So in light of Romney winning in Arizona and Michigan, I just remembered that I’d never published this piece. I wish I had, since I was right. Oh well. If wishes were bagels. I’m a terrible blogger, I guess. Who just doesn’t post something???
Anyways, here it is:
According to the latest CBS News poll, Rick Santorum has a slight lead over Mitt Romney nationally. Poll results place Santorum atop the pile with 30 percent of GOP primary voters backing the former Pennsylvania senator. Clocking in at 27 percent, Romney runs a close second.
Jamelle Bouie is flabbergasted:
As recently as last month, I couldn’t have predicted that Rick Santorum would be leading national polls for the Republican presidential nomination. That’s not to say that I didn’t think about it, but it seemed unfathomable. Not only does Santorum have the dubious distinction of having lost a re-election race by 17 points, but he’s been synonymous with extreme social conservatism for at least a decade.
In a different primary, with a stronger frontrunner, an off-brand candidate like Rick Santorum would have remained on the outskirts of the race—a gadfly, of sorts. But because of Romney’s profound weakness as a politician, the former Pennsylvania senator has a slim shot at the nomination. Indeed, he currently leads in the crucial Michigan primary on February 28, which is a make or break state for Romney, whose father governed the state. What’s more, Super Tuesday is less than a month away, and it is something of a national primary, with ten states voting on the same day. If Santorum continues to gain steam, he could do very well.
Romney is certainly a weak candidate. The Republican base is angry and Romney has a hard time speaking the language of anger and resentment. I’m not sure he’s a bad politician so much as he’s just not the man for the times – a shoe-in but for the conservative mood.
Whatever the case, he is a weak player this primary season. He may be the presumed front-runner, but his position at the top remains tenuous at best.
The lack of conservative faith in Romney is why we’ve seen the rise of Not-Romney in its various incarnations. Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry – these are all just different names for the same candidate, different manifestations of Not-Romney giving essentially the same pitch.
This is also why we’ve seen such wild ups and downs in the polls, as each candidate tries desperately to claim the mantle of “true conservative.”
But the GOP base has had trouble lopping off the Not-Romney’s heads in time to instigate the necessary coup against Romney and the Republican establishment. Without a single candidate to rally behind, the anti-Romney camp remains in disarray.
Santorum and Gingrich have very little national organization, and without it they have a desperately hard time at transforming a surge in the polls into real momentum. Among all the candidates, only Ron Paul and Mitt Romney have any sort of national network and the funding to take advantage of it. Worse still, Santorum and Gingrich have both failed to list their names listed on every state primary ballot, a glaring shortcoming by any standard.
What’s keeping guys like Santorum in fighting condition more than anything is Super PAC money.
Dave Wiegel explains:
Subtract the super PACs, and Mitt Romney would have outraised his Republican competitors by a factor of at least 2-1, in most cases 5-1. In 2011, Romney’s campaign raised $56.5 million and spent $36.6 million. His closest competitor, Ron Paul, raised $25.9 million and spent $24.0 million. The two of them, who’d built national fundraising networks in 2008, raised more than the rest of the Republican field combined—$80.5 million to roughly $73.6 million.
Add in the super PAC money and the advantage fades. Romney’s campaign had outspent Newt Gingrich’s campaign by a 7-2 margin and outspent Rick Santorum’s by a 19-1 margin. According to the Sunlight Foundation, which has tracked the super PACs all year, the Romney-centric Restore Our Future PAC outspent the pro-Gingrich Winning Our Future PAC only 2-1. It outspent the Santorum-philic Red, White and Blue fund by slightly better than 8-1, which was just what the PAC needed to spend to get its candidate into an Iowa tie.
You can draw what conclusions you will from this, but Citizens United is apparently working to level the playing field in the GOP primary. In the general election it will mean that both the GOP nominee and President Obama have a whole lot more money to wage their ad wars, but both men would have had deep war chests with or without the help of Super PACs. In the primary, the controversial court decision is having an impact.
For now, Santorum and Gingrich are both still in the race largely thanks to the deep pockets of donors who support the Not-Romney cause. But this doesn’t mean they have what it takes to capture the nomination. They’re running skeleton campaigns that look weaker with each reincarnation.
Still, each time someone shoots ahead in the polls, the media is quick to talk about the dire threat they represent to Romney. When Gingrich took South Carolina, all the talking heads were quick to point out just how great a threat the former House speaker represented. Fast-forward two weeks and Romney wins Florida in a landslide.
Santorum has seen a national boost in the polls after his non-binding caucus victories in the Midwest. Don’t expect it to last. His lead in Michigan will be fleeting.
Like the other contenders this primary season, Santorum is a deeply flawed candidate with a record that makes those weaknesses easy to exploit.
So long as the Not-Romney remains divided, I don’t see any of these candidates as a real threat to the former Massachusetts governor. Even with Super PAC money buoying the Santorum and Gingrich campaigns, Romney remains the most viable Republican candidate with the strongest national organization. This will almost certainly be reflected in non-Bible Belt primaries, where Santorum is weakened by his more extreme cultural positions.
Gingrich, meanwhile, has likely played his last hand. There are only so many tricks someone with as long and tarnished a record as Newt’s can keep up their sleeve.
Ron Paul will continue to plod along, gathering delegates and not making any big splashes. I think the Texas congressman probably represents a bigger threat to Romney and the GOP establishment than either Santorum or Gingrich, but time will tell if that’s the case.
For now, rumors of the Romney campaign’s death are greatly exaggerated.