Santorum Sits

Today Rick Santorum announced that he was “suspending” his campaign.

Apparently “suspending” is the new word that political candidates use when they have lost, run out of money, or are otherwise unable to continue their campaigns.  They don’t withdraw, they don’t concede . . . they just “suspend.”  The word suggests that, at some indeterminate point in the future, Santorum’s campaign could suddenly spring to life again, along with the other “suspended” campaigns that might rise, zombie-like, and start chewing through the skulls of American voters hoping to consumer more of that delicious brain tissue.

There is value in an old-fashioned concession speech.  You show grace and class.  You acknowledge that the winner beat you, fair and square.  Such speeches tend to legitimize the process.  After a hard-fought campaign, a well-prepared and well-delivered concession speech ends the acrimony, emphasizes common values and interests, and pledges to work together toward common goals.

“Suspension” speeches, in contrast, just allow the loser to pat himself on the back and try to frame the narrative for a failed campaign — without accomplishing any of the classy and salutary  benefits of a graceful concession speech.

In this case, for example, Santorum’s “suspension” speech apparently did not even mention, much less congratulate, Mitt Romney, the man who beat him.  That tells me a lot about Rick Santorum.

Inexplicable Vanity, And Santorum’s Folly

Last night Mitt Romney won three more primaries, in Maryland, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.  He is now even farther ahead in the race for delegates — so far ahead, in fact, that his nearest challenger, Rick Santorum, would need to win 80 percent of the remaining delegates to win the nomination.  Does anyone — outside of the Santorum family, perhaps — seriously think we are on the brink of the tidal wave of previously undetected support for Rick Santorum needed for that to happen?  Nevertheless, Santorum has vowed to continue the race.

That kind of stubborn and inexplicable vanity, I think, is one thing that distinguishes politicians from normal human beings.  Why does Santorum think that he is so special that he must continue a race that is, for all practical purposes, already ended?  He was crushed in his last general election, when he sought reelection to his Senate seat in Pennsylvania.  He’s now been beaten in the majority of the primaries and caucuses in this 2012 primary season.  Why doesn’t he go gently into that good night?

The problem, I suspect, is that politicians spend most of their time in a cocoon of staffers, supporters, and sycophants.  They go to rallies where people cheer their every word.  Everyone they encounter tells them they are great, and they come to believe it.  And when election results are inconsistent with that belief, the results are rationalized away as the result of unlucky national trends, or being outspent, or ineffective advertising, or other factors that don’t reflect on the politicians themselves.  They cling to the belief that if only voters really knew them and truly understood their positions, they would be elected by acclamation.

I can’t psychoanalyze Rick Santorum.  The same goes for Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, who also are continuing their quixotic campaigns.  They all need to realize, however, that they aren’t essential to the future of our republic.  Voters do understand them and their positions and have decided to vote for someone else.

They also need to consider one other point:  voters make judgments not only on the basis of TV commercials and debate blunders, but also because they weigh whether the candidate’s conduct seems to reflect the qualities we think a President should possess.  Being unable to recognize reality isn’t one of them.

My God, Are The Republicans Still Playing?

I haven’t paid much attention to the Republican presidential primary race lately.  In light of March Madness, has anyone?  The Republicans are like a Sweet Sixteen team that has played two dreadfully boring early-round games and then gets overlooked in the talk about the upcoming games.  You sort of think:  “Wow — are they still around?”

They are.  The Republicans just had a primary in Illinois.  Mitt Romney won and continues to slowly build a huge lead in delegates.  Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich each advise the others to exit the race and then vow to continue to the convention.  In short, not much as changed.

You wonder what the Republicans really have to talk about, after so many debates and straw polls and caucuses and primaries.  An answer of sorts lies in the fact that today’s big news is about a comment made by a Mitt Romney advisor who said the general election is like taking an Etch A Sketch, shaking it, and then starting all over in the fall.  Romney’s rivals pounced on the remark and said it reflected Romney’s plan to reinvent himself for the general election.  Both Gingrich and Santorum took Etch A Sketches to their rallies today as props.

Really, guys?  Etch A Sketches?  The NCAA Tournament is a lot more interesting, and now it seems a lot less frivolous.

