Santorum sweeps, Gingrich fades to irrelevance

The clear winner of Tuesday's contests was Rick Santorum. The clear loser was Newt Gingrich. Mitt Romney and Ron Paul are in it to spin it.

NATCHITOCHES, La., February 8, 2012—Rick Santorum’s victories in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado come with more than bragging rights. There are delegates at stake, but more important are the twin blows dealt to Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich has tried to position himself as the conservative  alternative to Romney. His argument is that if only Santorum would leave the race, his support would move seamlessly to Gingrich and Gingrich would win decisively. But that argument can be stood on its head: Gingrich wasn’t on the ballot in Missouri, and Santorum’s victory was decisive.

Gingrich has won just one contest; Santorum has won four (though Iowa irregularities are such that the real winner there may never be known). Gingrich didn’t just lose last night, he lost decisively. The polls have been moving against him, and he’s responded by basting himself in bile. If he were to win the nomination, he’d need to mend fences with Romney, but his loathing of Romney won’t let him do that. His speeches after his losses in Florida and Nevada were rambling, ungracious messes. Gingrich can’t unite the GOP, he’s shown he doesn’t want to, and no Republican who wants to win in November can take him seriously.

Santorum, on the other hand, has been tough, but also respectful towards all his opponents. His behavior has led to speculation that his goal is to get the VP nod, whether the nominee is Romney or Gingrich. Now that a Gingrich nomination looks extremely unlikely, Santorum might hope that he can unify the party. Whether or not he gets the nomination, his eventual clout as the voice of conservatives at the GOP convention is growing. If Romney wins the nomination, the fingerprints all over the platform will be Santorum’s.

The wild gyrations of the Republican race make it foolish to count Gingrich out at this point, but he seems to be imploding, and Santorum has made himself the more credible conservative alternative, at least this week.  He’s also far less polarizing within the party. Unfortunately, he’s not a unifying figure outside of it, something that should weigh on the minds of voters in later primaries.

Romney retains his lead in delegates, and he remains the likely GOP nominee, but the momentum he gained from Florida and Nevada has evaporated. He can argue all he likes that Tuesday’s caucuses and primary were unimportant, just as everyone was prepared to argue that Iowa was unimportant when it seemed Ron Paul might win it, and mathematically that’s true. Politics isn’t math, though, it’s psychology, and Romney’s camp has to be feeling rather low, while Santorum’s is on a high. That’s worth much more than the handful of delegates Santorum picked up.

Ron Paul has yet to win a state, and he wasn’t close on Tuesday. He’ll continue down the campaign trail, cheerfully seeing Minnesota as a victory, but at some point he’ll need a victory that includes getting the most votes. If he doesn’t manage that in Maine, it’s hard to imagine that he’ll manage it at all.

Romney has been accused of being mean and of having an attack machine. The correct response to that charge might be, “well, yes, so?” Or to put it in the vernacular, “duh.” No one will defeat President Obama in November who isn’t ready to brawl. Gingrich, supposedly a political pit bull, responded by whining and looking small. How Santorum will respond when that attack machine is focused on him remains to be seen. His Tuesday sweep guarantees that we’ll get to see. 

Read more:

Santorum upsets the status quo while Paul supporters upset the caucus

Rick Santorum and America’s sacred honor

Santorum’s big win spells trouble for Romney and the GOP


 

 

James Picht is the Senior Editor for Communities Politics and teaches economics at the Louisiana Scholars’ College in Natchitoches, La., where he went to take a break from working in Moscow and Washington. But he fell in love with the town and with the professor of Romance languages, so there he stayed. Now he teaches, annoys his children, and makes jalapeno lemonade. He doesn’t think we’ll have Newt Gingrich to kick around much longer. He tweets, hangs out on Facebook, and has a blog he totally neglects at pichtblog.blogspot.com.

 


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Jim Picht

James Picht is the Senior Editor for Communities Politics and teaches economics and Russian at the Louisiana Scholars' College in Natchitoches, La. After earning his doctorate in economics, he spent several years working in Moscow and the new independent states of the former Soviet Union for the U.S. government, the Asian Development Bank, and as a private contractor. He returned to Ukraine recently to teach principles of constitutional law and criminal procedure at several Ukrainian law schools for a USAID legal development project. He has been writing at the Communities since 2009.

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