Santorum, Brokered Conventions, and Democratic Depth
Whenever I talk to political reporters either via Facebook Chat or Email or through the occasional “tweet,” somehow the topic nowadays always includes Rick Santorum. Yes, we marvel at his current standing in the polls (more on that later), but most of all we recall the “early days” of the Santorum candidacy.
When I had the pleasure of interviewing the former Senator at Scott Community College in the Quad Cities, he showed up in a Honda Accord. No, not a brand new Honda Accord but one that I would ballpark as being at least ten years old.
He was in the passenger seat, an aide was driving, and his daughter was in the back.
There was no motorcade, no campaign bus, and to be honest there was hardly any supporters at the event.
He was wearing the same suit jacket and blue shirt that I had seen him in a week prior and his daughter who was taking the semester off from college said to her dad that he looked tired.
They were there to speak to a class at the college and to be interviewed by yours truly.
This is what I think of when I think of the Rick Santorum Presidential Campaign. Nothing fancy, hardly any money, and reminiscent of a campaign for president of student council as opposed to president of the United States.
Regrettably, looking back my questions centered around an incorrect perception that he would not be in the race much longer.
However, as I try to make sense of his ability to succeed with the Republic Electorate, I am no longer suprised. After all, all of the signs of a successful candidacy were there – I (along with pretty much everyone else) just didn’t see them.
A) He can debate.
In a campaign season that I think will be defined by the number of debates the republican challengers had to undergo, clearly the candidates that were going to succeed must be able to battle with the best of them. Newt Gingrich rose to the polls on multiple occasions because of his ability to grab the sound bite on the debate stage.
But Gingrich wasn’t the only person able to impress conservatives in these “made for cable tv debates.” Santorum showed off the lawyer in him on several occasions. He was one of the only candidates to actually ask a question to another candidate – seeming to set them up like a lawyer would during cross-examination. He was able to hit Romney hard several times using this method and thus able to impress those with checkbooks who fund candidates as well as voters who support them.
B) He valued Iowa
While this was my first Iowa Caucus, veteran reporters told me it was shocking how infrequent the candidates were campaigning in Iowa.
Politicos I talked to say this is because candidates no longer need to have a campaign office and staffers in every city. Campaigns can be run nationally and via the internet and through cable TV.
But while Romney was out in CA or Gingrich in DC, Santorum was living, yes living, in Iowa. He spoke to anyone, anywhere, and bet his candidacy on the state.
That is a good bet.
It baffles me that some think they can get away with not campaigning in Iowa and still win the nomination.
For some reason, winning Iowa matters. It keeps you in the race and even if you don’t ultimately win you probably will end up like Huckabee with a million dollar Fox News Contract.
For a guy that never has had a lot of money – he bet what he had on the right state.
C) He has an Economic Plan That’s Different
While I love talking about different tax rates involving capital gains or discussing the pros and cons of offshore drilling to generate jobs, for most people “tax talk” is boring.
People don’t think that a reduction in corporate taxes benefits them.
Every candidate I interviewed I asked them the question “what sets you apart?” Yes it’s a general one and probably not my best Tim Russert impression – BUT – I think it’s an important one. Almost all of the responses bored me and I know my viewers as well but Santorum’s was different.
He talked about manufacturing – getting blue-collar jobs back to places like Dubuque or Cedar Rapids. While you can debate the rationale behind how he is going to do this, the mere fact he was talking about blue-collar jobs hit me. I remember thinking “this guy actually has an economic message different than some of the others.”
His plan speaks to blue-collar communities who want to believe the glory days of manufacturing can return to the U.S.A. After years of so-called ”straight-talk” by conservative politicians saying those jobs would never be coming back – Rick Santorum was tapping into the Pathos of the electorate. And if you are like me and believe Aristotle was right that Pathos is the key to dominating Rhetoric – then again the Santorum Surge shouldn’t surprise you.
D) GOP Voters Tried Him at the Right Time
This Republican Primary Season reminds me of when I go shopping at a really expensive suit store. I never buy anything but I try on as much as I can before the tailor gets frustrated with me.
GOP Voters have been like that, trying on every “suit” in the room. First there was Pawlenty, then Bachmann, Perry, Cain and so on. Yes, Romney was always at the top but a good portion of the republican electorate still refuses to try him on for size. Santorum,for whatever reason,was one of the last to be “tried on” by GOP Voters just in time for primary season. (Poor Jon Huntsman never got that far).
So in conclusion, just like the guy with the hot putter on Sunday usually wins the golf tournament, the person who gets noticed right before election day can do very, very well.
So now you know why I think Santorum has been able to stay in this race. He is a great debater, with sharp political IQ, who has an economic message that resonated at the right time.
I don’t know where his candidacy will end up but I do know his ability has the potential to do very well in states like Michigan, Ohio, and of course his home state of Pennsylvania. His campaign must be analyzed by political experts because there are a lot of lessons that people wanting to run for president should know.
My final two points in this blog post (if you are one of the few still reading) will be shorter than my first.
Political Junkies are talking about the possibility of a brokered convention. Perhaps its just because most of the political elite weren’t around during the last one for the GOP (1976 Ford/Reagan), but I actually think it is a real scenario that Democrats should be scared of.
While I think it is unlikely that Tampa will come around and a candidate isn’t the clear nominee, I wouldn’t be shocked if that was the case. Under the proportional rule change, republicans are giving out delegates evenly this year as opposed to previous years when it was a “winner take all strategy.” And when you factor in the ego of a Gingrich who says he’s in it till the convention (while that would be considered rhetoric by most politicians I actually believe him) and the crusade for liberty that Ron Paul is on, I think it’s a real possibility that no candidate will have the 1144 delegates needed to be the nominee come convention time.
If that’s the case – Democrats should be worried. Here’s why.
I think that republicans would cut back room deals that would ultimately produce an “outsider” like a Jeb Bush or Chris Christie being the nominee. With Romney getting the Vice Presidential nod and Santorum lets say getting promised the Attorney General Post.
Alright maybe you think I’m crazy but think of how united the GOP would be coming out of that convention. They would be energized like they were for a brief time following the game changing moment after Sarah Palin spoke at the 2008 convention in Minnesota.
Yes its unlikely, but its a possibility that Democrats should be scared of.
I’m a huge baseball fan. I love the feeling of opening day and I am eagerly awaiting spring training. I love how baseball columnists and commentators are talking about depth charts this time of year and I have seen MoneyBall a few times which makes me love the job of a baseball scout.
Naturally, I have been “scouting” the depth of the democratic field and let’s just say I’m a bit concerned for them.
Don’t get me wrong they have a solid lineup going into 2012. Obama, Biden, Clinton are the Jeters, Pujols, and Prince Fielders of politics. They are going into the 2012 election with a solid lineup. BUT just like any baseball scout is thinking about the season two or three years down the road – democratic operatives have to be nervous about their prospects going into 2016.
Think about it, the GOP is going to be coming at you with names like Rubio and Christie and perhaps Paul Ryan. Jindal will be there as well. What will the Democrats starting line up be?
Assuming that Hillary Clinton is true to her word and that she is out of politics, Biden’s age is accurate, and Obama wins re-election in 2012, who are the democratic stars?
Congress is ruled by 60 year plus legislators (Schumer, Pelosi, Reid) that prevents any Congressman or Senator from gaining recognition.
I guess the party would have to look to Cuomo in New York? O’Malley in Maryland?
Yes 2016 is far off but if the Democrats are going to have a chance in political hell to win they’re going to have to start developing some talent and improve their depth charts.
Thanks for reading.
Till Next Time,