Ohio, Ready To Swing

Tomorrow Americans across the land will vote in Super Tuesday primary elections.  Ohio — the prototypical swing state — is once again ready to swing.

The latest polls show that the race between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney in the Ohio Republican presidential primary is too close to call.  The polls indicate that Romney has made up a fair amount of ground over the past few days and is doing well with late-deciding voters. There also are indications that Ohioans are not exactly straining at the leash to address “social issues” and would rather that the focus remain on the economy.

I’m not surprised by any of these results.  Although Ohio has some folks at the extreme ends of the political spectrum, in my experience most Ohioans are middle-of-the-road, pragmatic people.  They don’t seek out conflict.  They are fully capable of having a political conversation with a friend or co-worker who has a different political viewpoint without seeing the discussion devolve into name-calling or cheap shots.  Ohioans largely keep to themselves and expect their neighbors to do likewise.  And, if they think there is a problem, they just want to fix it, without paying too much attention to who gets the credit.

This year, Ohioans know all too well that the economy has been poor, and they are interested in seeing how that problem can be fixed.  I expect that tomorrow’s results will give the country a pretty good idea of which Republican candidate middle America thinks is best suited to that job.

Santorum And Satan

I’ve been hearing Rick Santorum ads over the past few days.  It’s clear that his focus — and the means by which he attempts to distinguish himself from his Republican rivals — is “social issues.” Even his economic plans are couched as a way of “helping families,” by which he clearly means traditional, married, husband-and-wife led families.

I don’t subscribe to Santorum’s ultra-traditional views of how life should be lived or families should be structured.  I’m also concerned by the overt nature of his religious beliefs.  I heard clips of a speech he gave some time ago in which he talked about “Satan” targeting and attacking the United States and its institutions, and it made me very uncomfortable.  When was the last time we had a presidential candidate talking openly about “Satan”?  If a random guy at the airport was talking about “Satan” in the way Santorum did in that speech, wouldn’t most of us give that guy a very wide berth?

Santorum is of course entitled to his views, but his emphasis on religion and issues like gay marriage and contraception are a problem for me.  I’m not quite a libertarian, because I do think there is a limited, appropriate role for government under certain circumstances, but I don’t think the government should be lecturing us or or directing us or judging us so long as we live lawfully.  I suspect that any government led by Santorum would be as intrusive and overreaching into our daily lives as the Obama Administration has been — just in a different way and with a different focus.

In my view, we don’t need a President who fancies himself a spiritual leader.  We need a President who will roll up his sleeves and deal effectively with our enormous, structural deficit and debt problems.  Achieving that goal requires someone who can bring people together, not someone whose forays into “social” issues — and ruminations about the latest nefarious activities of Old Scratch — push people apart and prevent us from achieving the consensus necessary to do the job.

What Price Political Endorsements?

One good thing about this year’s seemingly endless Republican presidential campaign — it has demonstrated, clearly and conclusively, how empty and meaningless political “endorsements” really are.

We know this because Rick Santorum endorsed Mitt Romney in 2008, saying that Romney was the clear conservative candidate who could be trusted.  Now Santorum is arguing that Romney is a wimpy flip-flopper who couldn’t possibly be expected to govern in accordance with conservative principles.  What has changed?  Not much — other than that now Santorum is running against Romney for the 2012 Republican nomination.

We should all be grateful to Santorum for giving us such a powerful demonstration of how silly endorsements are.  Which really reflects Santorum’s beliefs — his wholehearted statements of support for Romney in 2008, or his strong criticisms of Romney in 2012?  The correct answer, in all likelihood, is neither.  In 2008, Santorum probably wanted to weigh in on the race — because it is hard for any career politician to remain fully on the sidelines — and to have a chit in the bank if Romney won.  In 2012, Santorum has been possessed by his own lust for national office, and he’s not going to let his past statements get in the way of his ambitions.

It’s hard for me to believe that any voter attaches much weight to endorsements.  After Santorum’s abrupt about-face, no voter should.  Whether they come from Republicans or Democrats, political endorsements are the product of calculation, not conviction.

