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Right Turn
Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 03/19/2012

What about a ‘game-change’ test for Santorum?

On Fox News Sunday, Bill Kristol, who’s done everything but force by gunpoint Republican non-candidates to get into the presidential race, said that “if [Rick] Santorum could upset [Mitt] Romney in Illinois, where Romney is outspending him, you know, 5 or 10 to 1, it’s hard to tell if you add in the super PACs and all that, that would be huge.” He reiterated, “So I just think the dynamics would change if he wins. If he comes close in Illinois, he stays in and has a respectable — has an outside chance still to win. But Illinois could be a game-changer.”

So if he wins — no wait, “comes close”! — it’s a game changer, the argument goes. (Is close anything less than the 70 plus points by which he lost in Puerto Rico? Closer than the most extreme outlier poll? Within a couple of points?) But, however you define “close,” fairness would seem to dictate that if Santorum doesn’t win or make it close, then it’s a big deal for Romney.

You see, if it takes a “huge” win and a “bracket buster” upset to change the race dynamic, it would seem that at some point one has to concede that Romney is running away with this and that repeated failures by Santorum to capture must-win states (e,g., Ohio, Michigan) spell the end of his run.

Moreover, I think it is incumbent on Santorum and his supporters to tell us what part of the game would change. If Santorum is saying the game would change so dramatically that he could capture a majority of delegates, that is one thing. Then success can be measured by the percentage of remaining delegates he would need for victory, and we would have an end point (the point at which the delegates needed for 1,144 exceed the delegates remaining to be selected).

If, however, the game would change to a brokered convention, then that is another thing altogether. If that is really the strategy (Santorum has said different things at different times), Santorum should ’fess up. That’s a whole different game, and it involves considerable risk for the GOP: a prolonged intra-party battle and an effort to overturn the will of a majority of GOP primary voters.

Really, is that what this is all about? If so, Santorum should level with voters. His reluctance to do so suggests this is not a vote-getter for him. In fact, it is arguably a giant turnoff that will get Republicans wondering if this is about getting President Obama out of office or about that giant chip on Santorum’s shoulder (and his Newt Gingrich-like animosity toward Romney, whom he complains “lies” and, oh the inhumanity of it, outspends him and has a superior campaign organization).

At this point, there is a fair shot for the GOP to win the White House. (George F. Will told us it is “not yet time” to give up. Whew! I mean I was hoping to get at least within six months of the election before conceding the presidency.) How Romney wins the nomination and how his opponents behave as he does that will have something to do with how he does in the general election. The task of reconciling with the base and former opponents, the pundits solemnly lecture us, will be an enormous undertaking for Romney. But it’s not his job alone.

If conservative pundits and leaders were to insist on cheering on convention mayhem, if evangelicals were to threaten to stay home and if constituent groups (anti-immigration activists, for example) were to insist on positions so extreme as to sink Romney, then the resulting loss will be theirs as well.

Romney is doing his part for now. He’s running a methodical campaign on conservative issues. The question remains whether the rest of the conservative movement will do its part as well.

By  |  10:30 AM ET, 03/19/2012

Categories:  2012 campaign

 
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