Those Endless GOP Primaries: Are We There Yet?
February 28, 8:22 p.m. I had a feeling I’d be called back to active duty today… the pull of a pivotal primary night has yanked me back to the blogosphere after a three-week respite from American politics.
It was a pleasant three weeks, I have to tell you. I went on a sunset hike with my son, helped him build a World War II bomber out of imitation Lego blocks made in Poland (and consoled him when it kept falling apart), started a perfect fireplace fire and actually made s’mores, visited with old friends, bought myself a new digital camera with a built-in 14x telephoto lens, saw “The Artist” on the big screen, and watched the 2012 Oscar ceremony until I nodded off just before they announced the biggest awards.
When it came time to start writing again, I felt like a man who had glimpsed heaven during a near-death experience. “But I’m so happy here… DO I HAVE TO GO BACK?”
Apparently I did. The political angels have whisked me back to earth, and here I stand, for better or worse — just as Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are duking it out for electoral supremacy in Michigan and Arizona.
Poor Romney (not that he needs our pity) must have been breaking a sweat for the first time in his charmed life. Here he was, the Favored One, strong of jaw and steely of eye, nearly as rich as Oprah, a political scion with an impressive track record of his own… and he still couldn’t seem to put away the boyish challenger from Pennsylvania… that dogged working-class religious zealot with no Ivy League connections… a guy who lost his last senatorial bid by 18 points, for gosh sakes!
To make matters worse, Romney was struggling to win Michigan, his own home state… the place where he addressed a mostly empty stadium and reassured his audience that his wife “drives a couple of Cadillacs.” C’mon… what does it take to impress these folks?
Maybe we all need to take Santorum a little more seriously, even if Romney sweeps both Michigan and Arizona tonight (and it appears that he will). Why does a man who rails against contraceptives have any relevance in 2012? What does he have that Romney doesn’t?
A clear set of values, for one. Americans like clarity in their politicians. The subtleties of a Jimmy Carter or even a Barack Obama tend to confound them and turn them off.
Santorum isn’t subtle. Just as important, he champions the vanishing virtues of old-time churchgoing America: plain, sincere, unvarnished religious certainty during an era of moral upheaval and perceived degeneracy. So what if he’s more Catholic than the Pope, or that his stance against birth control is both pigheaded and irresponsible as the world’s burgeoning human population threatens to gobble up what’s left of the planet’s resources? He dares to stand tough for the cause of Christianity when both the government and the cultural left seem intent on pushing it into a corner.
The secularists among us tend to forget that in the lands beyond the suburban commuter routes, Americans still worship what H. L. Mencken called “the powers and principalities of the air.” These hardy traditionalists tend to believe that heaven and hell are real places, that angels and devils exist in eternal combat, and that every word of the Bible is divinely inspired truth. Why wouldn’t they listen to an earnest, big-hearted spokesman for their embattled creed?
Part of me responds to Santorum’s eloquent populist call for a return to traditional values. Dismiss me as a fossil if you like, but I miss the kindly, sane, congenial middle-class America of my youth. It was a time when words like character, loyalty, honor and virtue weren’t yet lampooned and made ridiculous by our pop-culture snarkmeisters.
Where I differ from Santorum is that I would never presume to impose my values on everyone else. I recognize that not everyone would thrive in Beaver Cleaver’s world. And of course, not everyone subscribes to the Vatican’s hard-line position on birth control and abortion.
Well, CNN has just announced that Romney has won Michigan. It’s close but decisive… and it was a must-win for the Mittster, though the delegates will be split in this winner-doesn’t-take-all contest. As for Arizona, Romney seems to have romped with help from a supporter named John McCain.
So are we there yet? Does Michigan effectively signal the end of this amusing but seemingly interminable GOP road trip? Can we talk about “Romnevitability” once again?
Not so fast. Despite his double victory tonight, Romney still hasn’t won the love of his fellow Republicans. Nobody knows where he really stands on the issues — only that he’ll say anything to capture votes. (Of course, it doesn’t help that every GOP candidate today has to bow and scrape to the whims of the Tea Party.) The man outspent Santorum six to one in his home state and still had to settle for a three-point margin of victory. He’s essentially a Republican John Kerry, a man so out of touch with Middle America that he makes Thurston Howell III look like a populist.
Romney’s recent rich-man gaffes could fill a Saturday Night Live comedy skit. Aside from the “couple of Cadillacs” remark, he ruffled feathers during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression by publicly admitting that “I’m not concerned about the very poor” and “I like being able to fire people.” Or how about his $10,000 bet with former candidate Rick Perry… or his insistence that “Corporations are people, my friend”? It won’t be easy for an unabashed plutocrat to persuade downtrodden Americans that he’s on their side. FDR he’s not.
Is Santorum finished? Don’t bet on it. Despite some serious gaffes of his own (recalling that JFK’s speech on the separation of church and state made him want to “throw up,” or that Obama is “a snob” for endorsing college education), he nearly pulled off a game-changing upset in Michigan. He won, not surprisingly, among Michgan’s union members, those earning under $50,000, Catholics, white fundamentalist Christians, and those without a college degree.
Santorum is an extreme long-shot to win his party’s nomination, but he could stay in the race long enough to dog Romney and further weaken him for his prime-time campaign against President Obama. He’ll go on railing against the secularists, empathizing with ordinary working folk and making Romney look as inauthentic as possible. As far as the Democrats are concerned, that might be Santorum’s ultimate service to his country.