EYES ON THE WRONG PRIZE?
Last night, BooMan reassessed the Republican race:
For the first time, I am beginning to think that Romney might actually lose the nomination and that Santorum might win it.
And, even worse, I am beginning to think that Santorum is a much stronger candidate against Obama than Romney. I think Gingrich is a stronger candidate than Romney. I just can't exaggerate how bad I think Romney is as a politician and as an alternative to the president.
I'm also beginning to think again that Romney might lose -- Public Policy Polling now tells us that Santorum has a massive lead over Romney, 38% to 23%, among Republicans nationwide. (And possibly, as Tom says, the Obama contraception decision pushes social issues to the top of the GOP agenda, which helps Santorum as a Republican candidate, and hurts Romney.)
And then there's BooMan's other assertion: would the non-Romneys really be stronger candidates against Obama?
I have to disagree on Gingrich -- he's too much of a hypocrite/blowhard/egomaniac/know-it-all; he appealed briefly to GOP voters when they saw him attacking debate moderators and thought he could out-debate Obama, but, really, that's all he had. In the general population, his unfavorable ratings are off the charts. I'm crushed that he's fading in the polls, and that he can't possibly come back unless a new debate moderator tosses him one that he can hit out of the park (which I think all future moderators will avoid doing).
I think enough liberals and moderates know, or could easily see, how extreme his agenda is. I think his sanctimony and extremism shine through. But there's an aw-shucks, sad-sack quality to him that may make him harder to hate than Gingrich or Romney.
That's also the reason I think Romney might have a hard time crushing Romney the way he crushed Gingrich -- non-Republicans may ultimately be turned off by Santorum, but Republicans seem to have positive feelings toward him. And, well, there's this:
But his digs at the president are not what people talk about as they crowd around him to shake his hand. It is his 3-year-old daughter, Isabella, or Bella, as she is known, who has a fatal chromosomal disorder called Trisomy 18. Bella's struggle is the emotional undercurrent of his campaign and, for his supporters, has become inseparable from Mr. Santorum's appeal as a Christian conservative who opposes abortion.
"When she got pneumonia, he stopped his campaign," said Stephanie Broardt, an Oklahoma City stay-at-home mother who stood on a chair to watch his speech. "He strikes me as a good father. That's another reason why I love him, because he's a family man. Other candidates cannot say that."
It's Sarah and Trig Palin, minus Sarah's diva act. Could general-election voters be swayed by this, if he beat Romney for the nomination? Especially if mainstream pundits started saying Santorum is really kind of a good guy? (Beyond the obvious -- David Brooks, Joe Klein -- my money's on Niall Ferguson as a spreader of that meme; see Ferguson's recent love letter to Charles Murray in Newsweek. I could imagine him writing the Newsweek cover story on how Santorum could lead an American moral regeneration.)
But would Santorum really be a tougher opponent against Obama? A recent Rasmussen poll says he would, but Rasmussen is an unreliable wingnut propagandist; by contrast, the latest Fox News poll has Obama beating Romney by 5 and Santorum by 12 -- and Gingrich by 13, for what it's worth. (Yeah, it's Fox, but the Fox polling operation has always had a surprising tendency to play it straight, even if the results contradict Fox propaganda; this survey, for instance, shows 61% approval for the Obama birth control policy, even before yesterday's policy adjustment.)
My worry would be that the Obama reelection team has concentrated all its efforts on planning for a race against Romney, with, it seems, no Plan B; an Obama aide recently reaffirmed this to The New York Times:
"When you guys were all out there writing your Herman Cain stories, we were not following you into that sideshow," one Obama aide said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "We are keeping our eyes on the prize."
Four years ago, Team Obama had no plan when Sarah Palin was put on the GOP ticket. The Democratic National Committee had launched a Web site called thenextcheney.com, with negative information about everyone the Dems thought could be on the short list -- and Palin wasn't included. And you'll recall that McCain/Palin briefly surged to the lead after Palin's convention speech.
I think the Obama team was woefully unprepared for Palin, and lucked out when she turned out to be an idiot and an albatross. Would the Obama team be equally unprepared for Santorum? And is he unappealing enough for that not to matter? I think he is, and I hope I'm right, but I'm not sure.
(X-posted at Booman Tribune.)