Mitt Romney, building on his Michigan and Arizona momentum, won the Washington caucuses Saturday by double digits with 38 percent of the vote. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) narrowly edged Rick Santorum for second place. Romney has now won five contests in a row (Maine, Michigan, Arizona,Wyoming and Washington).
Romney’s impressive win, together with a Gallup national poll showing him leading by 14 points, will contribute to the sense that Romney is pulling away from the field. His national organization that allows him to turn out voters in Washington, draw huge crowd in Idaho an North Dakota at the end of the week and pack in big crowds around Ohio on Saturday is paying dividends.
Saturday was not a good day for the Rick Santorum camp. Not only did he come in third in the Washington caucuses, a disappointing result in a state he campaigned in, but hi Ohio problems deepened.
Santorum might not be eligible to claim as many as 18 of the 63 Ohio delegates up for grabs on Tuesday.
He already had lost out on nine by failing to meet filing requirements in a trio of congressional districts, which pick three delegates apiece. Santorum’s campaign now has been informed by the Ohio Republican Party that he could lose out on another nine delegates. That’s because he did not file full three-delegate slates in six additional congressional districts — including the 3rd, which includes most of Columbus.
Romney’s legal counsel rapped Santorum: “That basic organizational test that you’re going to have to have to battle President Obama is a test that Rick Santorum and his campaign have flunked.”
Indeed, it is becoming increasingly apparent that Santorum’s message is muddled. He keeps promising to stress economic issues, but there he was again on Saturday stressing social issues and campaigning with religious conservative Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. These are issues he sincerely believes in, and is prepared to stubbornly emphasize, even at the cost of a must-win primary state.
Nevertheless, his rhetoric is off-putting and excessive. In Ohio, for example, at the Allen County Lincoln Day Dinner on Saturday he pronounced: “Folks if we know what works, why don’t we talk about what works? Why don’t we encourage it in our schools? Why don’t we encourage it in our culture? Why are we damning people? Why are we condemning them to a life just because we won’t talk about -- we’ll talk about childhood obesity until the cows come home. But we won’t talk about one of the great underlying causes of childhood obesity, which is the instability of the community, the neighborhood and the family.”
Whether there is evidence of his “family breakdown causes obesity” theory or not, he is beginning to sound like a crank. Not all issues are the result of family breakdown, and if some of our woes are indeed the result of crumbling nuclear families, he should be a bit more humble about his (or any president’s) ability to impact complex problems. A conservative, at least a Burkean conservative, should understand that complex societal phenomena are not altered by grandiose rhetoric or ambitious state intervention. And to say that those who don’t adopt his version of school reform (which posits that not even states should be setting curriculum) are “damning” people is offensive and unproductive.
In the battle for the nomination, Romney is beginning to put all the pieces together, while Santorum is coming apart at the seams. At this point Santorum’s problems are as much a function of his personal intemperance and lack of self-control as they are lack of money or time or organization. His behavior increasingly suggests he’s not prepared for the rigors of a presidential campaign let alone the White House.