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Posted at 02:02 PM ET, 02/23/2012

GOP media figures stick it to Santorum

If you really want to know what impact last night’s GOP debate will have on the GOP nomination process — and on Rick Santorum’s chances of derailing Mitt Romney — forget what mainstream pundits say about it. Look at what conservative media figures are saying.

Here’s why: Even with debate ratings relatively high this year, far more voters are likely to hear sound bites after the fact than they are to sit through the whole thing. Even the memories of those who watched it will fade and recycled sound bites will be what lingers. And for Republican primary voters, that means what Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the rest of the Republican Party press talk about now will matter most. By that standard, Rick Santorum seems to have been a clear loser.

National Review collected a variety of reactions from conservative pundits. Mona Charen called Santorum “the big loser.” Maggie Gallagher said he “appeared defensive, angry, and frustrated.” Hunter Baker worried that he “almost dragged the whole group down.” And elsewhere on the site, Rich Lowry was brutal:

Rick Santorum’s night was defined by explaining why he voted for things he opposed (NCLB, Title X). He’s right that politics is a “team sport” (at least most of the time), but that’s not the best posture to be defending when you’re occupying his slot in a Republican presidential primary. He didn’t know when to let go on the earmark discussion, which he couldn’t possibly win. He gave the best possible defense of his Specter endorsement, but as Romney said it was convoluted. Again and again Santorum got tangled up in his Senate record. Overall, he was too defensive, too insider, too complicated.

If this is what we’re going to hear repeated throughout the GOP-aligned press in the days before the Arizona and Michigan primaries, that’s trouble for Santorum.

This is also why it harms Santorum that he has virtually no prominent support from Republican officials who have endorsed him and are willing to spin for him — the kind of official who may be well-positioned to influence the Republican partisan press. No governors, no senators, nothing.

It’s not that there’s some shadowy “establishment” dictating exactly what will happen in the nomination battle. But party actors matter, and when those party actors are on the same page they can matter a lot. After all, we’re talking here about a party decision; those who have been most active and most committed to the party will ultimately have a greater say. And judging from how it looks this morning, that say is still on track to make Mitt Romney the GOP nominee.

By  |  02:02 PM ET, 02/23/2012

 
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