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Santorum: People May As Well Vote For Obama If Romney Is The Nominee

Rick Santorum tossed a live grenade into the Republican Presidential race yesterday and it looks to be causing him more harm than anyone else. It started yesterday during a campaign appearance in Texas where the former Pennsylvania Senator essentially said that voters would choose to re-elect President Obama if his opponent turned out to be Mitt Romney:

Rick Santorum played off of the Mitt Romney campaign’s Etch A Sketch gaffe today when he told an audience that the country might be better off with President Obama than with a candidate who will shift his positions with ease and who he believes is not very different from the president.

“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 told a crowd at USAA.

During a press avail following the event, Santorum, who carried the Etch A Sketch during his speech, argued that Romney knows he can’t win in the general election.

“All the things that allow Romney to win the primary are unavailable to him to win the general and that’s why you see these Etch A Sketch comments because he knows he can’t win,” said Santorum.

Santorum’s comment makes at least some sense if you buy into the view of elections that says that Republicans win by nominating the most conservative candidates and by running a General Election campaign that draws sharp ideological contrasts with the opposition. That’s a view that many on the right at least say that they hold, even though it’s complete nonsense as I’ve argued before (see here and here, for example). In fact, Erick Erickson defends Santorum on just those grounds:

I think it was clear from the context of his remarks that Santorum was not expressing his own thinking, but expressing the thinking of general election voters. And I think he is absolutely right, which is also why I think Romney makes such a bad nominee (not that I think Santorum would be any better).

(…)

I think Santorum was spot on in describing how voters would see the race in November. Why would they want to give up a guy many of them like, but who don’t much care of his job performance, for a guy they don’t like whose own campaign admits is like an Etch-A-Sketch.

That may have been what Santorum intended to communicate, he may even be right. However, that isn’t how his comments are being perceived, and they’re helping to reinforce a perception about Santorum that has been developing over the past several days that his (and Gingrich’s) presence in the race for much longer isn’t serving to accomplish anything. As I demonstrated Wednesday, Santorum faces near-impossible odds in a bid to either overtake Romney or even merely prevent him from getting the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination. For Newt Gingrich the odds are even longer considering that, right now, his name would not even appear on the ballot at the Republican convention. Even among conservatives who aren’t necessarily fans of Mitt Romney, the perception seems to be growing that both men are doing nothing but hurting the party by staying in the race much longer, and that the pressure on both of them to drop out is only likely increase.

Santorum’s comments have also given his opponents an opening to attack him not so much on ideology as on party loyalty.

Mitt Romney’s campaign, for example, was quick to hit back on Santorum’s comment:

“I am in this race to defeat Barack Obama and restore America’s promise. I was disappointed to hear that Rick Santorum would rather have Barack Obama as president than a Republican. This election is more important than any one person. It is about the future of America. Any of the Republicans running would be better than President Obama and his record of failure.”

And Newt Gingrich also hit Santorum for the comment:

BATON ROUGE, La. – Newt Gingrich spoke up in defense of Mitt Romney Thursday night, insisting any Republican presidential candidate would be a better president than Barack Obama.

“I want to start with something Rick said tonight that I frankly was very surprised that he said and that I hope he’s taking back,” Gingrich told the Baton Rouge Tea Party event crowd referring to Rick Santorum’s comments earlier today.

“I may have some very substantial disagreements with Gov. Romney. There is no doubt in my mind that if the choice was Gov. Romney or Barack Obama, we would have no choice,” Gingrich said. “The danger of Obama is so great that I would hope that every candidate running – Ron Paul, Gov. Romney and Sen. Santorum – that we would all agree that whoever becomes the Republican nominee, we have one common goal and that is to defeat Barack Obama.”

The reaction across the conservative blosgosphere has been decidedly negative. Glenn Reynolds said it’s time for Santorum to go home. Don Surber says that Santorum has lost his credibility. Steven Hayward said Santorum was insulting everyone’s intelligence. Jeff Dunetz withdrew the endorsement he had previously given to Santorum. And Ed Morrissey, who had endorsed Santorum, said that the Pennsylvania Senator was coming very close to breaking one the first rules of party politics:

People who enter primary contests should be prepared to support the eventual product of that primary and unite behind that candidate.  If a candidate can’t do that, he has no business asking his party for the nomination in a primary contest in the first place.  Santorum didn’t explicitly say he wouldn’t support Romney if Romney won, but that statement comes pretty close to the mark.

All of this comes at the same time that party leaders seem to be getting ready to nudge Romney’s opponents to the side. In addition to the Jeb Bush endorsement, overshadowed as it has been by the ridiculous Etch-A-Sketch meme, yesterday Senator Jim DeMint essentially said that Romney looks to be the nominee and that the other candidates need to start thinking about ending their bids and rallying behind him for the good of the party.