The Republican Campaign Rolls Into The Buckeye State

On March 6, the Ohio Republican primary will be held.  Today, when I was driving to and from Cleveland — more on that later — I heard the first radio ads of the primary season, which means that the vote cannot be far away.

Today a Rasmussen poll reported that Rick Santorum has a big edge over Mitt Romney among Ohio voters.  I don’t question the mechanics of the poll, but I suspect it means very little.  Santorum was the Senator from neighboring Pennsylvania for years, but I think very few people know much else about him.  Those who say they currently support him, I would wager, are expressing support that is probably not much more than skin deep and largely a reflection of their lack of enthusiasm for Mitt Romney.

I’ve not heard anyone in Ohio talking about the Republican candidates in any kind of significant way.  There have been jokes about the peccadilloes and blunders of candidates who have since withdrawn, and some water cooler chatter about the seemingly endless debates, but very little discussion about the candidates’ respective substantive positions or other attributes.

That probably makes Ohio fertile ground for aggressive TV and radio campaigns and the kind of “negative advertising” that everyone bemoans — but that has been proven, repeatedly, to be effective.  In Ohio, the Republican candidates largely remain blank sheets of paper.  What will that paper look like when March 6 finally comes?  Over the next few weeks, I’ll report on what I see and hear in that regard.

Wimping Out In Florida

The big news out of Florida is that Mitt Romney soundly defeated Newt Gingrich in a contest that, by all accounts, featured lots of “negative advertising.”  I think the more interesting story, however, has to do with Rick Santorum and Ron Paul.

Santorum and Paul got clobbered in Florida.  Santorum ended up with 13 percent of the vote, and Paul got 7 percent.  However, they both have a “talking point” at the ready — they explain that they simply chose not to compete.  They’ve decided that they have better prospects in “caucus” states like Nevada that are coming up on the schedule.

It reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry, after winning a footrace by a fluke as a kid, avoids later contests by declaring “I choose not to run.”  It’s as if an NFL team like the Cleveland Browns looked at the schedule in advance and decided they won’t show up for that ball-busting away game at New England.

Santorum and Paul likely don’t have a chance to win; this strategy allows them to hold on to their money, play out the string, and get a few more moments on a stage before an adoring crowd.  But doesn’t it say something about how ridiculous our presidential selection process has become that purportedly viable candidates can pick and choose where they fight and simply skip contested elections in large states like Florida that will be crucial in a general election?  Given the experience in Iowa — where some caucus “results” were lost and Republican Party officials couldn’t even say for sure who won — why are caucuses even used to allocate delegates rather than a primary election?

The presidential delegate selection seems to get tweaked after every election.  How about a rule that says declared candidates have to actually compete in every contest where voters will go into a voting booth and pull the lever for the candidate?

The Race Rolls On, And The Big Issues Linger

The Republican presidential primaries, already seemingly endless, roll on.  With Newt Gingrich’s big win in South Carolina, the race is in disarray.  Gingrich is on the rise, Mitt Romney’s shield of inevitability has been dented, and Ron Paul and Rick Santorum are hanging on.

The focus now moves to Florida.  As has come to be the pattern, that means another debate tonight (No!!!!!!), lots more negative ads, and probably some new revelations before Florida goes to the polls on January 31.  We’ll hear lots of buzz words and scripted retorts and talking points, but what we probably won’t hear is much substantive talk about exactly how the remaining contenders are going to tackle the budget deficit.

You can argue about how we select a President in our country, and whether beginning with states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina makes any sense.  The early primary voters never seem to share my perspective on the big issues of the day, but perhaps that is just a reminder that ours is a large and diverse land where people have many different views.  In Iowa, social issues always seem to take center stage.  In South Carolina, the votes for Gingrich seemed to be motivated, at least in part, by anger — anger at the news media, and anger at President Obama — and a desire to select a candidate who, the voters believe, will cut the President to ribbons in debates.

Social issues just aren’t on my radar screen, I’m not mad at the news media, and scoring debating points with glib jabs at the President isn’t important to me.  Instead, I just want to hear how specifics about the candidates will cut our spending, balance our budget, resolve our debt issues, and get our economy growing again.  Those are the issues that are most important to me and, I think, most important to our country.  Maybe — just maybe — some Floridians share that view.

