Dave Weigel regales us with the latest from Rick Santorum, a hastily announced conference call with the media:
The call began. Santorum talked for a little while about how well his campaign was doing in Ohio. “To suggest this is David and Goliath is probably a little bit of an understatement,” he said. Well, sure. On to the new Smoking GunS. “People are starting to realize that what you have with Governor Romney is someone who’s simply not a genuine article,” said Santorum.
What was new about this? Reporters got no chance to ask; his national spokesman J. Hogan Gidley announced that Santorum had to return to the trail and participate in more interviews, and that reporters could follow up if needed. This was odd, as Santorum has remained fairly accessible to the press even when he’s surged. The attempt to break into Mitt Romney’s favorable news cycle had succeeded only making Santorum sound like he was scrambling.
This tells me two things. First, the polls showing him sliding in critical states like Tennessee and Ohio and the pack of new endorsements for Mitt Romney (the latest being former attorney general and conservative favorite John Ashcroft) have rattled Santorum. Second, no one on his team has the judgment and influence to keep Santorum from doing counterproductive things.
It doesn’t help Santorum that the media is now perhaps beginning to self-correct on some coverage. Gerald Seib writes:
Let’s start with the fact that the Republican party is a hard one to lead right now. Any party that is trying to simultaneously win over Wall Street, the tea-party movement and Hispanic votes — while championing the tough immigration laws of Arizona and Alabama — has laid out a tough task for those aspiring leaders. . . .
In this environment, Mr. Romney has performed as he promised he would at the outset, for those who bothered to listen. He has been methodical in pursuit of the nomination. He built an organization and a campaign bank account that dwarf those of his rivals, which is what was required under new party rules that this year made a lightning victory nearly impossible.
He stressed his biography because he calculated that having business experience and not having Washington experience were two attributes suited to the times, and he was probably right about that. He has produced an economic plan that has been fairly criticized for not being particularly bold in its efforts to spur growth, or specific enough in dealing with the deficit. But his plan is squarely in the Republican mainstream and is structured so that it can be built out over time.
And, although Seib is too restrained to note it, Romney even wore down the Wall Street Journal editorial board, which began by practically disqualifying him from the race for Romneycare and lately has been issuing qualified praise for his tax plan.
Santorum understandably is trying to pedal as furiously as he can, but in doing so he risks seeming even more wobbly and making matters worse. He continues to lack focus. One day it’s contraception, the next it’s the economy, and then he’s back to complaining about being outspent. There is little continuity from one day to the next.
After saying he’d focus on the economy and then plunging right back into social issues, he now is hammering Romney on health care today, citing helpfully cut and diced video put up on BuzzFeed’s Web site showing Romney touting Romneycare in 2009. .
Left out of the clips is mention of Santorum’s endorsement of Romney for president, and also this bit of qualification from an ABC News debate in January 2008: “I would not mandate at the federal level that every state do what we do, but what I would say at the federal level is we’ll keep giving you these special payments we make if you adopt plans that get everybody insured. I want to get everybody insured. In Governor Schwarzenegger’s state, he’s got a different plan to get people insured. I wouldn’t tell him he has to do it my way, but I’d say each state needs to get busy on the job of getting all our citizens insured. It does not cost more money.”
But it’s too late for a back-and-forth battle on Romneycare, I suspect. Romneycare proved not to be the silver bullet Santorum and many conservatives (Right Turn included) thought it would be to bring down Romney. But more to the point, Santorum’s scattershot campaign is not likely to endear him to voters or donors. In order to break through all the other news and his own array of hot-button quotes, he would need to focus day after day on one or two issues. He hasn’t done that.
If he has a poor day tomorrow, which polls suggest he will, you wonder how he can keep up a national campaign. It’s not simply about driving around Iowa in a truck anymore. The presidential campaign is now national and will hit expensive media markets in a slew of states. Right now Santorum is not engendering confidence among his supporters.