Why Rick Santorum is a GOP nightmare: Eugene Robinson Live

Feb 21, 2012

In Eugene Robinson's latest column, he writes, "Republicans haven?t quite thrown away what they see as a winnable presidential election, at least not yet. But they?re trying their best."

Live chat with Eugene Robinson about why he thinks Rick Santorum is a GOP nightmare, and why he thinks Santorum will bring the Republican party down with him.

Agree? Disagree? Have an opinion or question? Submit your questions and/or thoughts for Eugene now!

Hello, everyone. Welcome to our little Island of Sanity amid the chaos of another busy week. Today's column, which has drawn a fair bit of reaction, was about the mess the Republican Party finds itself in and the GOP establishment's panic at the prospect of having Rick Santorum as the nominee. Or, for that matter, Mitt Romney, who's getting roughed up by Santorum and Newt Gingrich, a couple of -- let's face it -- has-beens from another century. Meanwhile, evangelist Franklin Graham went on Morning Joe this morning and ruled on who's a Christian (Santorum) and who's maybe not (Romney, Obama). And the Dow stuck its nose above 13,000 this morning. Lots to talk about, so let's begin.

We hear frequently that the GOP base wants nothing more than to beat Obama. Why would they vote for Santorum, then, when he has no crossover appeal?

Because he's not Mitt Romney. To elaborate, a lot of Republicans don't believe Romney is a real conservative. His argument that he's more electable holds less water after Santorum beat him in a trifecta of primaries. Without "electability," I don't know if Romney, even with all the money in the world, can win the nomination.

What if this is an elaborate plot by the Republicans to throw the nomination into a brokered convention and a white knight will be swept into the candidacy with all the momentum and hype of the savior of the country. Otherwise, can they really be that dumb and divided?

Shooting oneself in the foot is rarely the best way to win a race. This mess looks authentic to me, and I think it's due to several factors. First, I believe some potential candidates decided early on that this wasn't a good year to run because Obama would be hard to beat. Second, the fissures in the Republican Party are real. None of this means the election will be a cakewalk for Obama, by any means. But the GOP isn't doing itself any good right now. 

I have this terrible fear that Santorum could win the primary, and maybe even the general election. There seem to be a large number of voters on the conservative side who will vote for a person whose policy ideas are problematic, if he seems to have character, by which they mean deeply held religious and political views that don't change from one year to the next. I realize that as President, Santorum would not have the power to transform the USA into a misogynistic theocracy with himself as Pope, but the thought of President Santorum still terrifies me.

Anything's possible, but GOP establishment types believe Santorum would lose big time in the general election. His views really are extreme.

Can you please explain to me how someone you know and I respect, Joe Scarborough, can beleive Santorum is real viable candidate and that he (Santorum) would not scare the hell out of 80% of women? I am single, educated and make just over 6 figures. I like my job. I am good at it. I like my birth control. I like sex. I think most women do too.

Obviously I don't speak for Joe but I believe Santorum's views on women's reproductive rights -- and, for that matter, on the role of women in society -- are so far outside the mainstream that he would be a weak general election candidate. There are some who believe his blue-collar vibe -- even though both his parents had white-collar jobs -- would serve him well in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. But then again, the last time he ran in Pennsylvania he lost by historic margins.

As a registered republican, the answer to the republican ticket problem is you have these candidates who swing too far to the right and can win based on their extreme views. We would not have been in this situation is Herman Cain and John Huntsmen were still in the run and people such as Newt and Santorum were out. I honestly believe Romney would be ideal if he would just stick up for his views and say, look, all that far right garbage I do not believe in, just like all that far left garbage I do not believe in either.  Would you agree that there has to be a slow push for a new moderate Republican party which will eventually do away with the far right current party?

Romney's plan, surely, is to say just what you suggest -- but after he wins the nomination. The problem is that to win the nomination in today's GOP, you have to go so far to the right that you practically leave the playing field. Either there will be a correction of some kind or the party is in real trouble.

Last week Steve Kornacki's article on Salon.com suggested the possibility of a deadlocked convention (not brokered), in which there is not one or two clear front runners but several at the time of the convention. With Romney's presumed strength in the Northeast, Santorum's in the heartland, and Gingrich's in the South and with Tea Party voters, what is the likely hood of this type of scenario unfolding?

It's not impossible. One question is whether Gingrich shows enough strength on Super Tuesday and the week after to remain a viable candidate. Another is whether Santorum and Gingrich can compete on Super Tuesday with Romney's money and his national organization. It's almost always unwise to predict a deadlocked convention, but this year it's not impossible.