Curse Of The Corn Dog — A Poem

Yesterday, Michele Bachmann ended her campaign after a bad showing in Iowa.  In reality, she was doomed as soon as she violated a cardinal rule of politics — she was photographed eating a corn dog.  It’s no surprise that Rick Perry, who also has violated that rule, has struggled to attract votes, too.

I’m sure Bachmann rues the day she was tempted by the fatal foodstuff.  In recognition of the end of her campaign, I composed the following verse:

Curse Of The Corn Dog

O!  Curs’d dog, covered in corn

I ate you once, now I’m forlorn

My photograph, with mouth agape,

Became the stuff of cruel jape

The image stuck, was not forgotten

And led to thoughts much misbegotten

I broke the rule of campaign decorum

If only I had been Santorum!

Another Turn Of Fortune’s Wheel In Iowa

Thankfully, the Iowa Republican caucuses are tomorrow.  I don’t think I could take even one more day of breathless reports about the latest polling data.

I’ve written before about how the Iowa polls seem like Fortune’s Wheel — constantly turning, with always-new, surging would-be frontrunners who quickly crash and burn and then are replaced with latest darling.    Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and now Newt Gingrich have all had their time at the top of the wheel, followed by speedy tumbles to the bottom.  According to the final Des Moines Register poll, the latest candidate to catch fire is Rick Santorum, the former Senator from Pennsylvania who is popular among social conservatives.  The poll reports that Santorum has broken into the top three, trailing only Mitt Romney and Ron Paul.  Gingrich, the former flavor of the month, apparently has talked his way back into the pack of also-rans.

The polls make voters in the Hawkeye State seem as silly and fickle as a crush-addled teenager.  Given that, perhaps reporters should stop writing critically about how Romney can’t seem to be break through the 30 percent barrier and write admiringly instead about his ability to steadily retain a solid core of support among an undecided and capricious Iowa electorate.

Surveying The Republican Field

Last week Kish and I turned on CNN at 9 to watch the news and watched, instead, the second half of the Republican candidates debate.  Here are my observations based solely on that limited exposure, moving left to right on the stage.

Rick Santorum:  Desperate for attention.  Consciously staking out the most conservative position on every issue.  (Seriously, the defense budget can’t be cut at all?)  His boast that he was best suited to beat President Obama because he had been elected in a “swing state,” without noting that he got hammered in his bid for reelection, was an eye-roller.

Ron Paul:  Looks like an elf.  Every rational point — like questioning some of our defense spending — was undercut by a nutty statement that makes you wonder what he would do if he actually became President.  It’s a scary proposition.

Hermann Cain:  Not ready for prime time.  Wants to reform the tax code — who doesn’t? — but seems to lack knowledge of foreign policy and other areas of domestic policy.  Repeated himself when he didn’t have anything new to say.  Business experience is great, but political experience is important, too, and Cain doesn’t have it.

Mitt Romney:  Glib, polished, well-prepared.  Calculated, too.  One of the most comfortable candidates on stage.  Gives the impression that there isn’t a question you could ask him that he wouldn’t be able to handle reasonably well.  Acts like he is leading the pack, and he is.

Rick Perry:  Awkward, tongue-tied, and uncomfortable.  Struggled to get out coherent sentences.  Is he  over-prepared or under-prepared, tired, or just not suited to the debate format?  It’s hard to imagine him in a one-on-one meeting with a foreign leader.

Newt Gingrich:  Smart and well-spoken.  His answer describing the silly danger of making automatic cuts if an arbitrary deficit-cutting goal isn’t met was as good an answer as you will hear in an unrehearsed setting.  Capably steered the discussion back to President Obama’s performance, where the Republicans should want it to be.  The most impressive candidate on stage.

Michele Bachmann:  An afterthought.  The answer in which she launched into a naked appeal to women who are worried about losing their homes seemed programmed and over the top.   Trying hard to look like she belongs on the stage.

The part of the debate we watched actually was somewhat interesting.  I might watch the next debate, now that we are getting ever closer to 2012.