Does anyone honestly believe that Rick Santorum would vote for Barack Obama in November if Mitt Romney is the nominee? I don’t and I doubt anyone else does. However, his comment yesterday, along with the way he jumped on the idiotic Etch-A-Sketch meme, are a fairly clear demonstration that there is no logical reason left for him to stay in the race. Santorum is flailing and at this point, and yesterday was a very good demonstration of that fact.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Hey Norm says:

    One…Santorum was spot-on with his comment.
    Two…If there was a chance of him getting the VP nod…he just blew that.

    “…the ridiculous Etch-A-Sketch meme…”

    …that you can’t stop talking about.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 4

  2. MBunge says:

    Yes, the GOP is going to nominate its most liberal Presidential candidate since Richard “wage and price controls” Nixon and said candidate is also one of the biggest, fattest liars in modern political history, but Santorum should just shut up and get with the program.

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  3. @MBunge:

    I don’t know what Romney’s chances in November will be. I don’t particularly like him myself. But I know this. Rick Santorum has absolutely no chance of beating Barack Obama. So, why would the GOP waste its time with him?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  4. @Doug Mataconis:

    So, why would the GOP waste its time with him?

    Quite telling. An example of asymmetrical thinking.

    When Dems like Obama, it’s all irrational, right? According to you, “Barack Obama is God-Walking-On-Earth” for them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  5. @john personna:

    I was referring to people who seem to have an inability to find a single thing the President has done wrong.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 6

  6. Brummagem Joe says:

    Santorum’s candidacy is probably flailing. It’s amazing that such a zero has got this far which actually says far more about the strength of Romney’s candidacy than anything else….a fact that Doug seems to ignore. He’s also still banging on about the triviality of etch a sketch thereby demonstrating continuing myopia about the mechanics of the political process and the part that symbols play in it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  7. Hey Norm says:

    “…I was referring to people who seem to have an inability to find a single thing the President has done wrong…”

    How’s that straw taste?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 2

  8. PD Shaw says:

    For Newt Gingrich the odds are even longer considering that, right now, his name would not even appear on the ballot at the Republican nomination.

    It’s not clear that Santorum would appear on the ballot right now either. Santorum Has Rule 40 Problems Too. To appear on the ballot Santorum needs a pluarlity of the delegates in five states, he only has that in three states (AL, KS & TN), the other 6-7 states he’s won haven’t allocated any or enough delegates.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. Modulo Myself says:

    Sorry–did Santorum ever have anything to offer than eager stupidity? He rode this theme up the mountain and now he’s riding it down the mountain.

    And yet it’s not exactly too deep a thought to think that maybe, just maybe, the idea of our democracy being a conflict between liberals and conservatives is simply a spectacle.

    Maybe Santorum after whipping up crowds against liberalism managed by accidental osmosis to pick up the fact that nobody has any principals, outraged voters least of all. So that defeating Obama will be nothing more than a moment of triumph for consultants and pundits, and then back to business as usual. Maybe this is Santorum’s moment of mindfulness, when his thoughts detach from his ego and he can see clearly!

    The actual defense of Romney not being like Obama would be that somewhere, somehow, a bureaucrat will appoint another bureaucrat who once worked in a think tank and is prepared to executive conservative theories x and y for a period of time until replacement occurs. Imagine this on a mass scale, conservative American–with people like you but with much better resumes–and you will see the true turning of the socialist tide!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  10. Fiona says:

    Both Santorum and Gingrich seem to be on some kind of crusade–Santorum’s being religious and Gingrich’s being motivated by an odd mixture of resentment and grandiosity. I don’t believe either is really thinking about the good of their party at this point. The whole race has become depressing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  11. legion says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    As even Erickson says,

    And I think he is absolutely right, which is also why I think Romney makes such a bad nominee (not that I think Santorum would be any better).

    When even a massive tool like that basically admits that the GOP basically doesn’t have any electable candidates this far into the primaries, it’s a pretty clear sign that the GOP is completely without any attracting ideas or personalities whatsoever. The only real question of any import isn’t _who_ gets sent into the wood-chipper, but how much impact it will have on down-ticket races in ’12 and Congressional seats in ’14.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  12. @Brummagem Joe:

    Two things explain it Joe. SuperPACs and the new GOP delegate allocation rules. They have both changed the ground rules signficiantly

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  13. @legion: The problem with “even” Erickson (apparently the Rush Limbaugh of the blogosphere is now the arbiter of mainstream Republican taste?) is that Erickson thinks the nation is an all-Anglo version of Texas, socon to the hilt and prepared to elect a Ted Cruz clone to the presidency. That is, frankly, delusional.

