Unwittingly, Rick Santorum is making it easier for Mitt Romney to rally the party and the conservative base to his side. Between the angry outbursts, the semi-admission that he isn’t going to win Wisconsin and the delusional insistence that his delegate totals are really different — and closer! — than everyone else’s count, Santorum is systematically making the case that Romney is the only viable candidate left in the race.
Even the Supreme Court hearings on Obamacare seemed to help crystallize Romney’s case: Aside from the individual mandate, there are many reasons to object to and repeal whatever remains of the unpopular statute. In a California fundraising trip, Romney appeared at a medical-device company, making the point that the president’s tax on these items is one of many problems with the president’s “historic” legislation. One sure sign of Romney’s willingness to ignore Santorum will be stepped up attacks on the aspects of Obamacare other than the individual mandate (e.g. the Independent Payment Advisory Board, the broken promise that you can “keep your insurance,” the tax hikes).
At moments like this you wonder: Isn’t there someone close to Santorum who can sit him down and deliver the bad news? Sadly, Newt Gingrich (never lacking in grandiosity and untethered optimism about his own abilities) acknowledged yesterday that he won’t get to 1,144 delegates; he sure seems more in touch with reality than does Santorum.
Romney on Monday told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, “I’m not going to worry too much about what Rick is saying these days. I know when you’re falling further and further behind, you get a little more animated.” He thereupon immediately pivoted to Obama, telling Blitzer that “one big difference between [Romney and Obama] is that if I’m elected president, I will repeal Obamacare, and I’ll stop it in its tracks on day one. I believe it’s unconstitutional. I believe the court will find it unconstitutional. And one more thing I’ll tell you about it, we can’t afford trillions of dollars of new federal spending. It’s a power grab by the federal government. It violates the 10th Amendment. It violates the economic principles of economic freedom in this country. It’s wrong. It needs to be repealed.”
This raises an interesting question: Can Romney essentially forget about Santorum, and, while collecting delegates, run almost exclusively against the president? Well, so long as he is racking up delegates and winning consistently he surely will try. In response to Santorum’s barbs, the campaign can certainly let surrogates and staffers ding the opponent.
April is a good month for Romney to employ this approach. On April 3, Romney has contests in D.C., Maryland and Wisconsin primaries. Santorum seemed to acknowledge that the most likely of the three, Wisconsin, wouldn’t go his way. If Romney sweeps those three, expect the “ignore Santorum” approach to be cemented.
On April 24, Romney is very likely to take Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island and New York. Given Santorum’s bumbling, Romney might even win the most delegates in Pennsylvania. Now, if Romney wins seven of eight of the April primaries is anyone really going to consider the primary battle extant? Other than Santorum, probably not.