The Washington Post

A Super Tuesday reality check

Tomorrow’s Super Tuesday primaries will offer a good reality check of where the Republican Party really stands on social issues vs. economic issues in 2012.

I believe Rick Santorum's outbursts on snobs in college, JFK and religion and contraceptives made the difference in his narrow loss in Michigan. Since then, nothing has happened to help him present a focused economic message — even if he wanted to.

According to a Gallup survey from mid-February, the economy took first place on the list of what American voters care about. 92 percent ranked the economy as extremely important or very important and “social issues such as gay marriage and abortion” were last with 38 percent. (The numbers shifted slightly, to 94 percent and 46 percent respectively, among Republicans.) So, deciding what to talk about should not be hard. Whether it is religion, sex or race, when Republicans go there, we enter a minefield. National GOP candidates and party leaders are pushing their luck, and we are doing what our opponents want us to do. The slightest misstep, or even just bad luck, can spring the trap.

Even if Santorum was trying to shift his message and walk away from the scene of the crash, Rush Limbaugh threw a hand grenade into the GOP race. By crudely insulting a student activist, Limbaugh reminded everyone of what they are supposed to fear about Republicans, especially Santorum. News of Limbaugh’s comments swamped every other campaign story and suddenly everyone was talking about Rush. The entire 2012 Republican campaign has been off-message for days. It is too bad that the Republican race to challenge President Obama can be so easily detoured by the radio talk show host and side-show issues.

We can whine about it, or we can deal with the world the way it is. For Republicans, social issues are like a fire. Too close and you get burned; too far away and you are out in the cold. Our 2012 candidate has got to be good enough to keep the balance, without losing independent voters who are desperate for renewed economic growth. Whether or not the GOP gets it and how badly we want to win in 2012 will be clearer on Wednesday morning after the votes are counted.

Ed Rogers is a contributor to the PostPartisan blog, a political consultant and a veteran of the White House and several national campaigns. He is the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in 1991.


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