In a post earlier today, I took issue with Hugh Hewitt, holding that Mitt Romney did not lock up the nomination with his Sunshine State victory and contended that Rick Santorum had, in “the wake of his February hat trick, winning Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri all on the same day, . . . a read chance to capture the Republican nomination.”
He did well on that day as well as in a number of primaries and caucuses over the succeeding seven weeks, galvanizing evangelicals and convincing voters looking for a “credible conservative candidate” that he is the man they’re looking for. This cycle, we on the right have long longed for an alternative with records like those of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan or rhetoric like that of such leaders as U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla) and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, all putting forward policies or articulating ideas in accord with the Reaganite principles of small government and individual liberty.
Perhaps had Santorum focused on those unifying principles, instead of letting himself be diverted by media questions on social issues, important to many Republicans voters, but anathema to others, he might not find himself today struggling to win his home state. If the Pennsylvanian, after his early February victories, A.B. Stoddard contends, had kept his focus, for example, on Romney’s supposed weakness on health care, he might have changed the dynamic of the race:
It was the pivotal moment in the race none of the Romney rivals who preceded him had achieved — and Santorum blew it. He veered off course, and out of this millennium, enthusiastically bemoaning birth-control pills, free prenatal testing and college education. He insulted Obama, calling him a snob, and President Kennedy. Santorum, a devout Catholic, said Kennedy’s insistence on a strong separation of church and state made him want to throw up.
Given the tendency of the legacy media to magnify such statements, Santorum appeared oblivious to the real concerns of American voters and more interested in discussions that many Americans, including large pluralities of Republicans, believe beyond the purview of politics. He failed to establish himself as a conservative in the mold of Ronald Reagan or even Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, the latter, to be sure, a social conservative, but a disciplined candidate, able to keep his campaign focus on the fiscal issues of greatest concern to his constituents.
Santorum, simply put, failed to convince enough conservatives of his Reaganite bona fides. No wonder Jonathan S. Tobin writes, “The reason why Romney is going to be the nominee has more to do with the failure of a credible conservative candidate to enter the race than any machinations by a mythical establishment.”
Instead of rambling on last night about that supposed establishment, Santorum would have been wise to make a strong case for unifying conservative principles — as he has in the past. He did himself no favors by attacking certain segments of his party — whose votes who would need should he somehow secure the nomination).
He failure was similar to that of Jon Huntsman, but from the opposite direction. The former Utah governor, even though he had a conservative record as governor and ran on a conservative platform, all too often attacked the conservative direction of his party. Santorum attacked (what he deemed) the establishment who favored, in his view, a more moderate nominee.
Had either candidate kept his focus on the conservative economic policies he advocated, both might be facing off today for the delegates still at stake in the current contest for the Republican nomination.