Friday, February 24, 2012

Rick Santorum's problem

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Indecision 2012 - Rick Santorum's Conservative Rhetoric
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Note that this is the follow-up to Jon Stewart's first segment of the night, which was all about the Republican debate in Arizona. (Sometimes, embedding two clips from the Comedy Channel in the same post causes problems, so I'll just give you the link.)

Both clips were great, but I went with this one, because it explains why Rick Santorum won't ever be president. Santorum's rhetoric goes over great with the Republican base, but he says what other Republicans want to keep hidden.

After all, they know that it sounds batshit crazy to most Americans. So if they want to get elected - and they do want to get elected, oh, so very, very much - then they have to pretend.

Mitt Romney is particularly good at that, but his problem is that the Republican base doesn't know what he's pretending. They want candidates who are true believers, but just pretend to be moderate in order to get elected. Romney is all pretend. If he believes anything at all, except in his own political ambition, there's really no way to tell.

Was he lying when he was trying to be the liberal Republican governor of Massachusetts? Or is he lying now, when he's trying to out-loon the loons? The answer, of course, is yes. It's pretty clear that Romney believes only in Romney, and that he's willing to pretend to be pretty much anything you want him to be.

But Santorum is just the reverse. Ron Paul, too, actually. They don't just believe the crazy things they say, they actually say them. That's why they're not going to get the nomination. Well, Paul won't get the nomination because some of what he believes is anathema to the Republican base.

And among Republicans, if you're not 100% - if you're just 98%, say - then you're a dirty traitor. If you disagree about anything, then you're a "socialist," probably under Satan's direct control. Paul's biggest problem isn't the crazy stuff that he believes, but that he keeps saying it.

Rick Santorum has a similar, though not identical, problem. Santorum is a Republican true believer. He leaps at those culture war issues just like the rest of the Republican base. They love that. But the GOP leadership is aghast that he actually says those things.

That's not how you become a successful politician, certainly not in the GOP. To be successful in the Republican Party, you have to convince the base that you're just as loony as they are, without coming right out and saying offensive things.

Calling Barack Obama "the food stamp president" is a perfect example. It's a dog whistle which racists can hear very clearly, but still has plausible deniability among Americans - white Americans, at least - in general.

You can be racist, but if someone calls you on that, you can claim they're just being overly sensitive. Well, "those people" are like that, aren't they? ;)

Remember, in 2000, George W. Bush was the darling of the religious right. He was their candidate. But he got elected by claiming to be a "compassionate conservative." He didn't campaign on tax cuts for the rich. He didn't campaign on starting wars just for the fun of it.

Bush was a true believer on the right, but he got elected by downplaying that. No, to uninformed voters (i.e. most of them), he was going to be a "compassionate conservative," a Republican with heart.

The problem for Republicans these days is that they don't have anyone who can convincingly play that part. Santorum is too blatant for it. Newt Gingrich has far too much baggage to make it work. And Romney has played diverse parts for so long that everyone knows he's lying, no matter what he says.

In a way, it's kind of funny. But the Republican Party has taken the low road for so long that it deserves to have this kind of problem. Actually, it deserves a lot more than this, a lot more than it's going to get, unfortunately.

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