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Right Turn
Posted at 08:30 AM ET, 02/28/2012

For Romney and Santorum, paths to the nomination

Rick Santorum may lose one or both races today, but that does not mean he is out of the running for the nomination. Likewise, Mitt Romney could win both contests and still face a slow slog to the nomination.

Part of this is attributable to the delegate selection rules, which, after tonight, will still leave the leader more than a thousand delegates short of the 1,144 needed to win the nomination. Moreover, it is highly unlikely that any candidate will sweep Super Tuesday, so even after next week’s contests the race will remain far from “over.” That is not to say that the results tonight won’t affect fundraising, press coverage and polling. But the desire to over-interpret wins and losses should be moderated.

Both Romney and Santorum have challenges ahead. There are a number of concerns both must attend to whether they win or lose tonight.

Let’s start with Romney. He still has a ways to go in selling himself as a conservative. It wouldn’t be wise to overdo it, for he is plainly a center-right candidate, not a hard right pol. Moreover, telling everyone you are a conservative is less effective than showing them that you are by the policy choices you run on.

Therefore, he would do well to develop his own health care alternative to Obamacare and to continue to portray the contrasts between Obama and himself on everything from the budget to Syria. If he does so effectively, it will emphasize his own conservative credentials and make the case that his positions (on lower taxes, limiting government spending, repeal of Obamacare, etc.) are much closer to the majority of Americans than are Obama’s views.

Second, Iran’s nuclear weapons program and the lack of an effective policy to thwart Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapons capability are reaching a critical stage. The prime minister of Israel is coming to town next week. And, meanwhile, Congress and outside analysts are dismayed by the administration’s apparent willingness to “engage” the mullahs in talks. This could well be the most critical foreign policy issue for some time and a significant factor in the campaign. Romney would be smart to give a major address in which he provides his analysis of the situation and a critique of Obama’s policy and sets forth his own plans. Yes, Iran has come up in the debates, but it is in his interest, and in the country’s at large, to engage the public so voters understand exactly what is at stake.

Third, Romney should seize the opportunity, especially while Santorum is struggling and beginning to avoid the press, to reach out to the media himself, do more interviews and get into the routine of frequent press conferences. He’ll have to do those things if he is the nominee, and it’s better to start warming up now. It is noteworthy that he has stepped up his appearances on Fox News and talk radio, but there are plenty of other outlets where he can get his message out.

Finally, as for the “rich guy” image, I’m much less inclined than the liberal media to think his wealth is a problem. But there are many ways to combat the notion he is “out of touch” with average voter that have nothing to do with income. He’s been out in the world more than the average voter knows — running businesses, mentoring members of his church, working with diverse people (Democrats and women included) and making the leap to personal technology (something that eluded Sen. John McCain and made him seem like an old fogy). Romney doesn’t need to feign modest economic circumstances, but in a real sense he is more culturally in tune with average Americans and more up to speed with the 21st century global economy than either Obama or Santorum. He is neither a creature of leftist universities nor someone who favors rolling back the clock for women.

Turning to Santorum, he has three significant challenges: staff, message and tone. It is no secret that Santorum’s campaign is a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants operation in which events are hastily arranged, his side is outmanned in the oppo wars and there are few if any policy heavy-weights to beef up his agenda and engage with opinion makers. He can’t win the nomination and succeed in multiple states over many more weeks (or months) unless he hires quality, presidential-caliber staff.

Second, his entire agenda has been hijacked by his decision to double down on the culture wars, without giving much assurance to voters as to what issues he will and won’t make into policy proposals. Peter Wehner makes the case that Santorum badly misunderstands President Kennedy’s famous address:

The core argument Kennedy was making in his 1960 speech is that there should be no religious test for public office — and in making that argument, Kennedy was upholding the Constitution (specifically Article VI). To Kennedy’s credit, he said, “If the time should ever come — and I do not concede any conflict to be even remotely possible — when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same.” Kennedy also stated he would not “disavow my views or my church in order to win this election.”
I’d simply add that President Kennedy, in his remarkable inaugural address, gave one of the most eloquent reaffirmations of the animating spirit of the Declaration of Independence. “And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe,” President Kennedy said, “the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.” Obviously, Kennedy was not in favor of a completely naked public square.

Maybe Santorum needs his own address to explain his views and correct the misimpression (if it is one) that he intends to lecture the country on his religious views from the White House or that he is intolerant of the wide array of religious views and practices in the country. With that behind him, he can, and should, return to domestic policy and begin to flesh out his ideas on everything from health care to education reform.

And, finally, Santorum would benefit from a shift in tone and demeanor. Stop lobbing nonsensical verbal grenades at the president (there are enough valid ones at his disposal), dump the view that America is facing civilizational decline and talk about his faith in the wisdom and common sense of the American people. Voters want a little uplift now and then.

Santorum is not as bad a candidate as he has shown the last couple of weeks. And Romney’s problems are less wealth-oriented than message-related. But there is time for both to improve, provided they are willing to recognize and correct their shortcomings.

By  |  08:30 AM ET, 02/28/2012

Categories:  2012 campaign

 
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