2012 Republican Primary: What Comes After the Etch A Sketch?
Can you all please stop playing with your Etch-A-Sketch for just a few minutes and let's take a look at what's happened in literally the last 48 hours since the Illinois Republican primary and what's coming in the next 48 hours?
To get caught up, read Erica Holloway's impressions of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's 12-point win over former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, all in President Obama's homestate, in her BlogHer post-primary post. Also, check out CNN's always fascinating exit polls -- go here for Illinois exit polls specifically, but feel free to browse the other battlegrounds too. The two competitors' Illinois post-primary speeches here.
In a nutshell, Santorum was unable, for the third time, to bring home a win in a Midwest "rust belt" "manufacturing center" "middle America" state -- he didn't do it in Michigan and he didn't do it in Ohio. True, the contests were much closer in those two prior states and Illinois is considered to be bluer than both of the others. Also true that Romney spent a heck of a lot more money in Illinois than Santorum.
But a non-win is a non-win, and Santorum is a non-winner in these three very key states -- for the primary and the general election. Not a good omen.
Then, Wednesday morning, some major wind came Romney's way: former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, member of the dynastic political family of the same name -- oh, and two former presidents (41 - George H.W. and 43, George W.), endorsed Romney. He also called for the whole thing to please end:
Primary elections have been held in thirty-four states, and now is the time for Republicans to unite behind Governor Romney and take our message of fiscal conservatism and job creation to all voters this fall
Seems like a pretty awesome start to the day, yes? Except leave it to an old, trusted -- maybe complacently trusted? -- campaign aide to say something that uniquely plays into the worst fears conservatives have about Romney: that he's not a really a conservative:
[CNN] HOST: Is there a concern that Santorum and Gingrich might force the governor to tack so far to the right it would hurt him with moderate voters in the general election?
FEHRNSTROM: Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again. [emphasis added]
Noooo -- you did not just say that Mitt Romney is going to eliminate all evidence of what he did and said to win the partisan primary, and change what he does and what he says so that he can appeal to moderate voters, did you? Sigh.
This being 2012 and all, and Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich having made it clear before this incident that they have no intention of dropping out of the primary race, the Etch-A-Sketch-he-must-be-feeling-like-he's-going-to-wretch-episode is going on and on. As the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza writes this afternoon:
It's actually a relatively simple answer: Gaffes that matter are those that speak to a larger narrative about a candidate or a doubt/worry that voters already have about that particular candidate.
And that is so what happened. And even if it wasn't exactly what happened, Santorum and Gingrich are playing it as though it is, with Santorum claiming that even Obama beats Etch A Sketch Romney.
And Etch A Sketch sales have surged this week.
Moving on -- because there is more happening and even Mitt Romney must stay on message, this Saturday sees a primary in Louisiana, widely expected to go to Santorum. Past Louisiana, there are several states scattered in the East, the Mid-Atlantic and elsewhere, as you can see at this schedule -- some seem likely Romney, others more competitive and others still a challenge for each.
The next big contestable prize, however, doesn't come until 195 delegates are up for grabs in the big southern state of Texas, where Santorum has a chance, but also has at least three reasons to worry:
1. Jeb Bush, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and even Barbara Bush, who has not hidden her disgust at the GOP primary this season
2. Rick Perry -- what kind of an asset is he, really, given his plummeting appeal in Texas?
3. Longtime Texas U.S. Senator and Republican, Kay Bailey Hutchison, who just came out strongly for Planned Parenthood, is retiring and basically has nothing left to lose but to try and rally those Bush conservative-lite voters who can't stand the idea of a Santorum win.
Where will it all end up? With every shake of the Etch-A-Sketch, it's clearly more than a a simple kid's game.
More on this week in the GOP campaigns: