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the passion of santo

welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the right-off, the conservative battle of the new millennium, the epic war for the souls of the everyman. [everywoman is not in high demand, since we all know that her vote really shouldn't be worth more than half a male vote and she'll probably be too busy admiring her nails and her new lemony-scented oven cleaner to remember to vote anyway.] these are the days when the challenge is set and the red state warriors must stake their claim for the loyalty of little people like you and me.

well, not like me. and, if you're reading this blog, probably not like you either, because, like me, you're likely to be the sort of snide liberal shit who sits back and watches the republican nomination campaign unfold with a micro-brewery beer and the sense of superiority that rick santorum rightly accuses us of having. that's right people. we're the elite snobs. and, as it turns out, elite snobs are every bit as susceptible to the charms of reality t.v. as our trailer-park-dwelling cousins. we just like to be able to convince ourselves that we're watching something of great political depth and import. please don't tell us we're not. we don't want to have to stop watching because we can't fit it into our snobby world view.

but having watched this process for months [j.h. christ, seriously? months????], i have come to a decision that might surprise you: the republican party should nominate rick santorum.

and no, that isn't just the smirking liberal who sees an easy election win talking. it is, but that's not all it is. i've come to the decision that there is not really a good argument for any candidate other than santo for the g.o.p., unless they're being completely hypocritical. [o.k., there's ron paul, but the fact is that many of his policies fall well outside the comfort zone of the majority of republicans, who aren't really libertarians, even though they might like to think of themselves that way.] the more i watch the republican nomination process, the more i think that the party has never had a candidate who embodied their supposed ideals more than rick santorum. and if they choose to push forward with mitt romney, they're essentially admitting that their views are unpalatable to the majority of voters.

dammit, people. it's time that you stand up for what you believe in. for those of you who are still deciding, i'd like to lay my wildly inaccurate record on the line by exploding a few of the popular media narratives that have marked this nomination process.

popular media observation #1 :: "in 2008, the obama- clinton fight went until june and was incredibly divisive, but the party coalesced behind their candidate and the fight made obama stronger. what's happening in the republican party now is similar." 

no, it isn't. in 2008, the republicans were going through a nomination fight of their own. in 2012, the republicans are fighting a sitting president with a huge war chest and a money-raising machine behind him.

in 2008, two clear frontrunners emerged and fought each other. in 2012, among republicans, mitt romney has always been the clear frontrunner. even after santo's stunning hat trick of minnesota, missouri and colorado, romney is still the guy to beat. hilary clinton and barack obama were always seen as evenly matched, whereas whoever goes up against romney is an underdog.

of course, even if you do accept that the fights are similar, there's something to be learned from the conclusion. in the fight between the establishment pragmatist and the idealist, the idealist won both the nomination and the presidency. technically, that makes santorum the best bet.

popular media observation #2 :: "romney's strategy of using negative ads is working."

not exactly. it worked against newt gingrich, but that may be an exceptional case. for starters, it's just not that difficult to make newt gingrich look unsympathetic and untrustworthy. gingrich has a tendency to look pretty unsympathetic without any help. so sure, reminding people of all the things that he'd done wrong was an effective political move. you know what was even more effective for romney in that case? newt gingrich acting like a petulant child who wanted to blame his failure on cheating by the frontrunner.

but what works against newt is not necessarily going to work against santo. where gingrich is bellicose, santorum is positively humble. he has described himself as "not the most exciting speaker", but he's doing an excellent job of convincing people that that really doesn't matter too much. sure, to many of us he's a gay-bashing, woman-hating, war-mongering basin of leftover douche water, but he's also peculiarly likeable. the leader of the colorado republican party told cnn in no uncertain terms how santorum pulled off a rather stunning upset: he won big in areas he visited. in fact, santorum has won every state where he has put serious time into meeting and talking to people except south carolina [which he ceded to gingrich, not romney].

i've been aware of him and his most objectionable views for years. i shuddered when he got into the race, because i thought that there was no way that i could handle hearing him talk even at a single debate. and yet, on the morning after he released his long-promised taxes, i watched him being interviewed, talking about how he had bought a new home to accommodate his large family and how he'd had to take steps to pay down his debt when the house lost 40% of its value and i was practically levitating, because damn he was good. this is a man who makes almost a million dollars a year who is making a credible case that he understands the plight of the panicked middle class homeowner. [note: i have to admit that when i first typed that last bit, i used the phrase "i was practically frothing at the mouth" rather than "i was practically levitating". and then i realised that that wasn't a good idea.]

