Romney, Santorum and the Future of the GOP

John Heilemann has an interesting essay on the 2012 GOP primaries (“The Lost Party,” in New York Magazine) Core argument: Regardless of who the GOP nominee is (and here the choice is Romney and Santorum), a loss to Obama will and important implications for the future of the GOP.  If Romney wins—and then loses—the lesson will be clear: moderates can’t win. The party will gravitate toward the charismatic populist right. If Santorum wins—and then loses—the lesson will be equally clear, and would open the door to more moderate conservatives (e.g., Jeb Bush, Daniels, Christie).  For the first case, the historical analog is the shift from Ford to Reagan; for the second, the analog is Goldwater to Nixon.  One might disagree with the article’s characterization of Bush, Daniels, Christie et al as moderates–in fact they seem far more conservative than Mr. Romney.  But the overarching argument is nonetheless interesting and the article is a delight to read.

Heilmann ends on an interesting note, suggesting that those who believe that two credible governing parties are vitally important should wish Santorum luck.

A Santorum nomination would be seen by many liberals as a scary and retrograde proposition. And no doubt it would make for a wild ride, with enough talk of Satan, abortifacients, and sweater vests to drive any sane man bonkers. But in the long run, it might do a world of good, compelling Republicans to return to their senses—and forge ahead into the 21st century.

Perhaps.

Santorum and Romney most certainly differ on their overt religiosity and their level of comfort in rallying the culture warriors (although I suspect that Santorum is being somewhat mischaracterized by a press intent on repeating a very selective sample of his statements, quite aware that they are repellant to many moderate and independent voters). But on another dimension, both of the top candidates are quite similar: both are statists and neither makes anything more than a rhetorical case against social engineering and aggressive foreign policy. To the extent that this is the case, they have more in common with the incumbent than they do with libertarians who once again seem to find little of interest in the GOP.

3 thoughts on “Romney, Santorum and the Future of the GOP

  1. Well said: “But on another dimension, both of the top candidates are quite similar: both are statists and neither makes anything more than a rhetorical case against social engineering and aggressive foreign policy. To the extent that this is the case, they have more in common with the incumbent than they do with libertarians who once again seem to find little of interest in the GOP.”

    Why is this so easily missed? Sloppy journalism? Liberal bias?

  2. Interesting post. Does Heilemann consider the implication of Santorum winning the noimination and then defeating Obama? After all, Obama’s negatives are high, so I wouldn’t discount any Republican beating him, even someone with comment after comment that is really out there. Santorum has provden he can appeal to independent voters. I even wonder if his snobbery comment directed at Obama yesterday wasn’t a calculated effort to appeal to blue collar independents who may not want to subsidize college students. .

  3. Obama having a lowish overall approval rating doesn’t really tell us much. I think you have to look at the political landscape more generally. The bipolar big-business and big-religion tendencies of the Republican party are embodied by Romney and Santorum respectively (exclusively?) which will in all probability result in a split vote on the right.

    My gut tells me more moderates would feel comfortable voting for Romney than Santorum in the general against Obama. I don’t see many on the religious right voting FOR Obama, and they certainly don’t want to vote for a Mormon, but if they don’t vote at all then they are essentially helping Obama OVER Romney. Wouldn’t they tend to vote Romney when push comes to shove anyways, then?

    So it seems Santorum is really catering to a very small and actually rather cornered portion of the population. My guess is that if they don’t cave they will realize how small they really are in the national election.

    Otherwise it’s Obama vs. Romney, and honestly, this doesn’t look very good if you’re a Republican either. Obama beats him on the demographic-angle, socioeconomic-angle, charisma and eloquence, education, he’s already had four years experience, etc., etc., etc. So what’s Romney coming at him with? Contraception? That the economy could have been recovering ‘faster’?

    I dunno. Save for something really (reallyreallyreally) crazy happening before the election, I have a really (reallyreallyreally) hard time seeing how a Republican can see this somehow ending in a victory. The best they can do is probably follow the article above: throw in the towel and start thinking about who to play next game (they do have an admittedly stacked bench for 2016…).

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