George Will’s Weird and Lazy Column

Wherein we find that Santorum is the "fun" choice and a few election cliches pay a visit.

I really am not sure what the best way to characterize George Will’s latest column (Suddenly, a fun candidate), so I will go with the somewhat uninspired “weird and lazy.”

First, the weird:

Rick Santorum has become central because Iowa Republicans ignored an axiom that is as familiar as it is false: Democrats fall in love, and Republicans fall in line. Republicans, supposedly hierarchical, actually are — let us say the worst — human. They crave fun.  Supporting Mitt Romney still seems to many like a duty, the responsible thing to do. Suddenly, supporting Santorum seems like a lark, partly because a week or so ago he could quit complaining about media neglect and start having fun, which is infectious.

Rick Santorum represents Iowa Republicans seeking fun?  This is just a very odd statement that I am having a hard time wrapping my head around.  I can accept the notion that many Republicans seem unwilling to fall in line with Romney at the moment, but how in the world does supporting Santorum equate to fun-seeking (save in a very narrow sense i.e., if supporting Romney is not fun then, by the transitive principle, supporting Not Romeny is fun, or something).

Now the lazy part:

1.  Assuming, as per the above, that Santorum’s near-tie with Romney tells us anything about the GOP selectorate is simply false, and Will knows this.   However, it is just easier, I guess, to say that it matters.  All one needs to know is that Mike Huckabee won the 2008 GOP IA caucus to know that Santorum’s status could be quite temporary (indeed, this is more likely than not).  Moreover, Santorum’s showing in Iowa is not conclusive evidence of Republicans failing to fall in line.  We are little far from a definitive position on that count, in fact.

2.  Will then concludes with something else he should know is problematic:  the notion that VP nominees can help carry states:

Even if Santorum is not nominated, he might galvanize a constituency that makes him a vice presidential choice. For Obama, getting to 270 electoral votes without Pennsylvania’s 20 is problematic.

Granted, he may only be saying that Santorum may position himself as a veepable.  However, he does seem to be implying more than that.  It is worth noting that the only reasonable case for a running mate making a difference in a presidential contest was JFK’s addition of LBJ to the ticket in the razor-close 1960 contest.  So not only is there no evidence to suggest that selection of running mate can swing a state in a general sense, even if we go to this one specific example (i.e., Texas and LBJ in 1960) I think it is fair to say that LBJ was a lot more significant to Texas in 1960 than Santorum is to Pennsylvania in 2012.  Of course this latter point is bolstered by the fact that Santorum lost his bid for re-election by 17 points in 2006 (a point which Will does mention, to be fair). (Indeed, as Al Gore showed in 2000, the top of the ticket is not guaranteed their home state).

So, in short, I don’t see the “fun” and am vexed at the clichés in the column.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. ponce says:

    George Will’s Weird and Lazy


  2. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    Will has been mailing it in for at least a decade now. At this point, he resembles Andy Rooney with a better vocabulary.

  3. Hey Norm says:

    He’s nothing but a hack.
    His AGW columns are so filled with falsehoods that fish won’t stay wrapped in the paper they’re printed on.

    Lets talk about something interesting…Obama is going to cut Defense spending today.

  4. Tsar Nicholas II says:

    George Will still is being published somewhere??

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    More than lazy I think this column illustrates what happens when George Will avoids big words. Try “instant gratification” instead of fun. I take the column as arguing that voters should be voting the way that Will wants them to: strategically rather than for the candidate they’d actually prefer.

  6. MSS says:

    Steven, don’t bother with Will except for his baseball columns.

    On Huckabee v. McCain, the result was as much luck as anything. Huckabee stuck around quite a while. He had narrow wins in states that didn’t use winner-take-all, while McCain had prominent but narrow wins where WTA or close to it was used, notably SC. A few votes here and there and we’d be talking about Iowa’s decisive role in 2008.

    Romney strikes me as inherently weaker in SC than McCain.

  7. @MSS:

    Romney strikes me as inherently weaker in SC than McCain.

    I keep vacillating in my own mind on this one. On the one hand, one would expect Santorum to do relatively well in SC, but on the other I am not so sure that Romney and McCain aren’t rather similar candidates.

  8. Barry says:

    A serious question – when was the last honest and intersting column by George Will?
    For my money, he was proven to be a liar and hack back during the 1980 elections,
    and hasn’t done much to disprove that in the thirty-odd years since then.