wpostServer: http://css.washingtonpost.com/wpost2

Most Read: Opinions

direct signup

Today’s Opinions poll

Should Congress deal with the immigration crisis -- tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors at the border -- before its August recess?

Submit
Next
Review your answers and share
Right Turn
Posted at 10:00 AM ET, 01/05/2012

10 potholes Santorum needs to steer around

Rick Santorum has a host of challenges ahead of him. He needs to do well in New Hampshire, get ads up in South Carolina and Florida, start raising big money, qualify for the ballot in future contests, prep for the debates and introduce himself to voters who know little abut him. It’s daunting, but his improbable run is not an impossible one. It would help if he avoided 10 mistakes.

First, only the sunny Santorum need show up. He was glowing, humble and gentle in his Iowa speech Tuesday night to supporters. He needs to keep that demeanor, not revert to the impatient and sometimes aggrieved figure we saw in the debates. That means answering pointed, even nasty, questions calmly and politely. It means being gracious to opponents. And as his wife often reminds him, smiling more.

Second, he shouldn’t assume voters know anything about him. He spent months in Iowa telling voters who he is and what he believes. He’ll need now to do the speed-dating version of that in a succession of states. Most critical for him is to explain his jobs and economic agenda.

Third, he shouldn’t take the debates lightly. He’ll get many more tough questions about his record and his views than he has seen until now. He should carve out some time to let his advisers pepper him with tough questions. He would make a mistake to think he’s got the debate routine down. He’s never experienced a debate like the ones he’ll encounter this weekend.

Fourth, on Tuesday night he expressed pride in his ability to adhere to principle and not pander to audiences. But neither should he strain to be the “perfect” conservative (as if there were such a thing). His competitors have significant flaws; he needs simply to be better than they. He should ignore the purists and the pundits egging him on to shove aside his unique themes (family and economy) and tut-tutting him for believing that government can do good things.

Fifth, he should avoid the Newt Gingrich anti-capitalism trap. He shouldn’t slam Romney for getting rich or chide Jon Huntsman for his family’s wealth. He’s not going to win points by playing into a redistributionist mentality. He will succeed in adhering to his philosophy and explaining his policies that aim to lift people out of poverty, promote social mobility, encourage the work ethic and constrain excessive government regulation.

Sixth, if Santorum thinks some of his Senate votes were a mistake, he should say so and move on. (Perhaps he didn’t appreciate how ineffective and oppressive No Child Left Behind would become.) However, when his votes don’t match up with conservative orthodoxy but he believes the policies were right, he should say so. (Medicare D, which he supported, is the only entitlement program which has come in below cost estimates and promoted market reform.)

Seventh, he shouldn't obsess about New Hampshire. Romney is going to win by a lot. So long as Santorum finishes in second or third, he will keep the momentum going and continue raising money. He should make clear to his supporters what is attainable and then make the most of the time he has there.

Eighth, concede nothing in South Carolina. In 2008, Sen. John McCain won in the state’s moderate, coastal areas and captured the military vote. Santorum can certainly appeal to the vets and active-duty personnel, and his message on school choice and fiscal sobriety should attract some votes in the suburbs. He’s not going to have the social conservative electorate to himself, so he’s got to try, as he did in Iowa, to peel off some of the potential Romney voters.

Ninth, he should avoid the temptation to spend oodles of time on national TV. New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida media are, right now, a more direct and effective way of reaching the voters he’ll need in the next month. “Meet the Press” can wait.

And finally, Santorum should resist the urge to stock up on advisers, aides and hangers-on. He needs fundraisers, organizers and advance men, but he’s gotten this far without a slew of consultants. If he manages to survive January, there’ll be time enough to meet with policy experts and strategists. For now he doesn’t need to listen to a cacophony of voices.

Even if he does all this right, Santorum still could well lose. He’s the underdog, after all. But he can make a real run at the nomination and, in the process, do himself, his party, the conservative movement and, if it’s not him, the eventual nominee a lot of good. He can remind conservatives that politics is about people and that conservative policies should be crafted with an appreciation for their impact on the everyday lives of Americans in diverse situations.

Republicans can get awfully theoretical and sterile in their approach. Santorum can remind the entire field that politics is also about emotion, connection, inspiration and faith.

By  |  10:00 AM ET, 01/05/2012

Categories:  2012 campaign

 
Read what others are saying
     

    © 2011 The Washington Post Company