all this to say that, while romney has already started to carpet bomb santorum in michigan, where the former senator seems ready to open a particularly humiliating can of whoop-ass as of this moment, i don't know that the tactic is going to be as successful. you can crap on gingrich, because a lot of people don't like him very much anyway, but santorum? romney runs a serious risk of looking like the rich bully beating up on the nice kid who spends his after-school hours taking care of his brothers and sisters. as long as they're not gay.

although the media is strangely resistant to letting go of the idea that romney's negative ads work, they tripped over themselves putting the national spotlight on santo's response to the negative potshots of his rival. where gingrich was whiny and tantrum-prone, santorum is humourous and off-handed. while neither may be the case, santo looks noble and romney looks desperate.

popular media observation #3 :: "rick santorum does well with social conservatives, who haven't warmed to mitt romney."

yes, but that's missing the point. santorum certainly does well with social conservatives, but that demographic had no problem voting for romney in new hampshire and florida. he did pretty well with them, in fact. sure, when santo puts in the effort, he wins that group easily, but the issue isn't that mitt romney has a credibility problem with social conservatives. the issue is that mitt romney has a credibility problem with everyone. and unlike santo, who seems able to connect with people almost without trying, romney's favourability ratings seem to sink the more people get to know him.

that has to be the worst metric possible for a would-be presidential candidate. i mean, if romney wins the nomination, is his party planning on sticking him a hole somewhere from august to november and hope that plastering pictures of his chiseled jaw and perfect hair will be enough to win people over? how do you wage a campaign for someone who gets less likeable every time you see him? you can't. it's a losing proposition and i have to think that people in the republican party know this.

popular media observation #4 :: "if romney isn't able to overcome santorum [and the others] by super-tuesday, the republican party will pressure someone new to parachute in and take the nomination."

sure they will. if they're secretly going to vegas and betting the party's money on an obama win in november.

every time that rumour gets repeated on air, the possibility becomes exponentially more stupid. because every time it's repeated, more people realise that, if the party does throw a mitch daniels or a chris christie or, in their ultimate fantasies, a jeb bush into the ring, it is going to look like an establishment rejection of the democratic process. even if they were to manage to push their chosen one through [and, while i don't know much of daniels, i suspect that both christie and smarter bush are too shrewd to be conned into pissing away their political future on a maneuver that reeks of desperation], they'd be lucky to get half their supporters out on election day. no prize, not even the prospect of winning the presidency and both houses of congress, is going to overcome the wrath of a grassroots electorate scorned and the republican party would be wise to consider that.

so where does all this leave us? us? what are you, joking? i live in canada and we've got our own problems. i'm just an international observer.

where does it leave the republicans? well, it kind of leaves them up in the air. it's possible that santorum will self-destruct and clear the way to a romney victory. certainly, his deeply unpopular views on contraception and on reproductive rights could be an embarrassment for the party. on the other hand, those views aren't going to hurt him any with his core. and he has shown an uncanny ability to connect not just with social conservatives, but with blue collar workers, those downtrodden folk who have been most hurt by the exodus of manufacturing jobs. no one in their right mind is going to argue that mitt romney is going to be able to pull that off.

in fact, his popularity with that segment may make santorum more electable than romney, because he might be in a better position to capture potential swing states, even if he were weaker against obama in states that the democrats are already likely to take.

so what's my advice? well, not that anyone's about to ask, but here goes:

look, republicans. you've been making noises about this movement from the ground up of strongly conservative voters who want to see their views reflected in congress. you had a bit of a surge with that in 2010. now it's time to put your money where your mouth is. you have your choice between the next obvious choice, the candidate who you think is probably maybe going to be able to unseat the democratic president, or you can go with a guy who pretty much embodies the kind of things that you say you believe in. there's a good chance that whichever one you pick is going to end up on the losing end of the 2012 election, but do you want to go out with a compromise or do you actually want to put your agenda out there for scrutiny? i'd argue that if you really believe the things that you say, the choice you have before you isn't really much of a choice at all.  one candidate clearly embodies the sort of things that you say are important. the other one has nice hair.

no matter what you want to say about his politics [and believe, me, i have a lot of things that i want to say], rick santorum is completely [foolishly?] unashamed of who he is and what he believes. who among you, republican voters, can say the same?

[many, many, many thanks to dominic f. marceau for the fabulous artwork accompanying this piece.]

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