    Romney–who, incidentally, would be my third choice in a presidential contest behind Gary Johnson and Obama, so I’m hardly shilling for him–is by far the most electable candidate in the remaining field, and (assuming equal vetting) among the most electable, credible Republican candidates available – I think Huntsman or Johnson would have been more acceptable to moderates had they survived the primaries, but they didn’t. The Republicans most mentioned who stayed out either would be in the Romney RINO zone too (Christie, for example, because of having the equal misfortune to have to govern a state that has a natural Democratic lean) or would be unpalatable in the general (any GOP governor who hopped on the union-demonizing bandwagon – Pawlenty, Daniels, Walker, etc. – along with all the socons).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  14. legion says:

    @Chris Lawrence: Oh, I don’t think Erickson is any kind of arbiter, but he makes a decent weathervane (as tools go).

    I think Huntsman or Johnson would have been more acceptable to moderates had they survived the primaries, but they didn’t.

    Yup. But the GOP has managed to turn their primary process into a red-meat-fest that is 100% guaranteed to produce a candidate that is so polarizing and/or extreme he couldn’t possibly get by in a general election. Bear in mind – just 4 short years ago, this very same model Romneybot was still a leading contender. Now, he’s considered a RINO by pretty much everyone, even his supporters. This should indicate just how far away from mainstream America the GOP has shifted since Obama was elected. You’ll note how many “good” candidates (Christie, Daniels, Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal) have all had the sense Rick Perry didn’t have & stayed the heck away from this disaster of a process.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  15. MBunge says:

    @Doug Mataconis: “Rick Santorum has absolutely no chance of beating Barack Obama. So, why would the GOP waste its time with him?”

    And anyone who said in 2002 that a black guy with a Muslim-sounding name was going to be elected President in 6 years would have been locked away in the nuthouse. The fact is that NONE of the remaining Republican candidates look like good bets to beat Obama. Neither of which has anything to do with your original point, which is that Santorum should basically just bend over and let Romney have the nomination.

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  16. Rick Almeida says:

    @MBunge

    And anyone who said in 2002 that a black guy with a Muslim-sounding name was going to be elected President in 6 years would have been locked away in the nuthouse.

    That is true, of course, but in March of 2008 it was clear that Obama would be the Democratic nominee and that he was the odds-on favorite to win the Presidency.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. Doug, although I often do not agree with you, I think the quality of your writing is usually very good, and your analyses thoughtful and intelligent. Your post, above, is one that I *do* agree with.

    But, Doug…. I really, really wish you would proofread your posts, or get someone else to do it. You are by far not the only one — I actually read very few blogs, A-listers very much included, who give evidence of having re-read their posts even cursorily before publishing. But that doesn’t make it any less annoying when you can’t get to the end of a post without bumping into typos, misused words, and missing words. It actually detracts from the substantive quality of the post — at least in perception.

    I mean this sincerely, not sarcastically. I am not trying to be mean. If I saw this only now and then (in general, not just in your posts), I would think little or nothing of it. But it’s not just now and then.

    I make typos just as much as the next person when I post on my blog. But usually (hopefully) very few people see the typos unless they read the blog seconds after I post it, because I always read my post again even after it’s published. Sometimes I have to update several times. I get really upset with myself. But I do proofread immediately after publishing and any errors do get fixed within minutes after posting.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  18. JohnMcC says:

    Mr Santorum lives in a universe that operates on the concept of “natural law”; he believes, first, things have a “purpose”, and that, second, there is a great conflict between the forces of good and the forces of evil. If the Republican Party cannot bring forth a candidate who represents the “good” then it has lost it’s reason for being and should be punished.

    His statement is perfectly compatible with this philosophical foundation. Why is anyone surprised when he makes it?

    And Mr Mataconis!! “…people who have an inability to find a single thing the President has done wrong”!!! Really?!

    You show your lack of depth. On the Left-side of the internet there is really NO ONE who fits that description. Anyone offering opinions should do much better than that. Sad for you, sir.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  19. Racehorse says:

    This is what I’ve been trying to tell people: “tweedle dee and tweedle dum”: Obama – Romney.This will not be an election, it will be another “selection”: already decided by the controlled news media. Once again: programmed, controlled, and manipulated candidates.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. An Interested Party says:

    …already decided by the controlled news media.

    Controlled by whom?

    Once again: programmed, controlled, and manipulated candidates.

    And who would be some of your ideal candidates?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. J. B. Rodriguez says:

    @Brummagem Joe: That is how far you can get these days just by being bold in front of the 24-Hr news cycle. No matter how slim the odds of a candidate, or with all the faults like Santorum, the reporters will cover any remarks as they need news to fill their air time. With all the networks, cable news outlets, news papers, bloggers, talk radio, and prime-time interviews available, a candidate does not have to make a big investment to be heard all over the place.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0