A change in tone from Santorum?

posted at 12:10 pm on March 29, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

As we move through the halftime break in the Republican nomination process, all of the campaigns have an opportunity to retool their strategies, or even rethink their possibilities.  The New York Times reports that Rick Santorum has tweaked his approach on the stump, moving away from hard attacks on Mitt Romney and focusing more on Barack Obama:

Rick Santorum has eased up on using phrases like “worst Republican in the country” when tearing into Mitt Romney. And he is no longer saying that a vote for Mr. Romney would be basically the same thing as a vote for President Obama.

Meet subdued Santorum.

After several highly publicized remarks that left many in his party questioning whether he had crossed the line in attacking a fellow Republican, Mr. Santorum has struggled to find the balance between being a tenacious underdog and leaving himself open to criticism that he is just an embittered also-ran.

He still reserves plenty of derision for Mr. Romney, mocking him repeatedly as the “Etch A Sketch” candidate whose conservative values are malleable and insincere. But in campaign speeches across Wisconsin the past few days he has directed more of that outrage at Mr. Obama, particularly over the issue of government-mandated health care.

He is now refraining from more pointed language. Mr. Romney is “uniquely disqualified,” as Mr. Santorum has mildly put it, to make the argument for conservatives that Mr. Obama’s health care plan should be repealed.

The opening lead is rather dishonest, and seems to be intended to provide cover for NYT colleague Jeff Zeleny, who got chewed out by Santorum for twisting his words on the stump.  Jeffrey Peters’ link to the source for the quote “worst Republican in the country” goes to the NYT’s Caucus Blog, which actually gets the quote correct, emphasis mine — ironically, a post written by Zeleny:

Rick Santorum urged Republicans here Sunday evening to carefully study the record of Mitt Romney, declaring: “He is the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama.”

That’s hardly the same thing as calling Romney “the worst Republican in the country,” and Santorum relates it directly to Romney’s health-care reform in Massachusetts in a year when Republicans can expect to attack Obama on ObamaCare.  That’s hardly outside the bounds of debate over the nomination; it’s a concern conservatives have had since the beginning of the nomination process.  That doesn’t mean Romney can’t make the case for himself, and he has — even here on my show as recently as last week — but Santorum’s criticism of Romney’s record is hardly unique within the Republican Party, and hardly the sharpest offered in that vein, either.

Still, critics of Santorum have accused him of being too shrill, especially since it appears that Romney has the only chance of winning the nomination in the primary process.  Recently, Santorum said he’d consider a running-mate slot on the GOP ticket, which means that he’d have to tone down his rhetoric sooner or later anyway.  And if a recent poll in Pennsylvania is accurate, it will have to be sooner rather than later.  Salena Zito interviewed a few political analysts (including myself) about Santorum’s prospects in the race nationally and in Pennsylvania, and what a loss in the Keystone State would mean:

Republican strategist Brad Todd said Santorum faces a tough series of contests before Pennsylvania, especially primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

“I think with Wisconsin, it will be hard to stitch a narrative together, even by his most ardent backers, if he loses there to go on,” said Todd, noting polls show Santorum trailing Romney by 8 percentage points in the Badger State. “The support isn’t there for him. Losing another blue-collar, Catholic-rich Midwestern state to Mitt Romney isn’t a good story to tell.” ….

The campaign should end before the April 24 primary here if the former senator continues to slide in opinion polls and lose other primaries, said Ed Morrissey, editor of the widely read conservative blog, Hot Air.

“Losing in Pennsylvania not only finishes him in the race, but it may finish him for good,” said Morrissey, who caucused for Santorum last week in Minnesota.

Of course, it’s worth pointing out that the FMC poll showed Santorum still leading by two points in Pennsylvania, but that was a 13-point drop from the previous month’s poll in the FMC series.  We won’t likely see a Rasmussen, Survey USA, or PPP poll from Pennsylvania until after next week’s primaries, but a further collapse in support there should have Santorum considering whether it would be better for his future prospects to avoid an embarrassing home-state defeat by withdrawing.  Santorum will be 54 years old in May, which would make him 58 in 2016 if Republicans lose this election, and 62 in 2020 if they win.  He has plenty of time to build strength and try again later, but another home-state loss added to the 2006 result might reinforce the notion that Santorum simply can’t sustain a campaign.

Joe Trippi, who ran Howard Dean’s campaign in 2003-4, understands why Santorum may not want to consider those issues:

“It is very hard to pull out of that once you start to taste victory,” Trippi said. “I understand the human difficulty of walking away.”

If Santorum can’t win Pennsylvania, then the nomination race is over anyway.  If it looks like his support is truly collapsing after next week’s primaries, it might be time for rethinking rather than retooling.  If Santorum can win in Wisconsin, though, Pennsylvania will suddenly look a lot brighter.


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Comment pages: 1 2 3

Gunlock Bill on March 29, 2012 at 3:31 PM

jimver on March 29, 2012 at 3:26 PM

Ok, which one of you Mittbot azzes will pick on special needs people now.

Danielvito on March 29, 2012 at 3:42 PM

Their is a special place in hell for people like you mittbot!

Danielvito on March 29, 2012 at 3:22 PM

Don’t get me started talking about hell Danielvito…

the only hell I know is in trying to discern what you’re saying.

SauerKraut537 on March 29, 2012 at 3:45 PM

SauerKraut537 on March 29, 2012 at 3:45 PM

Mittbot, discern this, your buddy Gunlock Bill insulted special needs kids with his invented term ABRtards. You having a problem with me rather than your soulmate says alot more about you than me.

By the way, not one mittbot, called out gunlock bill about his term ABRtards.

