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Taking Aim at Santorum

The Romney campaign misfires.

Feb 20, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 22 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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The three-state parlay highlighted not just Santorum’s strengths, but Romney’s structural weaknesses. At the most elemental level, it remains true that Mitt Romney’s greatest challenge is winning votes. He has now lost elections to five different rivals over the course of his career. The last presumptive presidential nominee to have lost to so many opponents was Richard Nixon, and his losses were offset by a large number of electoral victories. Whatever Romney’s personal, moral, and intellectual merits, he has stood before voters more than two dozen times now. And they have nearly always expressed a preference for the other fellow—no matter who the other fellow is.

The bedrock argument for Romney has always been that, whatever his weaknesses at inspiring voters, his money and campaign infrastructure would eventually carry the nomination and make him a formidable challenger for President Obama. In fact, this is precisely the argument the Romney campaign made in a strategy memo last week, on the morning of the elections. (In response, Santorum strategist Hogan Gidley quipped, “I can’t wait to put a bumper sticker on my truck that says MONEY-INFRASTRUCTURE 2012.”)

Romney’s money wasn’t brought to bear last week. Unlike in Florida, where he outspent the field by five to one, Romney chose not to put ads on television and radio in Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado. (Before the Florida vote, there were 65 Romney ads on the air for every Gingrich ad.) In choosing not to outspend Santorum for a week, Romney gave Republican voters a preview of what it might look like if he faces Obama, who will be able match him (if not outspend him) dollar for dollar.

More worrisome, though, is what the results—particularly in Minnesota and Colorado—suggest about Romney’s infrastructure. When a campaign can’t keep track of a few thousand core supporters from one election cycle to the next, motivate them, and get them to the polls in a small caucus environment, there are only two explanations: Either the organization is incompetent, or the supporters have had second thoughts.

By the end of last week Romney was worried enough to do some of the contrast-drawing personally. “Senator Santorum and Speaker Gingrich, they are the very Republicans who acted like Democrats,” he said at an event in Atlanta. “And when Republicans act like Democrats, they lose.”

With a surfeit of political transparency and a shortage of self-awareness, the soundbite was a near-perfect distillation of the Romney candidacy.

Jonathan V. Last is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.

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