Connect with us

archive

The Santorum Strategy

The American Research Group has an Iowa poll, taken between December 8-11, that shows Newt Gingrich’s lead slipping considerably.  The polling interval includes a day after the most recent GOP debate, in which Gingrich took a lot of heat.  His Iowa standing fell from 27% in November to 22%, leaving the race as follows:

Newt Gingrich 22%

Ron Paul 17%

Mitt Romney 17%

Rick Perry 13%

Michele Bachmann 7%

Rick Santorum 7%

Jon Huntsman 5%

Undecided 12%

That’s a really impressive gain for Rick Perry, who was floating at just 5% last month.  He seems to have picked up a good share of Herman Cain’s supporters – Cain never did all that well in Iowa, but he had 6% before he suspended his campaign.

And then you’ve got Rick Santorum, who has been working his tail off in Iowa, and slowly building himself up to 7%.  He and Huntsman are the only candidates who have not had a shot at the alpha non-Romney position yet.  (Ron Paul’s primary strategy, whether it works or not, has never involved auditioning for that position.)   Santorum never seems to gain any traction, hovering just above asterisk status in national polls – the most recent Gallup survey has him at just 3%.  A strong Iowa showing could give him a chance to get on the electoral radar screen.  Iowa is, in our political imaginations if not always in reality, the mystic land where unlikely candidacies become plausible.

How can Santorum see a path to the nomination, when even a seismic event like Cain’s collapse ends up feeding an Iowa surge for someone else?  He’s far behind candidates like Gingrich and Romney, who have put far less effort into campaigning in Iowa.  He can’t even seem to win over evangelicals and “values voters,” whose concerns he sincerely and actively champions.  However, the unflappable Santorum told the Washington Examiner he’s staying in the race, at least through the big early primaries:

Santorum said he can’t explain why his numbers are low, but he plans to stay in the race and to compete in New Hampshire and South Carolina if he does well in Iowa against Bachmann and Perry, who both show about 9 percent support in Iowa polls.

“What matters is not the polls. What matters is Election Day,” Santorum told The Examiner. “I’m confident if we get a spark here in Iowa, we will rise very quickly and do well in both of those other states.”

Santorum, traveling in Des Moines as part of his “Faith, Family and Freedom” tour, made light of his poll numbers to his supporters.

“I’m just counting on Iowa, Santorum said after an hour-long promotion of his conservative credentials.  “People keep asking, when are you going to get your bump? I say January 3.”

So he’s apparently hoping he’ll be the last one standing when the other single-digit contenders shake out, and he can offer himself as a conservative alternative who has none of the Gingrich or Romney baggage.  It’s a long shot, but it makes sense as a strategy.  Santorum does well in his home state of Pennsylvania, where he won the straw poll by a substantial margin, and the GOP would love to have a candidate who could give them Pennsylvania.

What’s been keeping Santorum from catching fire?  Part of his problem is the prejudice against a candidate who doesn’t roll into the race with a lot of fanfare, and doesn’t draw attention to himself with a lot of high drama.  (Certainly “drama” can be bad, and even fatal to a campaign, but it does get people talking about you, and it draws the attention of the media.)  He’s also on the wrong end of the self-fulfilling media prophecy that says “irrelevant” candidates don’t get spotlight time, and without spotlight time, they can’t make themselves relevant. 

The only way out of that circular slide into polling oblivion is to hit some grand slams on the debate stage, as Cain and Gingrich did.  Santorum doesn’t really swing for the fences.  He’s young and looks even younger, which is a marvelous blessing everywhere except crowded primary debates. He spends a bit too much time on the debate stage agreeing with something noteworthy another candidate said, instead of expressing himself in a memorable way.

What Santorum really needs, in addition to some good fortune in those early primaries, is to blend his policy positions and philosophy into a powerful vision.  He is, by virtue of his social conservatism, well qualified to make the moral case for capitalism and liberty.  He can show that they are one and the same, and talk about how Big Government’s denial of this essential truth has deformed our social fabric. 

Santorum seems like he wants to do this, but never quite gets there.  Even the “Where I Stand” section of his website spends more time talking about all the things he has done, and accolades he has received, than explaining what he wants to do, and why he thinks it’s a good idea.  It talks at great length about all the times he has refused to back down, when Americans are keenly interested in hearing about how their next President plans to move forward.

That’s why our forbidding GOP frontrunner, Newt Romney, is doing so well despite valid concerns over its history of shifting positions – criticism it frequently hurls at itself, in the most heated terms.  Stalwart adherence to firm principles is great, but everyone wants to know what the candidates are going to do next, and how they’re going to help America out of the Obama burial pit. 

Santorum talks about specific ideas from a modest presidential platform during debates, but he has yet to blend them into a coherent vision with compelling moral and practical power.  If he can find a way to do that, maybe he really can emerge from the winter primary scrum with a real shot at becoming the first bulletproof frontrunner… earning the right to be brutally savaged for the beliefs in his heart, rather than the skeletons in his closet.

Written By

John Hayward began his blogging career as a guest writer at Hot Air under the pen name "Doctor Zero," producing a collection of essays entitled Doctor Zero: Year One. He is a great admirer of free-market thinkers such as Arthur Laffer, Milton Friedman, and Thomas Sowell. He writes both political and cultural commentary, including book and movie reviews. An avid fan of horror and fantasy fiction, he has produced an e-book collection of short horror stories entitled Persistent Dread. John is a former staff writer for Human Events. He is a regular guest on the Rusty Humphries radio show, and has appeared on numerous other local and national radio programs, including G. Gordon Liddy, BattleLine, and Dennis Miller.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Advertisement
Advertisement

TRENDING NOW:

Connect