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Rick Santorum wins in Louisiana

By Elvin Lim


Rick Santorum had a great night, but he would need to win 70 percent of the delegates moving forward to unseat front-runner Mitt Romney. That’s not going to happen, but it’ll be a painful road toward the increasingly inevitable. As late as it is in this game, powerful conservatives like Thomas Sowell, Rush Limbaugh, and Tony Perkins are still advocating for Rick Santorum and other non-moderate candidates. Every day they continue to do this, they make less likely confident predictions from outside the beltway that Republicans will come together in the fall against Obama.


The problem could go away if Rick Santorum bowed out, but he has absolutely no reason to. At worst he would be a Hillary Clinton — a serious challenger to the eventual nominee, someone who ran a very credible campaign, and the candidate all eyes will turn to first in the next nomination race. Since all the benefits accrue specifically to Santorum and all the cost is diffused across the entire party, the candidate is here to stay for as long as Romney has not clinched his 1144th delegate.

This means that Romney wouldn’t be able to turn to a frontal, undistracted campaign against Obama just when Americans check out, tune out, and head to the beaches in summer. Most Americans would have made up their minds about their vote by then, and there may not be enough time between September and November for the constant barrage of negative messages and psychological massaging to convince independents that Obama is so bad that he needs to be fired.

The Republican “establishment,” otherwise read as Romney’s supporters, fear this more than anything, and for the love of God — no pun intended — simply don’t understand why Tea Partiers and Southern evangelicals are continuing on the road to electoral perdition. Yet while resentments are building and intra-party strife is festering, it isn’t the moderate Republicans but the Rush Limbaughs of the world who are ironically assuming that an upper-crust, French-speaking Mormon from the Northeast who entered the one percent by way of Wall Street would be able to put Humpty Dumpty together again before the party faces Barack Obama. Hubris!

Next up are Washington, DC and Wisconsin. That means relatively cash-strapped Rick Santorum now has a windfall of a week and some to gloat over his victory in Louisiana, and consolidate the narrative that he is a credible candidate and the truly conservative alternative to Romney. Yet each time the Republican Party has thrown an anti-Romney candidate a lifeline — and doing so has been the leitmotif of campaign 2012 — it has deprived itself of one in the real contest that is to determine the eventual occupant of the White House.

All this is also to say that we are witnessing the maturation of American conservatism. For years observers have described liberalism as a bloated tent filled with too many strange bedfellows. But all we were saying is that it is necessary for a dominant ideology to co-opt many disparate factions in order to form a governing majority. Finally, American conservatism, nearly 60, is big enough to have its own internecine feuds played out in the public square (and not just in the National Review). But conservatives must also learn that no majority is too big to fail. Liberals, defeated in a string of elections in the 1980s, came to their senses and nominated a “Third Way” Democrat in 1992. Conservatives too shall have to come to terms with the iron law of American electoral politics: moderate or mortify.

Elvin Lim is Associate Professor of Government at Wesleyan University and author of The Anti-Intellectual Presidency, which draws on interviews with more than 40 presidential speechwriters to investigate this relentless qualitative decline, over the course of 200 years, in our presidents’ ability to communicate with the public. He also blogs at www.elvinlim.com and his column on politics appears here each week.

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