SHORTER Ross Douthat: Rick Santorum is the perfect Republican Presidential candidate, if only he weren't Rick Santorum.
Y'know, the only reason I can figure why Ross Douthat is writing about the 2012 campaign for the Times--let alone in a column labeled "Strong Opinions"--is that somebody on the Op-Ed board noticed they still had some nails lying around after they used Maureen Dowd to make sure American Letters wasn't getting out of its coffin.
"Rick Santorum is a humorless, joyless, scold, a petty, small-town, small-time bigot few people will vote for and no one likes". This is supposed to be deep analysis? (Well, no. What it is is a continuation of Douthat's entire, and already (at 30) superannuated career: "Here's what open-minded intellectual investigation would look like if the world were made up of nothing but snake-handlers and glossolaliaics.")
How much longer does he get away with this charade? Here's Douthat on the Republican "Dream" candidate"
He would hail from the Midwest – a region filled with recession-battered swing states where the president’s support is weaker than in the country as a whole. He would be a Catholic rather than an Evangelical or a Mormon, because the Catholic vote swings back and forth between the two parties in ways that other religious demographics don’t. He would have a strong personal and biographical connection to blue-collar whites, a bloc of voters whose support President Obama has always had difficulty winning. His record would be conservative enough to excite the Republican Party’s base, but leavened with enough moderation and even populism on economic issues to reassure anxious middle-income voters that the Republican Party doesn’t just exist to serve Wall Street and the rich.
In other words he'd be…Ross Douthat, if we could make New Haven part of the Middle West by fiat, just like we did Pennsylvania, and make "pretends he understands 'Reagan Democrats'" qualify as a connection to blue-collar whites, same as "pretends he grew up digging coal".
But no presidential candidate can succeed without a modicum of favorable media coverage, and so a successful populist needs to be able to disarm elite journalists (as Huckabee so expertly did, schmoozing on The Daily Show and elsewhere) as often as he alienates them. And nobody has ever used the word “disarming” to describe Rick Santorum’s approach to politics.
Okay, so explain to me how Huckabee ran third, and how after establishing himself by winning that ridiculous church-basement raffle-off in Iowa the only thing he managed to do was split Dixie with John McCain. Huckabee's Protestant fascism, which was on display later in the campaign, when he tried it as a longshot, is yet more acceptable to Middle America than Santorum's Catholic fascism, because it's less fanatical. It's got very little to do with Santorum being so unlikeable, though he certainly is that. You guys have papered over the difference for so long in your anti-abortion efforts that you've come to believe they don't exist. This is a profound misreading. You can get Baptists to sign up for your Temperance march. You're not going to get many to help when it's time to close the last liquor store in the county.
Santorum was one of four religious nutjobs in the race. He's the only one who managed to wait until primary season to blow his own foot off, mostly because no one took him seriously until the others dropped out. Why are the others gone? Why didn't Huckabee win? Religion-on-your-sleeve, social "conservatism" is supposed to be the lifeblood of Heartland. Why don't these guys win?
That’s because the former senator has the instincts of an activist, rather than of a president or statesman. Whether the topic is social issues or foreign policy, his zeal exceeds his prudence, and as a result his career is littered with debating society provocations (referencing “man-on-dog” sex in an argument about gay marriage, using his doomed 2006 Senate bid to educate Pennsylvanians on the evils of Hugo Chavez, etc.) that have won him far more enemies than friends. His passion for ideas and argument often does him credit, but in a national campaign it would probably do him in.
Yeah. The key to winning is to find a Republican who doesn't sound like one, but appeals to the base, who never makes crackpot statements, but believes Jebus counts every sperm, and who convinces working people in this country that he's one of them, except with a $12 million war chest. I don't know why you guys have so much trouble finding one, Ross. What I do know is it's not for lack of error.