Thursday, April 5, 2012

What Is Santorum's Plan?

Coming out of Romney's sweep last Tuesday it's hard to see why Rick Santorum is still in the race. Why is he still in the race? Let's look at the allegations:

Santorum's Ego!
The number one reason why people think Rick is still running is that his ego won't let him quit. This is, frankly, more plausible as a Newt Gingrich reason (who, I am inclined to believe, went after Bill Clinton after being forced to sit in the back of Air Force One ... and has also cast himself as a defender of western civilization)--but let's not discount it for Rick either. Is there any evidence of this?

Answer: Not really. Look, no one--no one--gets into a presidential race without a hefty second helping of ego. That's the minimum requirement. And knowing when to get out? That's a tough call. However Santorum is (a) in second place (even if it's distant) (b) holds a torch for a part of the party Romney simply doesn't and (c) is still likely to win some pretty big states (Texas). These are all facts and don't require any egotistical thinking to suggest he ought to stay in.

He Could Still Win!
Could he, you know, win? Get to 1144 delegates? No. He can't. There is no even-semi-plausible road to outright victory. I have not run the numbers--but unless Romney dies--and dies soon there is simply no path to victory. He can't win.

So He Wants the VP Position, Right?
If he does, he's dreaming. While he will carry a lot of people with him--and maybe PA which is swing-statey--Romney is going to be under tremendous tectonic pressure to pick someone who is not just exciting but electric to the base. Rubio is a 'maybe.' Allan West is a 'maybe.' I don't think Santorum carries Sarah-Palin-Esque charisma with him.

If Obama didn't pick Hillary as a running mate in 2008 (I still think we're going to hear about a Joe Biden resignation around August) Romney will probably not pick Santorum as a heal-the-party candidate in 2012. This is especially true if Santorum keeps hitting hard with the attack ads--not because Romney will be pissed (although? Maybe?) but because if they then do team up it raises all kinds of but-you-said-that-then questions that everyone would really rather just evaporate after the nomination (as the Etch-a-Sketch is shaken, eh?).

It's The Brokered Convention Thing Then?
We'll look at that in a minute. There is one more reason he might stick it out through PA and Texas--both of which are must-win states for him: he'd be Next-In-Line. The GOP, establishment or not, is pretty friendly to the next-runner-up. If Santorum sticks around to run hard in some of his key states he will have cemented a claim to being the next in line that would position him well for 2020 ... or, you know, maybe 2016 if Romney loses.

Let's Look At The Brokered / Open / Contested Convention
Santorum's path to the brokered convention is narrowing rapidly but it might be wider than you think. This article from the American Thinker is a fairly sophisticated look at what Team Santorum is probably thinking:
In real life, take Washington State as an example. Based on raw voter preferences, the Real Clear Politics estimate is that Romney will take 25 delegates, Paul 8, and Santorum 7. Santorum's team has claimed in public that this count will prove to be wildly off. Well, if the local supporters of Paul, Santorum, and Gingrich tend to work together to block Romney, the Santorum claim could easily prove accurate, with Paul and Santorum each gaining another four or so delegates, all at Romney's expense.
In real life, Romney took 30 and Santorum and Paul each got 5. But still.

The plan, as with Ron Paul, is that the delegate allocation isn't actually based on the vote--but rather a process that happens after the vote. If everyone is teamed up with Rick they can give Santorum more delegates than "he won" and, maybe, if they're sneaky, even block some Romney delegates.

Santorum has a real pro, John Yob, coaching him on each state's specific, fiddly, delegate system. Here's a look:
Many states are just now starting their conventions, and it is impossible to say precisely how many delegates each candidate will win. The Associated Press delegate count, widely cited in media stories, shows Romney with 568 delegates to Santorum's 273, with Newt Gingrich at 135 and Ron Paul at 50. Yob's count is significantly different: according to his estimate, Romney has 482 delegates to Santorum's 331, with Gingrich at 158 and Paul at 91.
What accounts for the differences? First, the Santorum campaign believes that delegates from Florida and Arizona will ultimately be awarded proportionately, and not as winner-take-all contests. The AP account currently gives Romney all 50 Florida delegates and all 29 Arizona delegates. Santorum and Yob point to a recent article by Morton Blackwell, the longtime conservative activist and member of the Republican National Committee rules committee, suggesting that if the race is close, it is likely the party convention in Tampa this summer will award Florida and Arizona delegates proportionately. Doing so would not be a delegate gusher for Santorum, but it would lower Romney's count, since Romney won both states and now has all the delegates in his column. In the end, Yob believes Romney will end up with 23 delegates in Florida and 14 in Arizona, for a combined loss of 42 delegates.
This is fascinating stuff. He's also going to pull a double-reverse and press for Texas, now in the Winner-Take-All phase of the race--to really be "Winner Take All" (instead of Winner Take All by district) and, when Santorum wins (he's favored there) result in a huge haul for Team Santorum.

Anything Else?
Yes: Santorum is going to continue making the case that Romney will lose. Look at this recent Gallup Poll:

PRINCETON, NJ -- Barack Obama has a 48% to 39% advantage over Mitt Romney among independent voters in 12 key swing states. He first moved ahead of Romney among this group in February after being tied in January and trailing last year.
Trend: Presidential Vote Preferences of Independents in Swing States, Based on Registered Voters
The results are based on the most recent USA Today/Gallup Swing States poll, conducted March 20-26, among voters in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

This is not news anyone wants to hear. Much less this:
Nobody thinks Romney’s going to win,” Scarborough said candidly. “Let’s just be honest. Can we just say this for everybody at home? Let me just say this for everybody at home.”
“The Republican establishment — I’ve yet to meet a single person in the Republican establishment that thinks Mitt Romney is going to win the general election this year,”
Scarborough continued. “They won’t say it on TV because they’ve got to go on TV and they don’t want people writing them nasty emails. I obviously don’t care. But I have yet to meet anybody in the Republican establishment that worked for George W. Bush, that works in the Republican congress, that worked for Ronald Reagan that thinks Mitt Romney is going to win the general election.”
Yeah, yeah. It's not like Santorum is dominating early, months-away polls either (the next paragraph in the above Gallup Poll contains "Rick Santorum, fared much worse versus Obama among independents in the Swing State poll, trailing 53% to 32%."). Still, if Santorum can sell the narrative that Romney cannot win then you go with who has a chance, right?

What Do I Think?
I think this strategy better be combined with some really hard-hitting anti-Romney ads (which, you know, This Man, is a good start for). Santorum cannot continue to "under perform at the edges" like he did in Washington. What he can do is keep interest in the race high, though. That's not nothing. He might just damage Romney--but I think, at this point, Romney's list of self-inflicted wounds (and friendly-fire) should get the "right of first refusal" when it comes to assessing his negatives.

Pennsylvania is 2 weeks away. This should be Romney's chance to turn the Death Star (his Super PAC) on Santorum--but instead he has already "started running the general." That's an interesting and bold tactic. Will it work? Let's see. If it doesn't--if Romney runs an anti-Obama campaign while Santorum tears his throat out we might get to see one more round in this fight.

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