The Moment of Truth — April 3, 2012

A GOP Prophylactic Against Santorum

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: a satisfying slice of life with extra cheese. 

For all our self-promotion as the world’s best-branded democracy, we certainly have a lot of mechanisms for making sure the voting population doesn’t go too far off leash. There is, of course, the infamous Electoral College: in November we won’t vote for president, we’ll vote for the people who will vote for the president. They will then take a leisurely stroll to the capital - they don’t get there until almost the middle of January - this gives them time to cool down from the heated rhetoric of the campaign and calmly reflect on who would best run the country. How much leeway do they have? Between November and January they could all connive to set in office someone we the people hadn’t even considered because we’re just too damn ignorant. 

The very institutions of appointed judges and “secularly aristocratic” senators insure that the people aren’t left entirely to their own devices when it comes to governing themselves. 

To be fair to the system, though, there are certain subgroups in the electorate obviously crying out for oversight. The so-called “tea partiers” might be one such group. You could argue it would be worthwhile to expand that category to include the entire Republican “base,” whatever weirdness that label encompasses. You might quite reasonably suggest enlarging the quarantine to cover every single registered Republican so they don’t, in their zany zeal, nominate someone with the fanaticism of a bin Laden and the ethics of Dick Cheney. Apparently there’s no way to keep someone with just the latter syndrome from getting into power, so I guess that throws the efficacy of the whole watchdog principle into question. 

Be that as it may, let’s be grateful for small favors: the Republican leadership, who would like to position their party for at least a plausible chance at winning in November, are watch-dogging the far right for the time being. All this really means is Rick Santorum is getting frustrated. As someone who despises Santorum, I’m all for his being frustrated. No one to the left of what passes for the center these days needs any coaxing to hate Rick Santorum. Because the GOP has become so overtly anti-reason, no one with any sort of reason feels the need to pay attention to the Republicans’ internal squabbles. The whole party is beyond the pale anyway, so who cares who’s annoying whom? 

That’s a shame, because if that’s how you feel you’re missing some amusing entertainment. 

To the GOP leadership, Rick Santorum represents the crazed id that is the voting base the party has somehow been saddled with. Those in charge of the GOP hate their voting base, much the way the Democrats’ leaders hate the left - except in the Republicans’ case their unruly id has way too much power for the leadership to be comfortable. No, they need to keep a tight rein on that stuff.

In exerting pressure to keep the rabble to heel, under no circumstances are they going to let Santorum derail Mitt Romney’s progress toward the nomination. They’re not even being particularly clever about it. They can’t be, because Santorum himself is so obvious as he tries to bludgeon Romney with the “he’s not conservative enough” stick. 

Take the Michigan primary. Michigan has an open primary, meaning Democrats can vote in it. With no Democratic primary this time around, Obama being the unchallenged incumbent, there was no reason for a Democrat NOT to vote in the Republican primary. If you love punching chads with a stylus, and who doesn’t, why wouldn’t you go to the polls, especially after getting a call from the Santorum campaign? Yes, Santorum’s campaign workers called Democrats and urged them to vote for Santorum because he was less likely to win against Obama! Vote for the weaker Republican. Vote for the rightwing nut whom Obama can easily beat in November! And it worked - Democrats said, “Hell, yeah!”

Michigan awards its delegates by district, it’s not one of those winner-take-all states. And Santorum and Romney each won 7 districts, so each got 14 delegates. A tie! But there were two “at-large” delegates not attached to any district. Those were to be awarded to the winner of the popular vote. Or were they? There was some disagreement over the rules. Apparently some people thought that if the popular vote was close, the at-large delegates were to be divided between the two neck-and-neck competitors. 

How close is close? Romney got 41% of the popular vote and Santorum 38%. Close is a relative term. If you’re the Republican party leadership, and you don’t want Santorum declaring that since Romney’s father had been governor of Michigan half a century ago, he had tied Romney on his “home turf,” then of course you award both at-large delegates to Romney, giving him 16 Michigan delegates to Santorum’s 14. Because when it comes to keeping the rightwing base in line, three percentage points isn’t close enough to risk it. 

Santorum trumpeted his good showing in Michigan anyway, and the id of the GOP agreed. And they just keep voting for him, giving him just enough taste of victory to justify his staying in the race. Since Michigan, Santorum’s won Tennessee, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Kansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, and stayed close to Romney in a handful of other races. And if Gingrich were to drop out, there’s little doubt Santorum would be doing even better - possibly even winning. 

And it’s just eating Santorum alive that he’s not getting more credit from the party leadership for having all those grassroots white supremacists at his command. He certainly wonders, as do I, if Gingrich isn’t being given some under-the-table quid pro quo from the GOP brass for continuing to drain Santorum’s votes. 

I mean, Santorum really is a nasty jerk, even aside from his political positions. Santorum has called Romney “the worst possible Republican in the country to go up against Obama on the issue of health care.” That’s probably true, since Romney’s Massachusetts health plan was one model the Democrats borrowed from, including the hated “individual mandate.” So Santorum is right, Romney couldn’t, with entirely consistent logic, stand up and hate on Obama’s health care plan, while Santorum could actually stand RIGHT OUTSIDE the Supreme Court, stamp his feet, yell and scream and bash the plan right while it was being argued about inside. Which he did, though he mostly just bashed Romney’s vulnerability on the subject. 

A New York Times reporter asked Santorum to clarify his calling Romney the “worst possible Republican,” and Santorum flew into a rage, cussing the guy out for “distorting his words.” Santorum sounded like a testy little bitch, but defended his testy-little-bitchiness later on, saying any conservative who hadn’t “taken on” the New York Times wasn’t “worth his salt.” In Santorum’s mind, throwing a hissy fit constitutes “taking someone on.” 

Well, he threw his hissy at the New York Times, so that’s one benchmark of conservatism he can cross off his to-do list. What else? He went bowling, because Romney’s too liberal to ever do that. He pretended he grew up blue collar, even though his father was head of the psychology department at a Veterans Administration office. What a solid, consistent conservative.

And he openly states why he’s doing it all - “I yelled at a reporter, therefore I’m a real conservative. I went bowling, therefore I’m in touch with the common people, not like that rich guy. I grew up in public housing, not like that rich guy. I can complain about Obamacare, not like that guy from elitist Massachusetts who let gays get married and abortions get really inexpensive.” 

Santorum has also said plainly that his goal is less to win the nomination than to demonstrate that Romney’s so-called inevitability is not inevitable. He’s doing this as a service to REAL conservatives. But none of it sticks, partly because the GOP leadership doesn’t want it to. They don’t care if Romney’s not hugely popular among the crazy people who support Santorum. 

So Santorum’s back-up plan is to prevent Romney from getting the winning number of delegates before the Republican National Convention. There hasn’t been an open convention in either party for a quarter of a century, but Santorum believes he can precipitate one. I think Gingrich and Santorum both believe that at an open convention one of them would have a chance of being brokered into the top position on the Republican ticket. And they might be right, crazy though it may sound. The GOP leadership has become expert at managing the primary process, but they’re twenty-some years out of practice when it comes to managing a convention that’s not just a three-day advertisement for their candidate. It sure would be interesting if Rick Santorum led a rebellion of irritable fascists on national TV. 

The scary thing would be if he actually got the nomination, because his heart really is the perfect-storm nexus where religious fanaticism, rightwing purism, ethical relativism and ill-tempered self-righteous narcissism have come together in a kind of marriage… a polygamous marriage - which is ironic considering his current raison-d’être is to beat the crap out of a Mormon. 

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day.