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Right Turn
Posted at 09:04 AM ET, 02/01/2012

Right-wingers chased after the bad boy, buried Santorum

Bill Kristol writes today on Rick Santorum: “Could we be heading towards a Romney-Santorum contest on February 28 in Michigan and Arizona, and then in March and beyond? Romney would certainly be a strong favorite in such a contest, given his lead in votes, delegates, money and organization. But wouldn’t Santorum ultimately have a better chance than Gingrich to upset Romney, even if it’s still a slim one?”

Unfortunately for Santorum, the chances of that happening would have been greatly improved had the right-leaning media not ignored him for months and, worse, cheered and indulged Newt Gingrich. Imagine, for example, if in unison the right had decried Gingrich’s attacks on Bain, his irresponsible schemes on Social Security (Chile!), his duplicitous call to zero-out aid to Israel, his boast to be a “cheap hawk” (rather than defend defense spending), his inaccurate portrayal of his ethics problems as nothing more than a partisan witch-hunt, his preposterous schemes (e.g. hire kids as janitors) and his tawdry attempt to deflect scrutiny of his own personal life by attacking the media.

It remains a mystery why that did not occur and, moreover, why there were so many conservative bloggers, journalists and talk show hosts who seized upon Gingrich as a viable standard-bearer of the right. Some of the explanation is sheer contrariness (if the media are critical of someone, they rush to his defense). Part of the reason may be nostalgia — an older generation of conservatives skipping down memory lane to the 1990s.

Really, as an exasperated Santorum supporter put it to me last week in observing the right-wing media’s obsession with Gingrich: “What’s wrong with Rick?” He spotted the jihadist menace in the 1990s, fought for a ban on partial birth abortion, was instrumental in reforming welfare and has an impeccable personal life and an economic approach that is more than standard-fare Wall Street Journal supply-side dogma (e.g. it combines pro-growth and pro-family policies). So naturally, the right wing had no choice but to back. . . Gingrich!

Part of the challenge for Santorum in rallying conservatives has been the incessant pining for Mr. Right, the non-candidate who was going to enter the race in the summer, then in the fall and next in February (!) to rescue the party (from the viable conservative candidate already in the race?). Had all that energy and all those pixels been put to a more constructive purpose, Santorum would be in a far better position instead of being the GOP’s version of Sisyphus.

The boosterism for Gingrich not only deprived Santorum of needed oxygen and support, it also provided Mitt Romney with the ideal opponent, someone so undisciplined, so erratic and so amoral that what had seemed to be Romney’s flaws (e.g. hyper-preparedness, a lack of ideological fervor, a Boy Scout demeanor) emerged as great strengths (soberness, executive skill, reasonableness, good character).

As a result of the the right’s joy ride with Gingrich, Romney is invigorated and in command of the race; the right-wing media’s facade influence has been punctured; and Santorum’s chances of prevailing are hugely diminished. Romney’s camp, no doubt, is thinking, “Great work, fellas!” But mostly, the Romney team and Republican officeholders have learned that the fickle conservative media’s bark is much worse than their bite — or their influence. Frankly, much of them can be safely ignored.

By  |  09:04 AM ET, 02/01/2012

Categories:  2012 campaign, Media

 
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