Between a Rick And a Hard Place

Let’s face it. Republicans had to know they were in trouble when the serious challengers to what many thought to be Mitt Romney’s secure hold on the nomination turned out first to be Newt Gingrich and more recently, Rick Santorum. Primary and caucus voters apparently came to see the outlandishness of Gingrich possibly heading the 2012 GOP ticket and have pulled back from that but, implausibly, have looked in the direction of an alternative wrapped in as much, if not more freakishness. Selling Santorum as possessing credible presidential mettle is probably as good an admission as there could be of being sapped of all energy to make this fight – the party throwing in the towel in the effort to come up with a choice who did not, like Romney, flunk the far-right’s litmus test.

The Republicans’ plight has been generating lots of buzz from commentators. How unimpressive is the field of candidates tends to be a popularly held view. As is the boomerang effect of what GOP strategists figured to be a sure-fire tactic for dominating the political space, the scheduling of that bewildering series of debates. Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, in her typically droll summarizing of where the Republicans currently find themselves, suggested that Santorum should just get lost so as to leave Romney alone “to limp across the finish line,” thence to devote “full time and attention to losing to President Obama.”

It’s early yet, but there’s much folks are seeing about how this presidential race stacks up that leads many an observer to call it exactly as Dowd has. She in fact speculates that the Republicans may have already caved on 2012, and have begun looking four years down the road. Don’t try convincing Santorum or Romney of that, though. Romney will keep right on trying to make the case that he’s the Mr. Fixit the country needs. And Santorum will just as doggedly be insisting that the hard-line ideological twaddle he seeks to propagate is America’s last best hope.

Even if the Republican high command has tacitly pulled the plug on the party’s 2012 prospects, candidate Romney, if he becomes the nominee, as is widely presumed, has got to acquire a rap that makes sense. To continue saying of the president, that he has no ideas, that the job is too big for him, that it’s a failed presidency, etc sounds more hollow with each new report of Obama’s job approval numbers on a steady upswing. I mean, how long do you continue trying to make the case of ineptness against a guy who nailed bin Laden where seven post-9/11 years of a Republican administration failed to do so? How long do you continue trying to convince an electorate that this administration’s decision to bail out the auto industry was horrible and should have been left to the private sector (at a time that banks were themselves reeling!), now that the U.S. auto sector has come roaring back? No doubt about it, barring some cataclysmic new turn in the country’s economic fortunes, the hard, unyielding ground on which Romney finds himself standing these days looks to become, if anything, even harder.

That Santorum’s name is in the conversation about contenders for the presidency is bizarre enough. But, given a platform, via those infernal debates, to play to his gallery, he made capital of the opportunity and pressed hard to arouse the soft-on-Romney base. Still, how Santorum and the bunch of zealots who identify with the extremist social conservative screed he is always ready to unleash, can seriously entertain dreams of his elevation to the presidency is beyond the comprehension of those of us of more rational bent. Here’s a guy who not only doesn’t hesitate to publicly repudiate the doctrine of separation of church and state, but does so in a manner callous and disrespectful enough to infuriate some even in the religious community to which he panders. Those must be some mighty strange urgings to which he responds in relating that he felt like throwing up upon reviewing candidate John Kennedy’s famous declaration about Catholic dogma not influencing his conduct of American policy.

Then there’s the view from Pennsylvania to be considered, where Santorum didn’t merely lose his Senate seat when he last ran for re-election, he wound up on the short end of an 18 point shellacking. That such a drubbing can be fast-forwarded to a certified non-starter like Rick Santorum making like he really belongs in presidential politics is entirely due to the orchestrated work the Republican Party rolled out as the nomination drill this time around. It is, one imagines, the kind of scenario that gave rise to the expression: Only in America!

It is therefore not without justification that there’s continued referencing of the unflattering state of the Republicans’ quest for a presidential candidate. On the one hand, a presumptive nominee whose feet, anchored in some pretty forbidding terrain, as we’ve said, don’t exactly suggest growth potential. On the other hand, a Rick (the tiresome process has been bedeviled by two of them) who, never mind the histrionics, is going absolutely nowhere. Truth be told, the Romney-Santorum duel looks much like Maureen Dowd chose to describe it: a race to the bottom. Caught between a Rick and a hard place isn’t quite where the GOP faithful would care to be.

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