Santorum Masters Retail Politics

January 4th, 2012 at 11:35 am | 19 Comments |

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David Frum argues that a “A Romney-Santorum contest is not much of a contest at all.” He’s probably right about this. Romney beats Santorum hands down in resources, organization, discipline, and support from GOP elites. But there’s one wild-card that could make things interesting: Santorum may somehow learn to master the art of retail politics.

Consider the way things worked: Santorum surged late in the campaign on the strength of a low-budget, high-effort campaign that brought him face-to-face with thousands of Iowa Republicans. Romney, although not possessed of the elitist vibe of George H.W. Bush and, to a lesser extent, Barack Obama, doesn’t give off that “I want to be his friend” feeling of true masters of the art of retail politics like Bill Clinton. But Santorum, who I’ve seen campaign up close and got to know casually while working in the Senate, didn’t either last I saw him.

If Santorum is something other than the “flavor of the week,”–and he may well be–it may be because he’s somehow learned new, almost unteachable skills and managed to increase his already decent personal charisma. And that could make things very interesting.

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19 Comments so far ↓

  • Redrabbit

    Retail politics takes time. Santorum has been living in Iowa for quite some time now, but he obviously cannot replicate that in the other states. Most of his chances hinge on a last minute surge in donations and support, which would allow him to compete in other states.

    But when you consider how long it took for his retail politics approach to translate in to anything, it becomes clear how limited his prospects are.

  • Graychin

    Retail politics (town meetings and hand-shaking) will get you noticed in a small and early state like Iowa or New Hampshire, but it won’t take you very far in large, diverse places like Florida.

    Santorum passed the first test. Money will probably flow to him now. Bachmann and Perry appear to be gone, and Santorum will pick up their support. Another way of looking at last night’s vote:

    Not Romney 50.3%
    Romney 24.6%
    Paul 21.5%
    Huntsman 0.6%

    Romney still hasn’t demonstrated that he can break through his 25% ceiling. He will do better than that in New Hampshire. But where else?

    • kuri3460

      I think the bigger issue is that the spotlight has now zeroed in on perhaps the most plausible of the (admittedly implausible) candidates vying to steal the nomination away from Willard Romney (thanks Reverend Al).

      Let’s face it, most of the “not Romneys” up to this point had little business running for president in the first place. Hermain Cain lacked policy depth and sexually harassed too many women, Newt Gingrich had too many political skeletons in his closet, Rick Perry came off as a buffoon, and Michelle Bachman had a penchant for fear-mongering and conspiracy theories (Gardasil causes mental retardation, etc).

      But Santorum? Like him or hate him, he does have a grasp of foreign and domestic policy and generally doesn’t put his foot in his mouth the way Perry, Cain, and Bachman did. Perhaps most importantly, his biggest political liabilities aren’t actually liabilities in the GOP primary – nobody is going to criticize him right now for being too pro-life or too anti-gay marriage. Given enough rope, I don’t think Santorum will hang himself the way the others did.

      With that said, Romney is still going to be the nominee, this just makes it a little more difficult for him. With Perry, Bachman, and Gingrich now either out of the race or effectively irrelevant, all their support is more likely to head in Santorum’s direction than Romney’s. With the primaries no longer operating under a winner-take-all format, Santorum can plausibly push Romney to Super Tuesday if he wins South Carolina and simply doesn’t get humilated in Florida or New Hampshire. This means two more months of infighting and airing dirty laundry in public for the GOP, rather than two months of hammering President Obama, which is no small loss for them.

  • armstp

    Santorum only surged because he was the last man standing on the far far right. If it was all retail politicing, then give the fact that he has been in Iowa for so long, he would have been polling much better much earlier.

    • Reflection Ephemeral

      armstp has the correct answer.

      Gingrich surged about a month ago with next to nothing for retail politicking. The Romney machine accordingly set about spending millions of dollars highlighting concerns about Newt. Santorum then surged because it was his turn, and the GOP doesn’t really like Mitt that much. If the election had been ten days from now, the Romney-obeying SuperPACs would have savaged Santorum, too.

    • dugfromthearth

      Correct. The statement “Consider the way things worked: Santorum surged late in the campaign on the strength of a low-budget, high-effort campaign that brought him face-to-face with thousands of Iowa Republicans” is simply a fallacy.

      Every social conservative surged at one point in the campaign. The fact that Santorum surged so late is more an indication of how bad a candidate he is that they looked at him last.

  • dante

    Wait, WHAT??!?

    Romney, although not possessed of the elitist vibe of George H.W. Bush and, to a lesser extent, Barack Obama

    The only people who think Obama is an “elitist” are older rural voters who think that Arugula is a French entree. Romney is the epitome of “elitist”, from being born wealthy to running Wall Street investment firms. He consistently wins those with upper incomes ($100k+, in the Iowa caucus), and loses EVERY OTHER INCOME BRACKET.

    http://www.foxnews.com/politics/elections/2012/iowa-caucus-jan-3/entrance-polls

    I’m sorry, I know that this is the “Romney positive spin zone”, but there’s no way in hell that you can claim that Romney is less “elitist” than Obama.

    None.

    • smajor

      + 1

      We’re talking about the ten thousand dollar bet guy.

      • dante

        Obama likes lettuce.
        Romney throws around $10k bets like confetti.

        There’s no contest in my mind as to who the “elite” is…

    • Graychin

      Yes, Obama went to Ivy League schools – on merit, not money. And his origins are entirely middle class / working class. So was his early work history, as a “community organizer” – which Republicans find hilarious, for some reason, as they look down their noses at anyone who once held such a lowly job title.

      In Republicanspeak, all Democrats are “elitist.” But not silver-spoon Republicans like Romney or Bush or McCain (admiral’s son). Got it now?

  • Nanotek

    “Santorum Masters Retail Politics”

    he’s a bigot

    Iowa conservatives don’t pick Presidents.

  • Ray_Harwick

    Santorum is officially #2.

  • valkayec

    Santorum, unless he changes his election strategy dramatically to focus on middle income voters and how he plans to help them, will be marginalized as the right-wing evangelist he is. That may be big in the GOP, but given the demographics of the country, it’s not a winning strategy for the general election.

    This race, I suspect, will split the party apart more than any modern GOP primary. Frum and gang can put all the makeup on the party primary it wants, but the facts are the GOP is coming apart at the seams.

  • TJ Parker

    Rick’s weakness is his unfortunate obsession with my penis.

  • hisgirlfriday

    Am I the only one who thinks of the Hunger Games every time I see the Santorum logo?

  • Candy83

    Does “retail politics” cover using coded racist dialog to appeal to certain constituents?