Romney supporters in Michigan R 390.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Rebecca Cook)
WASHINGTON – It’s been a wild ride, but the storyline of the Republican race
remains remarkably simple and constant: It’s Mitt Romney and the perishable
Five have come and gone, if you count the Donald’s aborted
proto-candidacy. And now the sixth and most plausibly presidential challenger
just had his moment – and blew it in Michigan.
It’s no use arguing that
Rick Santorum won nearly as many Michigan delegates as Romney. He lost the
state. Wasn’t Santorum claiming a great victory just three weeks ago when he
shockingly swept Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado – without a single convention
delegate being selected? He was right. It was a great victory. Delegate counts
were beside the point. These three wins instantly propelled him to the front of
the field nationally and to a double-digit lead in Romney’s Michigan
Then Santorum went ahead and lost it. Rather than sticking to
his considerable working-class, Reagan-Democrat appeal, he kept wandering back
to his austere social conservatism. Rather than placing himself in “grandpa’s
hands,” his moving tribute to his immigrant coal miner grandfather as
representative of the America Santorum pledges to restore, he insisted on
launching himself into culture-war thickets: Kennedy, college and
He averred that John Kennedy’s 1960 Houston speech on
separation of church and state makes him “throw up.” Whatever the virtues of
Santorum’s expansive view of the role of religion, the insulting tone toward
Kennedy who, living at a time of frank anti- Catholic bigotry, understandably
offered a more attenuated view of religion in the public square, was jarring,
intemperate and utterly unnecessary.
As was his sneering at President
Obama’s wanting to open college to all. Santorum called that snobbery and an
attempt at liberal indoctrination. Sure, there’s a point to be made about
ideological imbalance in higher education and about the dignity of manual labor.
But to do so by disdaining the most important instrument of social mobility –
one that millions of parents devoutly desire for their children – is simply
Finally, the less said about contraception the better, a lesson
Santorum refused to learn. It’s a settled question. The country has no real
desire for cringe-inducing admonitions from politicians about libertinism and
procreative (versus pleasurable) sex.
The result of these unforced errors
was Santorum’s Michigan slide. His post-trifecta lead vanished. He forfeited a
victory that would have shattered the Romney candidacy.
why. He’s now recanted the Kennedy statement.
And remember that odd riff
with which he began his Michigan concession/victory speech? About three
generations of Santorum women – mother, wife, daughter – being professional,
strong, independent, i.e., modern? That was an unsubtle attempt to update his
gender-relations image by a few decades.
Too late. Among men, Michigan
was essentially a dead heat. But Santorum lost women by five percentage points –
and, with that, the race.
Social issues are what most deeply animate
Santorum but 2012 is not the year they most animate the electorate. In Michigan,
among those for whom abortion was the most important issue, Santorum won by a
staggering 64 points. But they made up only 14 percent of the electorate.
Seventy-nine percent cared most about the economy or the deficit. Romney won
them by 17.
And, of course, he won overall. But only by three points, a
weak showing in Romney’s native state where his (former governor) father is
legend and where Romney outspent Santorum 2-to-1.
The result should never
have been that close. Romney won by default. Santorum had a clear shot and
simply missed his mark.
It’s not over. Super Tuesday could scramble the
deck. But once again, the smoke clears and Romney remains – slow, steady,
unspectacular. The tortoise in the race, dull and methodical, with an awkward,
almost endearing (note: almost), stiffness. In short, a weak front-runner in an
even weaker field.
Hence the current Republican gloom, the growing
Democratic cockiness. But the game is young. True, given the national mood and
the state of the economy, Republicans should be far ahead.
a significant lead. But the race is still 50-50.
Romney remains the
presumptive nominee. His Michigan victory speech was jaunty, sharp and good.
He’d advanced a serious plan for tax and entitlement reform four days earlier.
Now he needs to (1) bite his tongue anytime the temptation arises to riff about
class, money or cars (Cadillacs in particular), (2) ask George Bush 41 the
proper way to eat pork rinds, (3) pray for yet more luck, the quality Napoleon
famously valued in his generals above all others.Charles Krauthammer’s
e-mail address is email@example.com. (c) 2012, The
Washington Post Writers Group.
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