Santorum takes his turn as the non-Romney
By E. Thomas McClanahan
McClatchy Newspapers , Taiwan News, Newspaper
2012-03-01 12:34 PM
Last week, the Kansas City Star’s Editorial Board was visited by economist Art Laffer — yes, he of the famous Laffer curve. Most of the meeting dealt with topics other than national politics, but toward the end I asked him whether he thought President Barack Obama would be re-elected.

“No,” he replied immediately.

“Who’s going to do it? Santorum?” I asked, referring to former senator Rick Santorum, who last week was edging Mitt Romney in national polls.

Laffer’s answer was non-verbal. His hands went up on each side of his head. He leaned forward, bug-eyed at the imagined horror of Santorum as the GOP nominee — a response that reflects the fears of many on the Republican side.

You keep seeing desperate, hopeful rumors on the Web and the wire. Don’t worry. A new candidate will jump into the race and salvage all this. Or: Maybe we’ll have a brokered convention.

Don’t bet on it. Still, if Santorum beats Romney in Michigan, a state Romney claims as home turf, the rumors will become more frequent, and their tone will become more desperate.

Romney has proven a surprisingly weak candidate. He has not improved as much as one would expect, given that one not-Mitt after another has climbed to the top of the polls, only to fade in the hot light of media scrutiny. This sort of thing is supposed to put a candidate in fighting trim. But through it all, Romney’s pitch has stressed his biography: successful businessman, former governor, rescuer of the Salt Lake City Olympics.

He has yet to offer an idea larger than himself in a way that hints at deep conviction — although the tax reform he proposed last week was a step forward.

Its core concept: a lower, flatter top rate, applied to a much broader base.

As for Santorum, he has forgotten that Americans like their politics only lightly imbued with religion, if at all. And they like it from a politician who can evoke — and in these times, reawaken — the inclination of Americans to view the future with hope rather than dread.

Santorum often seems overshadowed by a cloud of gloom, more interested in cataloging the nation’s sins than in showing the way to a better and more prosperous world.

“I’m not running for preacher,” he said in an interview last year. Except that sometimes he sounds like one. Last week, videos surfaced of Santorum in 2008 declaring the decline of America’s core institutions was the work of the “Father of Lies” — Satan.

In another interview, he said that if elected, he wouldn’t be shy about speaking of the damage done to marriage by contraception. At other times, he has said he favors reinstatement of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the military.

However you feel about those issues, it’s far from clear what government could or should do.

America isn’t likely to discard the Pill. And while Santorum says he wouldn’t cashier gays already serving, wouldn’t it be unfair to enforce “don’t ask, don’t tell” for those who enlist after the policy is reimposed?

Republicans would do well to remember that in 2010, their overwhelming victory came in large part because of an intense focus on the economy, the explosion of debt under Obama and Obamacare’s looming threat. The social issues that have so often dominated the Republican campaign are of only passing interest to the swing voters who will decide the election.

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