Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The South Goes Santorum

Rick Santorum got a two-fer down south last night.

Rick Santorum captured twin victories in the Alabama and Mississippi primaries on Tuesday, overcoming the financial advantages of Mitt Romney and the Southern allegiances to Newt Gingrich on a night that amplified his argument that the Republican nominating fight is becoming a two-man race with Mr. Romney.

The triumphs by Mr. Santorum elevated and strengthened his candidacy as the Republican campaign rolls ahead into a state-by-state battle for delegates. An aggressive push by Mr. Romney to try and capitalize on the divided conservative electorate failed to take hold, and he finished third in both states.

“We did it again,” Mr. Santorum said, addressing jubilant supporters in Louisiana, which holds its Republican primary next week. “The time is now for conservatives to pull together.”

A week after Super Tuesday cemented the status of Mr. Romney and Mr. Santorum as the leading Republican candidates, the outcome of the Alabama and Mississippi primaries strengthened Mr. Santorum’s argument that he should emerge as the final competitor to Mr. Romney. But Mr. Gingrich, who finished a close second in both states, noted that he earned about as many delegates as his rivals. He pledged to take his candidacy to the Republican convention in August.

This has the makings of a real donnybrook all the way to Tampa in September. Unless Mr. Romney can win every delegate from now on out or pull off some deals behind the scenes (“How does Secretary of State Newt Gingrich sound?”), he does not have a lock on the nomination, and the fight will go on. I still think Mr. Romney will somehow pull it off because the fates are not that friendly to me to grant my wish that they pick someone other than the Great Inevitable. If they were, I’d be buying a carload of lottery tickets and booking a room for the Pulitzer Prize ceremony.

It’s not that Barack Obama has a landslide in the making if the Republicans pick someone other than Mitt Romney, but if the Establishment Republicans can’t get their guy over the finish line at the end of the race to Tampa, how will they pull it together to win the general election? And even if it is eventually Mr. Romney, the enthusiasm gap is big enough — and neither the Gingrich or Santorum campaigns are going to give up easily — it’s going to be pretty hard for the GOP to catch up.

But they do have an ace in the hole. It’s been something that they’ve been cultivating for a very long time: hatred. It’s a vast commodity in the GOP. They hate gays, they hate Muslims, they hate immigrants, and recently, it’s been revealed that they really hate women even more than we thought. They’ve got it down to fine art; they know how to channel it, they know how to dog-whistle it, and they know how to manipulate it so that when they’re called out on it, they’re the ones that are the victims. And as much as the candidates hate each other on the campaign trail, they’ll pirouette like the acrobats in Cirque de Soleil and turn it full force on Barack Obama. Because if there’s one thing they hate more than anything else in the world, it’s that uppity you-know-what in the White House.