Danielvito on March 29, 2012 at 3:48 PM

Nobody called him out because there was nothing to call out. He newt insulted kids. You’re inventing. Is the term Mittard insulting? Or palintard? I don’t think so, childish maybe, but insulting special needs? Please.

Rusty Allen on March 29, 2012 at 3:53 PM

I guess JannieMae must be stumped. Here’s the answer: Basilbeast posted his first comment after the offensive keyboard comment. You were wrong to assume he had read all prior comments.

Buy Danish on March 29, 2012 at 3:57 PM

Mittbot, discern this, your buddy Gunlock Bill insulted special needs kids with his invented term ABRtards. You having a problem with me rather than your soulmate says alot more about you than me.

By the way, not one mittbot, called out gunlock bill about his term ABRtards.

Danielvito on March 29, 2012 at 3:48 PM

See my comment below at 1:33 in response to Gunlock Bill…

Gunlock Bill on March 29, 2012 at 1:27 PM

I’m certainly not perfect and I devolve into name calling on occasion but at least try to ignore the #ricks Bill. i’m trying to turn over a new leaf…

Does name calling open up the minds of others to where they can hear you or does it close their minds such that what you need to say gets muted by the name calling?

Everyone, relax a little.

Ideas can be discussed but name calling raises it to a whole other level don’t you think?

SauerKraut537 on March 29, 2012 at 1:33 PM

SauerKraut537 on March 29, 2012 at 3:58 PM

I said newt.

Rusty Allen on March 29, 2012 at 3:58 PM

Mittbot, discern this, your buddy Gunlock Bill insulted special needs kids with his invented term ABRtards. You having a problem with me rather than your soulmate says alot more about you than me.

By the way, not one mittbot, called out gunlock bill about his term ABRtards.

Danielvito on March 29, 2012 at 3:48 PM

As for your assertion that he insulted special needs kids… That’s a bit disingenuous isn’t it? Do you really think he was intending to insult retards?

He was insulting people who’d insulted him and his previous comments and his integrity by calling him Mittbots.

Maybe if you weren’t such an overly emotional #rick he wouldn’t do so.

Maybe he’s just exasperated at the constant insinuations that he’s the irrational person for supporting Romney which is all anyone who’s supported has gotten from the Not Romney supporters since day one of this primary season.

Grow up Daniel.

SauerKraut537 on March 29, 2012 at 4:04 PM

O

k, which one of you Mittbot azzes will pick on special needs people now.

Danielvito on March 29, 2012 at 3:42 PM

I will be happy to. You are a MORON ABRtard!!!

Take a break, go upstairs and have your mommy get you some milk and cookies.

Gunlock Bill on March 29, 2012 at 4:12 PM

Picking on is no problem, but when you have to use special needs people to get the upper hand it tells EVERYONE more about you mittbots than anything I can say,

Danielvito on March 29, 2012 at 3:39 PM

“Picking on is” ????

You are losing it.

Put on some pants and go upstairs and have you mommy get you some milk and cookies.

You will feel much better.

Gunlock Bill on March 29, 2012 at 4:23 PM

Rasmussen Maryland 2012 GOP Primary Poll

Mitt Romney 45%
Rick Santorum 28%
Newt Gingrich 12%
Ron Paul 7%
Some other candidate 2%
Undecided 6%

ABRtards, “55% are voting against Romney.”

Gunlock Bill on March 29, 2012 at 4:30 PM

ABRtards, “55% are voting against Romney.”

Gunlock Bill on March 29, 2012 at 4:30 PM

I know it’s fun, and I know you think it’s funny, but at least try to elevate the conversation man.

But you make a good point, and I agree on the fallacious nature of their logic in that regard.

SauerKraut537 on March 29, 2012 at 4:39 PM

Wah! Wah! Some of you are insulting robots! Unfair!

But seriously, folks, there is no need to start spouting a bunch of crap about special needs people. No reason for it.

After all, it’s purely coincidence that Santorum does best in the states with highest incidences of inbreeding.

Adjoran on March 29, 2012 at 5:12 PM

Rasmussen Maryland 2012 GOP Primary Poll

Mitt Romney 45%
Rick Santorum 28%
Newt Gingrich 12%
Ron Paul 7%
Some other candidate 2%
Undecided 6%

ABRtards, “55% are voting against Romney.”

Gunlock Bill on March 29, 2012 at 4:30 PM

Thank you. Rasmussen has Mitt up by 2 over Obama and Santorum down by 2. Tina Korbe will be all over this in seconds.

Rasmussen

Basilsbest on March 29, 2012 at 5:45 PM

But seriously, folks, there is no need to start spouting a bunch of crap about special needs people. No reason for it.

After all, it’s purely coincidence that Santorum does best in the states with highest incidences of inbreeding.

Adjoran on March 29, 2012 at 5:12 PM

Speak for yourself. WillardBot.

Dunedainn on March 29, 2012 at 6:43 PM

Put on some pants and go upstairs and have you mommy get you some milk and cookies.

You will feel much better.

Gunlock Bill on March 29, 2012 at 4:23 PM

Take off the straitjacket and go outside and have the warden get you some warm soup filled with motherly love.

You will feel much better.

Dunedainn on March 29, 2012 at 6:44 PM

Well … I see not much has changed …. I think I will find out threads
to frequent …. cuz no one is changing anyones mind ….
and all this is a waste of bandwith .. time and effort …
have fun all ….

conservative tarheel on March 29, 2012 at 7:17 PM

Change in tone my @ss…Santorum just accused Romney of having a liberal media machine. If anything, the libs have been propping him up for months.

rubberneck on March 29, 2012 at 7:23 PM

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