that we forget that Obama has already outraised every single candidate we have, and he doesn't need to start spending in earnest until after the GOP nomination. In this context, Gingrich's recurring demands for Rick Santorum to drop out make some sense, though given Mr. Gingrich's record to date one might argue that the wrong candidate is being asked to take one for the team.

By this point in the 2008 race, Mitt Romney had won 11 states to John McCain's 13. And he had read the tea leaves and made his decision:

This isn't an easy decision. I hate to lose.

My family, my friends, you, my supporters across the country, you've given a great deal to get me to where I have a shot to becoming president. If this were only about me, I'd go on. But it's never been only about me.

I entered this race -- I entered this race because I love America. And because I love America, in this time of war, I feel I have to now stand aside for our party and for our country.

People will put their own construction on Romney's decision in 2008. Those who hate him will put the worst construction on it and those who support him will take him at face value. There's nothing that will change that.

There is a real sense of desperation about this election, and in many ways the conflict we feel is between the notion of what is achievable, given past experience and a political climate in which conservatives control the House but not the Senate (and thus, cannot pass conservative legislation) and a sense that if we don't DO something drastic, our current problems will snowball out of control.

I understand both positions because I feel that conflict in my own heart. What I am NOT seeing on conservative blogs is any concrete plan for the "doing something drastic" part. How do we turn this country around if we don't control the White House, House, and Senate?

And if we did control all those institutions, for how long would we do so?

If Santorum represents the hope (though nothing in his legislative record or political career shows an ability to win and sustain broad based support for his positions) of drastic change and a conservative turnaround, I think Romney represents the sometimes depressing reality of conservative governance in an environment where other people's beliefs have to be taken into account.

It's easy to look at a leader who has actually done what we're asking the next President to do and say, "He didn't fight hard enough". Such discussions are usually blissfully fact free; mere assertions without any serious attempt to look at the options that were on the table. Looking at any one issue in isolation is a gross oversimplification of a real world where leaders never have the luxury of ignoring everything else and going balls to the wall on a single issue.

I hear it said frequently that unless a leader is willing to sacrifice everything, he is "not really conservative". This statement is frequently made in regard to hot button social issues like abortion. When I hear them, I have to ask myself, "What has the speaker done to prove to the world that he or she opposes abortion?"

If you believe abortion is murder (I do), what are you willing to do to stop it?

If you came upon a mother strangling her infant in an alley, would you intervene? Of course you would. If you believe a fetus is human, what is the difference between a mother strangling her child and woman entering an abortion clinic to end the life inside of her? If you would intervene in the first instance, why would you not intervene in the second?

It's a disturbing question.

What you're willing to do probably depends on an honest examination of the tradeoffs. If you save the baby, you'll be a hero. If you prevent a woman from entering a clinic, you'll be arrested. Consequences matter: often more than conscience. Are you willing to devote a large part of your money or time to reversing Roe? The conservative vision of small government rests on an electorate that doesn't leave these things up to Congress or the Courts. Are you willing to stand in front of abortion clinics, to protest, to take an unwed mother into your home?

If you have not done these things, why have you not done them? Does unwillingness to put everything else aside mean you lack the courage of your convictions? I don't think so. But if that's the standard then it's a question worth asking, and not just about abortion but about every important issue you care about. How many issues can you simultaneously support by doing everything in your power to effect change?

It is a disturbing thought.

How do we convince the rest of the nation that conservative ideals are best? Can this be done in 4 years, and if so, would such a sudden lurch to the right be sustainable?

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Posted by Cassandra at February 9, 2012 07:35 AM

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