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Right Turn
Posted at 02:34 PM ET, 02/28/2012

Romney and Santorum keep the pressure on in Michigan

Unlike the usual election-day space-fillers on weather and turnout, today’s election-day news is filled with accusations, walkbacks and admissions.

Let’s start with Rick Santorum, who accused Mitt Romney of “whining” about the robocalls aimed at Democrats (and hitting Romney for opposing the auto bailout). More interesting, however, was his statement that he wished he could take back his “throw up” line about his reaction to JFK’s speech. It wasn’t clear whether he regrets the vivid imagery or the sentiment. But he has been getting a whole lot of flak from liberals and conservatives alike who think he missed the point of the comment. (Wes Pruden had the best line: “Heaven probably doesn’t have Wi-Fi connections, and a good thing, because JFK would throw up if he heard Mr. Santorum’s garbled understanding of what he told the preachers in Houston half a century ago.”)

Meanwhile, Romney is trying to make his rhetorical prudence into a virtue. Reacting to his opponent’s penchant for extreme comments, Romney told the press corps, “It’s very easy to excite the base with incendiary comments. We’ve seen throughout the campaign that, if you’re willing to say really outrageous things that are accusatory and attacking President Obama, that you’re going to jump up in the polls. You know, I’m not willing to light my hair on fire to try and get support. I am who I am.” Meanwhile he went after Santorum’s robocalls with a meat ax, accusing him of helping Democrats “kidnap” the GOP primary process.

What to make of all this? To begin with, I am very dubious that thousands and thousands of Democrats will turn out to mess up the GOP primary. At this point, Romney’s offensive serves two purposes: cushion the blow if he loses in Michigan; and jab at Santorum for hiding his contrasts with Democrats and trying to round up liberal help to beat the guy he says isn’t conservative enough. Guy Benson writes:

For the last few cycles, the Republican mantra has been some variation of, “we can’t allow liberals to choose our nominee.” Here we have a Republican candidate for president — the guy who’s built his entire campaign around the idea that he’s the authentic, courageous conservative — explicitly appealing to liberals and asking them to cross into the GOP primary to swing the results. Not only that, the thrust of the call is couched in Lefty speak, hitting Romney for opposing the way the auto bailout was structured and executed — a position that Santorum shares.

Well, intellectual consistency is not found in abundance in presidential campaigns.

What is interesting is that perhaps both Santorum, in walking back his JFK comment, and Romney, in chiding him for his over-the-top language, may sense there is a downside to sounding too wacky. After all, they are both claiming to be the most electable in a general election. And when GOP governors swat down Santorum’s college “snob” rhetoric, maybe it’s a sign to get back to bread-and-butter issues.

That may explain why Romney is now going after Santorum with renewed vigor about his lack of private-sector experience. (“It’s time for him to really focus on the economy — and for you to all say, ‘Okay, if the economy’s going to be the issue we focus on, who has the experience to actually get this economy going again?’”) Well, Romney is going to have to get more blunt and specific, I suspect, about Santorum’s economic shortcomings if he’s going to carry that argument. But for now, the economy is in and lighting your hair on fire is out. On that, both candidates seem to agree. For now.

By  |  02:34 PM ET, 02/28/2012

 
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