Well, surprise surprise, another twist in the GOP race.
Despite being written off by all manner of pundits (including me) Rick Santorum somehow managed to pull off three surprise electoral victories this Tuesday, handily winning the caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado, as well as the primary in Missouri. Though no convention delegates were awarded (for a variety of complex idiosyncratic reasons), the press has predictably seized upon the trio of Santorum upsets as evidence of a “changing narrative” of last-minute Romney-phobia, which, of course, is very much what they, in their unsubtle pursuit of a feistier horse race to cover, had been hoping for all along.
With Santorum now expected to enjoy a bounce in the polls, the Super Tuesday mega-primary contest on March 6 may actually be worth watching. Barring another surprise (and in this race, you can never count those out) it seems Senator Santorum can finally state fairly confidently that he is the only remaining candidate truly capable of beating Romney head-to-head, and the only one who can truly appeal to the broad swatch of conservatives the former governor alienates. In contrast to Gingrich, Santorum has very little baggage, possesses an affable enough personality, and seems to evoke supportive, or at worst neutral sentiment from other right-wing pundits and politicians. “A tale of two defaults” might be the best summary for the race at this point.
As I wrote about before, what I find most intriguing about Santorum is the vast generation gap that seems to color perceptions of him. Young people, especially young liberals, tend to find him this outrageous, frightening, deeply odious character, largely because of his stance on gay rights — or, more properly, gay sex — while older observers seem to regard him as a fairly unremarkable, generic conservative. The first camp considers him almost hilarious unelectable, the other figure’s he’s more than electable enough. There’s been some interesting speculation as to the roots of this cleavage, and I liked Matt Lewis’ comment that some of it might be a Catholic thing.
Catholics, as a general rule, are quite overrepresented in the American conservative intelligentsia. Every conservative justice on the Supreme Court is Catholic. Leading FOX hosts Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly are Catholic. Pundits like Pat Buchanan and Robert Novak are Catholic. Venerated cultural figures like William F. Buckley, Jr. and Phyllis Schlafly are Catholic. The editorial board of the National Review is almost all Catholic. And, of course, Newt Gingrich and Senator Santorum are both Catholic too.
This overrepresentation has been a good thing for the conservative movement overall, since Catholics on the right, much like Jews on the left, seem particularly skilled at using the well-developed intellectual traditions of their faith as a cultural foundation for broader engagement with the philosophical questions of secular, civil life. And just as Jewish thinkers have left their mark on American perceptions of justice and equality, Catholic thinkers have played a large role setting America’s agenda of so-called “moral issues,” particularly those relating to life and marriage.
The point is, if one comes from this sort of intellectual Catholic conservative tradition, Santorum’s supposedly horrifying ramblings about how rape pregnancies are a gift from God, or how women are too hysterical to serve as soldiers, or how legalized contraception leads to man-on-dog sex, or whatever, can actually be viewed — if read properly and in full — as fairly reasonable critiques regarding substantial concepts such as the sanctity of human life, the social role of gender, and the appropriate balance between privacy and tolerance. To put it in other words, there is a substantial, highly influential portion of the American intelligentsia who simply cannot see Santorum’s greatest general election liability — his unappealingly regressive views on social issues — as a liability at all because they’re too enamored with the larger idea of the first intelligent, Catholic so-con president.
It’s getting increasingly difficult to say new things about this race at this point, but my new theory-of-the-moment is that Santorum basically has the anti-Romney vote sewn up. Unlike the governor, he has no conservative heresies in his past, and unlike Gingrich he was never powerful enough to make any high-profile enemies. Unlike Perry and Bachmann, he does not “read” as stupid or undisciplined, and unlike Cain he’s not new or wild enough to provoke any concern about a coming tumble of closet skeletons.
After crushing Gingrich in Florida, Romney happily assumed (with the press egging him on) that the February primaries and caucuses were nothing to worry about, and he’s now suffered for that pride. He enters Super Tuesday as a weakened figure precisely at the time when he needed to look strongest, and unlike the movie we saw last month, he can’t take it for granted that his leading opponent on the right will inevitability collapse under the heat of a critical media spotlight and the weight of his own scandals, arrogance, and incompetence.
Since the moderate wing of the GOP has virtually no power and certainly no vocal or influential advocates at the moment, Romney’s only real hope is to pray Gingrich stays in the race and splits Santorum’s vote. We’ve already seen what the alternative looks like: in Missouri, Gingrich was off the ballot and Santorum beat the governor by 30 points.
It’s an extraordinarily cynical strategy, but a default candidate really has no hope beyond a technical victory.
Originally published at: http://www.filibustercartoons.com/index.php/2012/02/11/a-republican-fable/
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's own and do not necessarily represent those of The Prince Arthur Herald.
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