TO RIGHT-WING EXTREMISTS, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS RIGHT-WING-EXTREMIST FAILURE
John Avlon of the Daily Beast thinks losing a presidential election with Rick Santorum as the nominee would be just the medicine the Republican Party needs to take:
...if someone like Rick Santorum gets the nomination in an upset, the party faithful will get to experience the adrenaline rush of going off a cliff together, like Thelma and Louise -- elation followed by an electoral thud.
... Republicans would be forced to confront the fact that talk about Satan attacking America, negative obsessions with homosexuality, contraception and opposition to abortion even in cases of rape and incest alienates far more people than they attract.
Well, it would be nice to think so. It would be nice to think that Santorum would suffer an electoral drubbing, and the far right would learn the correct lesson: America doesn'tcrave a president who's raw, unadulterated conservatism. But Avlon is overlooking the implications of one of his own observations:
[Barry] Goldwater would be attacked as a RINO today for his rejection of the religious right, his wife's cofounding of Planned Parenthood in Arizona, or his early support of gays serving in the military. Some conservative activists turned on Reagan during his White House years (the editor of the Conservative Digest memorably wrote in the early '80s, "Sometimes I wonder how much of a Reaganite Reagan really is"). Almost by definition, absolutists oversimplify, turning everything into a fight between angels and devils.
Yup -- and if Santorum lost, these same absolutists would tell us that it happened because he wasn't conservative enough. They'd all start sounding like Mitt Romney attack ads: Santorum was a big spender in the Senate! Santorum loved pork! Santorum advocated big-government intervention to bring back manufacturing in America!
Only idiots would believe these were the reasons Santorum lost, but there are a lot of idiots on the right. To this day, nearly everyone on the right will swear to you that the GOP lost Congress and the White House in '06 and '08 because voters were disgusted at how much spending Bush and congressional Republicans did. The war? Terri Schiavo? The botched response to Katrina? The financial collapse in the run-up to 2008? Minor factors.
The other reason righties would give for a Santorum loss -- I talked about this a few weeks ago, when Joe Nocera wrote a column similar to Avlon's in The New York Times -- is the righties' excuse for all kinds of things: liberal subterfuge. They'd declare that accurate reporting of Santorum's positions on social issues constituted "liberal media bias." They'd blame Dan Savage's campaign to turn "santorum" into a dirty word. They'd insist that Santorum would have won in a country that wasn't under the jackboot of the liberal cultural fascists.
So, no, I don't think a Santorum loss would be in any way eye-opening for these folks.