While other candidates were busy rising and falling, sinking and swimming, reaching out to experts and promoting themselves to insiders, Rick Santorum did things the old fashioned way. He campaigned. And the candidate whom the insiders ignored and disdained, came within a hair of winning Iowa.
Who is the one true Anti-Romney? To some it's Perry, to others it's Gingrich and to others it's anybody but the candidates actually running.
There are many furious headlines being written castigating Santorum for somehow having sneaked under the radar without paying his dues by being lambasted by the conservative establishment for a week. The consensus is that he only almost won because all the other candidates crashed and burned. That might be true, but who tanked the other candidates? Aside from Cain, the liberal media hardly had to lift a finger. It was the gatekeepers of the establishment who did all the heavy lifting.
The National Review, which helped sink Gingrich, fires its biggest shotgun at Santorum by putting up a photo of him together with George W. Bush. It used to be Democrats that tried to sink Republicans with photos like that. But if we are going to disqualify any Republican who had his photo taken with Bush, the primary season just got a lot simpler.
The case against Santorum is that he is a "Big Government Conservative", all capital letters. That is the official talking point. But assuming that Santorum is a big government conservative, who are the small government conservatives? Romney, Perry, Gingrich?
When your competition are two state governors, one of whom was responsible for RomneyCare and the other for proposing a health insurance program for Mexicans, Santorum's transgressions like "national service, publicly financed trust funds for children, community-investment incentives, and economic-literacy programs in schools" don't seem that great a sin. What's left then for small government conservatism? Newt Gingrich? I like Gingrich, but he's not exactly immune to that charge by about a mile.
Worse still we are told that Santorum "voted against NAFTA and has long opposed free trade. He backed higher tariffs on everything from steel to honey." Horrifyingly unelectable. How can anyone possibly support a candidate who opposes mass shipping of American jobs overseas. Americans might support such a candidate, but the Chamber of Commerce never will.
At the London Telegraph, James Delingpole asserts that Santorum is "so left on the issues that matter he makes even Mitt Romney look like a red meat conservative". So I suppose we have found our Anti-Romney and he is Mitt Romney. The only way to possibly stop Santorum's radical left-wing opposition to NAFTA and support for economic literacy programs in schools is by rushing to vote for Mitt Romney to save America.
Longtime readers know that I am not a strong supporter of any candidate. There are candidates that I like while acknowledging their flaws. Overall I have tried to be fair to any legitimate candidate in the field and tried to find something good to say about them. As the seemingly inevitable ascent of Romney continues, I will find something to like about him, if only that his name isn't Obama.
What irritates me is that the primaries have descended into the depths of personal destruction where spurious attacks are used by supporters of one side or another until the field is a mass of ridiculed and banished candidates, and our winner is the man with the least personality and the least interest in what we think of him.
Proxies and backers for one Anti-Romney or another, and for Romney, trade insults and undermine each other's candidates, and while they are often right on the facts, those critiques are context-free because they rarely compare one candidate to another. Unfortunately we are well past the point where we can hope for a perfect candidate or even a great candidate, all we are doing now is the dirty business of comparison shopping candidates, trying to decide which one fits in our budget and won't break down after a hundred miles. There is something deceptive about rival car salesmen tearing down every used Chevy because it doesn't handle like a Porsche, when all they've got to offer are used Fords and used Hondas.
This race has come down to three Anti-Romneys. If conservatives can unite around an Anti-Romney then Romney is in big trouble. If they can't then Romney is the nominee. It's that simple and everyone knows it. But who will the Anti-Romney be?
The proxies accuse everyone who isn't their candidate of secretly being in league with Romney, which gives the man a little too much credit. If Romney was that kind of evil supergenius then he would have won more elections. They emphasize the big government vices of the other side while underplaying their own man's big government peccadilloes. So let's lay all the cards on the table.
All three Anti-Romneys are flawed. Deeply flawed. Human beings are naturally flawed, professional politicians more so. They all have their strengths and their weaknesses and they aren't the same. They have all variously denounced big government while all serving in very big government positions. They all have electability issues. They have all screwed up and been the object of mocking laughter.
I am not here to endorse or promote any of them. I like two of them, but I don't know if either of them can win an election against the Community Organizer in Chief and his press corps, and that is what matters most to me. The third I dislike, but would still prefer over Romney.
This isn't about who you should support. You will all make that decision
yourselves. This is about how the primary coverage has boiled down to a circular
firing squad that is as dishonest as it could possibly be. There's nothing
wrong with pointing out a candidate's flaws. It's a public service. What is
wrong is pretending that a disqualifying flaw in one candidate is a minor
blemish on another. That's not honest criticism, it's trying to sell a bad
product by tearing down the competition.
There are no Porsches here. There isn't anyone who didn't exercise
government power or fund government programs. And there also isn't anyone who
isn't a critic of some forms of government power. Anyone who served in congress
or oversaw a state and claims otherwise is a liar. And everyone is also jumping
on the small government reform bandwagon with varying degrees of sincerity. And
that means more debates over the difference between legitimate and illegitimate
exercise of government power is. But the bottom line is that they're all 1989
Chevy's and all we can do is try to make a case for the car that will actually
take us four years on one tank of gas without costing too much.
That means we all have to do the numbers for ourselves and decide what fits
in our budget and look at our gut reaction to the product. You have to decide
what you can and can't live with.What candidate's values fit yours and which of
their positions cross the line.
We have had enough messiahs in tailored suits. We're not looking for a Greek
deity, just a flawed man who can win an election and check some of the worst
abuses of the past four years. That's not aiming very high, but barring the
arrival of some wonderful third party candidate, it's what we've got. There are
plenty of other options for checking government power at the congressional
level and in other ways, but this is what we have in the way of options at the
Will we come together around an Anti-Romney? Probably not. The same
establishment that destroyed every potential Anti-Romney will do its best to
finish off Santorum clearing the way for a Romney nomination. Gingrich has made
one comeback after being destroyed by the establishment and another one can't
be ruled out. Perry has been trying to make a comeback, but has lacked the
forum to do it in. Any one of them can still become the Anti-Romney and history
It is hard for idealism to thrive or even receive a fair hearing in an
atmosphere of constant media cynicism where the only reason to build up a
candidate is to tear him down again, where a sneering version of 1984's Two
Minute Hate is always playing in every theater. The triviality of the debates
was nothing compared to the triviality of the right of center media coverage of
If we truly want another Reagan to emerge, then the forum has to be there to
make it happen. And that means a serious discussion rather than a two second
ridicule reel of some obvious flaw. It means digging deep into a candidate's
positions, rather than airing their commercials or their talking points. It
also means honestly examining flaws, rather than tearing down any rival
candidates for no other reason then that their name isn't Rick or Newt. And it
means opening yourself up to inspiration from even flawed candidates who have
the potential to be more.
In 2012 we may have to settle for an Anti-Romney or even only an Anti-Obama,
but it doesn't always have to be that way. And the change in tone that can make
it happen begins with us.