I wonder what Abe would have thought of it all.
Of course Mitt Romney won Illinois, Land of Lincoln. If you had to pick one phrase to describe Mitt Romney’s strengths, they are “getting small numbers of people somewhat excited.” That was all the Illinois primary demanded. In general, conventional wisdom has it that Illinois candidates have to be exciting enough to raise the dead in order to secure the vote totals required. But this time there was no need.
2012 provided the lowest turnout in the past 70 years — just 24 percent, according to an election official. So much for all this Most Important Election In Your Lifetime hype. The trouble with this particular bit of hype is that the only people who call the race the Most Important Election In Your Lifetime are the ones currently running in it. But that’s okay, Lincoln didn’t have a massive turnout either, if only because the population was much smaller 150-odd years ago.
Sure, Lincoln’s Gettysburg address had several advantages over both candidates’ speeches Tuesday evening: He spoke with notes (unlike Rick Santorum) and he stopped speaking after just over two minutes (unlike either Santorum or Romney). But at least no one tried to pull an Edward Everett.
Romney gave his usual speech about making your future better by getting government out of the way.
Santorum, already moving on from the Land of Lincoln to that other famous Lincolnian site of Gettysburg, Pa., was full of his usual meandering vim.
Borrowing a page from the Book of Newt, he called this the most important election since 1860. I’m not certain I would go that far (nor did Illinois voters seem willing to). I certainly don’t think that any stymied voters will secede, except possibly for the small minority who are still voting for Rick Perry.
Lincoln split logs. The candidates split hairs and, occasionally, infinitives.
Santorum has several well-established chips that have started to make themselves comfortable and put down roots on his shoulder, struggling mightily to get through the vest. He complained about government condescension. He complained about the adriftness of the nation. He even complained about the use of teleprompters. He needn’t have worried.
Romney didn’t use his teleprompter so much as misread it from time to time, swapping “humbled” in for “humble” at one point and misreading some paper notes about Steve Jobs. Santorum has never, it is true, felt any impulse to retain the services of a teleprompter, no matter how earnestly we hope or fervently we pray that this might cease to be the case. Speeches given with a teleprompter may be bad, but you know that eventually they will come to an end. Santorum’s speeches give no such assurance.
It’s hard to compare them to the Bearded Marvel.
Lincoln didn’t spend millions of dollars on negative television barrages, if only because the medium did not yet exist. And Lincoln had only one surviving son, which puts him well behind either of the top present contenders where it counts. Of the present contenders, Newt Gingrich has dibs on his debating style.
And perhaps, these days, he is too busy hunting vampires to care.
What to do?
Santorum’s a bull in a china shop. Romney’s a bulletin point presentation in a china shop. Neither is quite what the occasion demands. The ideal china shop customer is Ronald Reagan, who is careful with the breakable items and speaks warmly, yet respectfully, to the proprietor, then takes a handful of jellybeans from the glass dish and leaves prosperity in his wake. But Reagans are so hard to come by.
Lincolns, for that matter, are still harder.