Santorum makes the case against Mitt Romney’s “electability”

posted at 1:55 pm on January 12, 2012 by Tina Korbe

At a townhall event in South Carolina yesterday evening, Rick Santorum suggested that Mitt Romney really doesn’t have any special claim to electability. According to Santorum, Romney — as the preordained, “establishment,” moderate candidate — actually resembles, say, John McCain or Bob Dole (both South Carolina victors, by the way) more than he does Ronald Reagan. CNN Political Ticker reports:

“Governor Romney – he’s run three races, lost two,” Santorum said, touting his own electoral success in traditionally Democratic Pennsylvania.

“The first race he ran as a liberal, lost to Ted Kennedy. And he actually claimed to be to the left of Ted Kennedy on many issues when he did that. Secondly he ran as a moderate and got elected in Massachusetts – didn’t run for reelection. And then ran for president as a conservative. So it’s sort of multiple choice.”

Santorum then scoffed at claims that Romney is the most “electable” candidate.

“I love this – so he’s the most electable. Says who? Where’s he ever proven that?,” the former senator asked. “He’s the most electable because the establishment feels comfortable with him. Right? That’s it. Well they’re not going to feel comfortable with me.”

Santorum isn’t the first to make the case that his electoral record is equally as strong or stronger than Romney’s. Quin Hillyer of the Center for Individual Freedom has written the same:

Usually, at this level, past performance is as good an indicator as anything else. Well, Romney’s past electoral performance is decidely weak. In 1994, as Rick Santorum was pulling an upset to win a Senate seat in Pennsylvania, Romney was getting crushed by Ted Kennedy — in a race where Kennedy actually was seen, even three weeks out, to be far more vulnerable than usual, because the tawdriness of his nephew’s late-1991 rape trial (and his role therein) combined with the overall tawdriness of his long-running behavior, combined with a nationwide revolt against Democrats, made Massachusetts voters unusually open (according to all sorts of polls and focus groups) to replacing him. But, again, Romney got absolutely crushed.

In 2002, Romney won the governorship; in 2006, he chickened out of running for re-election; and in 2008, despite all sorts of financial advantages, he found a way to lose the Republican nomination fairly decisively to a seriously underfunded John McCain, losing a long string of individual primaries in the process.

So, overall, his electoral record is 1-2 — or, if you count each state in 2008 as a separate contest, which might not be exactly fair, he’s something like 2-17. …

Which leaves, again, Santorum, having won four of five elections and overperformed so far on the presidential stage, and Romney, having so far lost two of three elections and badly underperformed on the presidential stage. So it makes no sense at all to assume that Romney is more electable in the fall against Barack Obama’s $800 million.

At the website RealReaganConservative.com, “Jack from Manhattan” makes a similar point:

The most insulting thing to conservatives about this argument is that it says that conservatism and electability are mutually exclusive. History says otherwise. Ronald Reagan, the standard bearer of modern conservatism, was unelectable. He was too conservative, a reactionary, and a deluded old fool who would bring about a nuclear war.

Of course he won two back-to-back landslides (44 and 49 states, respectively), and he did it, not by being a moderate, or seizing the center. No, on the contrary, Reagan did what Mark Steyn best describes. As Steyn points out, Reagan did not win by moving to the center. Rather, he moved the center towards him. That, Steyn says, is why Reagan was great. He knew how to speak to independents and centrists without losing his principles in the mix. He was a conservative who could move the center.

Romney has no such record. Candidates who have had success doing this are the unelectable Rick Santorum (in Pennsylvania, every bit as blue as Massachusetts, where he was successful in doing it four times) and the unelectable Michele Bachmann (in Minnesota, also every bit as blue as Massachusetts, where she was successful in doing it three times).

After New Hampshire, pundits proclaimed Santorum’s chances of actually winning the nomination to be slim to none. Polls show that Romney leads in South Carolina and Florida. That’s fine with me if voters actually prefer Mitt Romney to Rick Santorum and the other candidates — but if Romney is pulling away from the pack just because voters think he’s the most “electable,” that’s weak. Like many voters, my first priority is to beat Obama with anyone to the right of him — but, unlike many voters with that priority, I don’t necessarily think the way to do that is to try to predict a candidate’s electability. Instead, I’d rather we pick a candidate who can effectively make the case for conservatism to voters who might not otherwise hear it. Maybe that is Romney; his history at Bain has already begun an important debate about capitalism, and Romney is on the right side of it. But maybe it isn’t. Yes, national polls have indicated Romney is the only candidate who could beat Obama in a head-to-head match-up, but flip-flops are a significantly exploitable liability in the general no less than in a primary, whereas principled conviction is always attractive. No question Santorum has been more consistent than Romney — and that matters.


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