It’s not a good day for and it has been an even worse week for Rick Santorum. The National Review editors, in quite a shift from a piece written previously by editor in chief Rich Lowry defending Santorum on social issues, warns about Santorum: “Some of his comments are indefensible, and even some of Santorum’s defensible assertions would have been better left to someone else — someone not seeking the presidency — to say. . . . Nor do we need political leaders to share their theological judgments about the various denominations that call themselves Christian. There is no good reason for a prospective president to pledge to lecture Americans about contraception.” Moreover, as Right Turn has argued strenuously, the editors warn that “he risks doing damage to the causes he rightly holds dear. Already his inopportune remarks about contraception have lent an undeserved credibility to liberaldom’s claim that a Republican ‘war on contraception’ rather than a Democratic attack on freedom is what underlies the debate over the Obama administration’s new regulations.”
Meanwhile, over at the Washington Examiner, the editors praise Mitt Romney’s tax plan: “Mitt Romney took an immensely positive step earlier this week when he announced a proposal to cut tax rates 20 percent for all individual taxpayers.”
For a candidate who has gotten very few strokes from conservative publications, this is a banner day for Romney. Coupled with the Wall Street Journal editorial page’s multi-faceted slapdown of Santorum, the impression you get is that in the aftermath of ill-advised incendiary rhetoric, the rollout of Romney’s tax plan and a TKO win for Romney in the debate perceptions may have shifted somewhat. Two post-debate polls have Romney up in Michigan in single digits. Two polls have him leading by double digits in Arizona.
You can understand why Santorum is on hyper-screechy volume today. He tells Glenn Beck that Romney is “in bed” with Barack Obama. (Really, take a deep breath and have a sip of water). His campaign sends an e-mail with this quote from Santorum: “Mitt Romney has criticized me for taking one for the Republican team and we all know why, because Mitt Romney’s teammates are all Democrats. It’s pretty clear what team Mitt Romney is on when he passed socialized medicine that included $50 dollar abortions — bragged about not lining up with the NRA — appointed liberal activist judges to the Massachusetts bench, and was hanging out at Planned Parenthood events celebrating the pro–choice agenda. No wonder working with a Republican President’s team is foreign to Mitt Romney — Mitt’s whole career he’s been working for liberals.”
You get the idea. The Santorum people can read the polls and the conservative outlets, too.
What’s Romney doing? First, his campaign (not him; notice how now his operatives are talking to the other side’s candidate) is having fun blasting out reminders of the Santorum-Arlen Specter pact. Romney himself was at Ford Field.
The Pavlovian anti-Romney pundits tweeted and blogged about everything but the substance of the speech (e.g., the empty seats, his line about the trees being the right height, Ann’s Cadillacs). That might have been because they’ve been grousing that Romney is all negative and instead the speech, as well as the Q-and-A, was filled with agenda details and positive, conservative-themed messages.
The speech itself took the crowd (about 1,200 people who overflowed the original venue) through the outlines of his economic plan. He reiterated the components of his tax reform plan. On entitlements he explained: “When it comes to Social Security, we will slowly raise the retirement age. We will slow the growth in benefits for higher-income retirees. When it comes to Medicare, tomorrow’s seniors will have a choice among insurance providers, including traditional Medicare. As with Medicare Part D today, the private sector will compete to offer insurance coverage at the lowest possible price. Seniors will then receive government support to ensure they can afford that coverage. And with Medicare, like with Social Security, lower-income seniors will receive the most generous benefits.” As for balancing the budget he told the audience:
My administration will also make the hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts necessary to reduce spending to 20% of GDP by the end of my first term. I will cap it there. And then, without sacrificing our military superiority, I will balance the budget.
There are three ways I’ll get this done. First, I’ll cut programs. I will look at every government program and ask this question: Is this so critical that it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it?
Of course, we’ll start with the easiest cut of all: Obamacare, a trillion-dollar entitlement we don’t want and can’t afford. It’s bad medicine, bad policy, and when I’m President, the bad news of Obamacare will be over.
We’ll also cut things like subsidies to Amtrak and funding for Planned Parenthood. We’ll repeal the union giveaway called the Davis-Bacon Act to save taxpayers over $10 billion per year.
Second, we will return federal programs to the states. I will send Medicaid back to the states and cap that program’s rate of growth. And I will do the same for other programs, like food stamps, housing subsidies, and job training. . . .Finally, government itself must be made more efficient. I will shrink the size of the federal workforce by 10% and link the pay and benefits of federal employees to those of their peers in the private sector. Public servants should not make more than the Americans who pay their salaries.
In the Q-and-A he gave his most impressive run-through of the areas in which China is competing unfairly (e.g., stealing military technology) and a tough-minded explanation of his Iran policy.
Romney won this week hands down, and if he can win next week he may (for a little while) put to bed the “Romney collapses” meme. In the meantime, Santorum needs to take a breath, regroup and figure out how to get back on a positive economic message with blue-collar appeal.