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Right Turn
Posted at 09:30 AM ET, 01/10/2012

Is Santorum the only viable not-Romney candidate?

Yesterday, Newt Gingrich did the impossible: He got Mitt Romney’s harshest critics to rally around him. By indicting Romney for committing acts of capitalism, he compelled lukewarm or even anti-Romney voters to defend him. Phil Klein was typical:

As anybody who has read my work knows, I never shy away from criticizing Mitt Romney. But there are two kinds of attacks on him that make me angry: assaults on his faith and those on his wealth. Luckily, this campaign has been mostly devoid of religious-based attacks on Romney, but unfortunately, his Republican rivals have now taken a page out of the left-wing playbook and begun to attack his successful business career. It’s nothing short of disgraceful behavior from Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

One candidate to stay away from the snakepit was Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.). His spokesman Jesse Benton e-mailed me last night, “Obviously, we don’t have all the information on Bain, but we do know that failing businesses, sadly, usually have to lay off some employees.” He then argued, “In our campaign, we criticize all four of the other candidates because they all supported big spending, bail-outs and individual health care mandates. These positions are anti-liberty and not conservative, and they are the issues that voters care about. The other campaigns are free to do what they want, but we won’t join them in using the anti-capitalist language of the left to tear down other Republicans.” No one is going to mistake me for a Ron Paul fan, but that’s right and politically smart.

So what happened? Gingrich, Huntsman and Perry undermined their claim to represent the heart and soul of the Republican Party and to embrace one of its core values: freedom. After that performance, so typical of the stab-the-conservatives-in-the-back behavior Gingrich is infamous for, how are voters supposed to buy the notion that he’s a more trustworthy conservative than Romney? And he has shown his backers that he will drag them into controversy. Consider the man bankrolling his super PAC, Sheldon Adelson. As Ross Kaminsky in a must-read piece put it:

Gingrich’s claim is that making money should be done with zero negative impact on others, it is, if you’ll pardon the pun, particularly rich that the Super PAC about to attack Romney is being funded by a $5 million donation from Sheldon Adelson, Chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation. Las Vegas Sands, which owns and operates casinos in the U.S., Macau, and Singapore, reported 2010 revenue of $6.85 billion and net income of $599 million -- all generously received from gamblers big and small. If there were ever a business likely to do financial harm to its customers, it’s the casino business.

How long before fellow Republicans plead with Adelson to stop giving matches to a political arsonist? I asked the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Matt Brooks, what his pro-free market group, which recently hosted Gingrich and other candidates and on whose board Adelson sits, thinks about an attack on capitalism. He refused to say or even comment on the reaction of members of his board. He said that “he does not comment on the personal contributions of his board members.”Gingrich, in short, always embarrasses his friends and cuts the legs out of those struggling to make hard arguments (e.g. for Medicare reform and free markets)

And Huntsman and Perry have shown themselves to be go-alongers, unable to reject temporary (and illusory) gain in defense of principle. They have shown themselves to be weak in character.

So who does that leave for the not-Romney voters? It’s not conceivable that in large, diverse states Ron Paul will come out ahead. So we are down to the candidate who rejected the invitation to play anti-capitalism but who also — and this is critical — is able to articulate a conservative vision that is pro-growth without seeming dismissive of middle income and poorer Americans. His critics will call it “compassionate conservative,” a slap at President George W. Bush. But in fact it’s a realization that the benefits of capitalism are not immediately apparent to average, non-ideological voters and that American politics is not purely a cost-benefit analysis. It’s going to frustrate purists, but it is both realistic (voters want to know the least well off will be protected) and intellectually sound. As Rick Santorum likes to say, if you want limited government you better have self-disciplined people and strong civil institutions that can take up the slack from government.

Santorum has only begun to explain his message. Most voters probably knew virtually nothing about him before the Iowa caucuses. Perhaps the voters should listen carefully and assess whether his agenda is positive and he has the personal presence to stand face-to-face with President Obama. Not- Romney voters better hope so, because the rest of the candidates showed themselves to be entirely unfit to lead the party, let alone the country.

By  |  09:30 AM ET, 01/10/2012

Categories:  Conservative movement

 
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