I think a lot of Democrats believe the way to win the election is to appeal to the "undecided center". However, I feel a lot of Republicans want to _strongly_ appeal to their base; rather than getting a majority by grabbing the center, they want more turnout from right-leaning voters. I always felt that's how Bush & Rove won in both of their elections; do you think that would work this time around?

If you look at the numbers, it's just not possible to win a national election with Republicans alone or with Democrats alone. You need votes from independents. Bush and Rove understood this quite well.

I keep hearing things from some political experts who think that Santorum might end up being harder for Obama to beat because he's better able to connect with conservative blue-collar workers (unlike Romney), who haven't been happy with Obama. They said he might be able to win in the Rust belt states and pull off an electoral college win. Your thoughts on this scenario?

I don't see it. Santorum is showing the ability to appeal to the far-right basse of the Republican Party. His ability to appeal to moderate voters is a big question mark.

I agree with your 'GOP Nightmare' and am a Romney Supporter. We have no voice but to vote them it's too late! If the establishment is so afraid of Santorum why can't more of them stand up and suppoet Mitt Romney and put him over the top?

The GOP establishment -- which, frankly, ain't what it used to be -- is doing all it can to put Romney over the top. But if Santorum wins Michigan, even establishment types will have to wonder about the electability argument.

Recently heard a talk from Jeremy Rifkin concerning a change in energy policy to eventually get out of fossil fuels. This will be the future of the earth. Why don't we follow the lead of Europe and eventually Japan to use renuable energy and set a policy to do so.

President Obama has tried to make the economic argument for moving toward renewables. I hope he makes the case this fall.

Could this create a "brokered" Republican convention? And, if so, how would that work?

There could be a deadlocked convention but I'm not sure we could have a brokered convention anymore, because it's unclear to me who the brokers are. What "boss" is going to speak for the Tea Party caucus, for example?

It is reasonable to assume that any attack on Iran (by the Israelis or the US) would be incredibly destabilizing in the region and would lead to an even larger spike in oil and gas prices affecting our very young economic recovery?  This destability and economic shock would hurt whoever happened to be the sitting US president.

Absolutely right. This is one of the variables that could effect the outcome of the election. In the case of an attack, Iranian oil supply would surely be interrupted. I'm guessing that the Saudis could be convinced to increase output to make up the difference. Assuming they could get that oil to market (through the Strait of Hormuz), the price spike would be mitigated somewhat. But there would still be a spike.

That the Republicans are willing to seriously consider nominating such an extreme candidiate who lost his last senate race by 18 points, to me, indicates how much conservatives dislike and distrust Romney. Should Romney, eventually win this war of attrition and become the nominee, is there any chance he can spark enough enthusiasm and turnout among conservatives to seriously challenge the President in the general election?

I think there's a far-right constituency that will never warm to Romney. His logical move, perhaps his only move, would be to move even more sharply to the center in the general.

Do you think that the so called heavy hitters who are not running in this cycle are afraid to get caught up in personal politics and race? You can already see it surfacing, and once the general election gets going I can only see it getting worse.

Generally speaking, potential candidates decide to sit out contests because they don't think they can win.

In his column today he writes "Santorum is a standing affront to the sensibilities and assumptions of the media and political elite." Do you agree this is the reason he is unelectable? And do you feel someone like Barbara Boxer is just as extreme on the opposite side?

No and no. Don't ask me, ask the voters. Sen. Boxer won her last reelection campaign. Santorum lost his by 18 points, a record for an incumbent senator. It's not the media but the voters who decide "electability."

Santorum seems to be the latest "wanna-be" who operates on a strategy of invoking fear in potential voters. This is an old tactic among politicians as was demonstrated in the PBS documentary about the Clintons last night. While Santorum appears to have gained a lead over Romney, his "trifecta" wins brought him no delegate votes and consisted of a few thousand people in each state voting for him. Santorum seems to have risen, as other competing candidates have in past weeks and months on the basis of his certainty of belief. It appears that the GOP is being defined more and more by politicians who appeal to social and cultural myths based upon their unshakable convictions. Please comment.

I think the real reason for Santorum's rise is that GOP voters keep looking for someone who's not Mitt Romney. 

Conservative purity in the 1964 election didn't work out so well for the Republicans. Granted these are different times, but choosing Santorum or Gingrich would seem to be way too close to that election's trip over the precipice.

Veteran GOP operatives who are old enough to remember 1964 share your concern.


And with that, my time is up for today. Thanks for participating in a lively discussion, and I'll see you again next week.

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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