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Right Turn
Posted at 08:45 AM ET, 02/10/2012

Santorum fights the ‘Death Star’

Mitt Romney is getting quite a bit of pushback from conservative media and activists for turning his sights on Rick Santorum, attacking him on earmarks, debt-ceiling hikes and for generally being a “Washington insider.” Some of this comes from the very same people who have always disliked him. But Santorum is different in many regards, and the Romney campaign might want to listen to some of the critics, however insincere they may be in offering “constructive” advice.

To begin with, as Peggy Noonan notes, Santorum is well regarded in conservative circles. “Santorum is liked. He has real indignation about what’s happened to America, and he brings passion to his ideas about reform. He’s got little money, little organization — there’s no broad assumption he can pull it off. And by the time the Romney campaign is done dismantling him, he may have some people who hate him. But this will only underscore the Romney campaign’s reputation for destroying, not creating. And nobody loves a Death Star.”

Moreover, we’ve seen this so many times (first, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, then Newt Gingrich) that the monotony of negativity becomes wearing. Now it might come in handy in the general election to have a candidate who can match President Obama punch for punch. But voters, especially conservative ones, like to have some uplift and feel warm and fuzzy about their pick.

And finally, it might not work this time. Santorum is a better debater than the other not-Romney candidates, and he is a less vulnerable target. Santorum struck back Thursday, as the National Journal reported:

The newly-energized presidential candidate on Thursday launched a full-throated attack on front-runner Mitt Romney, saying the former Massachusetts governor’s campaign “has been about serially tearing down opponents without offering any kind of vision for what he wants to do for this country.
“This is the gotcha politics of Mitt Romney,” Santorum said, sounding complaints almost identical to those lodged by rival conservative Newt Gingrich against Romney after Gingrich won the South Carolina primary last month.
“He’s not interested in talking about the issues,” Santorum said of Romney. “He’s interested in trying to pander and make political sauce when there’s real substantive issues about how we’re gonna try to change this government. And he’s on the wrong side of it.”

There is something to that. Romney should be cautious and judicious in his attacks. It’s entirely appropriate to challenge the other guy’s record. But Romney needs to polish and restate his own positive agenda. He has a credible spending and entitlement plan. He has a bold foreign policy vision. But he doesn’t talk much about it these days. As I have argued before, he needs bullet points, not dozens of proposals; He needs a fully realized tax reform plan.

In fact, both candidates — the one dishing out and the one receiving — would be smart to leave the negative barbs to super PACs and staffers. Let them be the bad guys, and let the candidate ride above the fray. Santorum actually does have a fleshed-out tax plan, and he should be talking about that, not Romney’s attacks. And Romney should work on wooing voters with bold reform ideas, not simply rattling Santorum’s cage.

Romney will speak at CPAC later today. He’ll have a major speech in Michigan on Feb. 24. He should use those to set out a sleeker, more user-friendly agenda. He’s going to get far more mileage with skeptical voters if they conclude that he’s the better candidate, not simply the less flawed one.

By  |  08:45 AM ET, 02/10/2012

Categories:  2012 campaign

 
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