Political Animal


February 14, 2012 4:43 PM Liberal Rick

By Ed Kilgore

So the emerging political story-line we’ve been following closely the last few days is this:

* Mitt Romney’s losing ground rapidly to Rick Santorum, who is consolidating support from “very conservative” voters, many of them previous supporters of Newt Gingrich, who has been in no small part demolished by negative ads from the Romney campaign and his Super-PAC.

* Conservatives palpably don’t want Romney to train his guns on Santorum, particularly in any way that can reinforce Democratic talking points against Rick. Romney’s forces also fear blowback from voters tired of intra-Republican nastiness.

* Maybe Romney can eventually bury Santorum with sheer money and the unspoken GOP elite conviction that Santorum’s a bad candidate with crazy extremist views on social issues. But time’s beginning to run short as big primaries approach.

It’s a conundrum for Romney, all right, but there are some signs today that his camp will begin to carefully go negative on Santorum for—wait for it!—being too liberal.

Here’s a report from The Hill’s Justin Sink:

Mitt Romney’s campaign turned up the heat on Rick Santorum, accusing the former senator as being part of “the liberal wing” of the Republican Party on fiscal issues and saying “he’s wrong now to cast himself as the broad comprehensive conservative” as polls show the former Massachusetts governor losing ground in the race for the presidential nomination.
Romney surrogates attempted to highlight Santorum’s voting record on earmarks and increasing the debt ceiling as polls show strong conservatives increasingly coalescing around the former senator’s campaign.
“Mitt Romney has a much more comprehensively conservative record that Rick does,” said Sen. Jim Talent (R-MO), who argued that Santorum’s voting record on fiscal policies “shows he’s been in the liberal wing [of the party].”
Talent argued votes for the No Child Left Behind education reform package and against “right-to-work” legislation that would constrain unions underscored his liberal tendencies.

Here’s my favorite part:

Campaign surrogates repeatedly pointed to Santorum’s 18-percentage point loss in his 2006 Senate re-election campaign, arguing that voters had punished Santorum for abandoning conservative ideology.
“The reason he got beat, I think, was that he moved so far way from his fiscal conservative principles,” Rep. Billy Long (R-MO) argued on the call.

Yeah, that’s what happened in 2006, for sure.

We’ll see if this line of attack gets backed up in ads, and we’ll see if it works. But the cynical audacity of it is pretty impressive.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • ComradeAnon on February 14, 2012 5:07 PM:

    Like I said earlier. I'm surprised no one has called him douche bag.

  • troglodyte on February 14, 2012 5:19 PM:

    Campaign surrogates repeatedly pointed to Santorumís 18-percentage point loss in his 2006 Senate re-election campaign, arguing that voters had punished Santorum for abandoning conservative ideology.

    Eric Blair is smiling wryly in heaven.

  • T2 on February 14, 2012 5:19 PM:

    well, lacking any real, effective and useful policies to run on, Mitt has to try pretty much anything at this point. I mean, if you can't beat a guy like Richard "Rick" Santorum, you ain't got much going for you.

  • rea on February 14, 2012 5:27 PM:

    Cynical audacity is his middle name. Willard "Mitt" Cynical Audacity Romney.

  • mmm on February 14, 2012 5:31 PM:

    I'm waiting for the day when the Republican party absolutely must deal with the religious groupies that drive the crazy train. So far, they have embraced the power that the inmates have captured, but that will NEVER get you the Presidency... never.

  • Ron Byers on February 14, 2012 5:32 PM:

    If anybody is in the "liberal" wing of the Republican party it is Jim Talent. That is not to say Talent is a liberal, but he is not exactly a tea party crazy.

  • Peter C on February 14, 2012 5:33 PM:

    Well, Romney can't say that Santorum is a religious nut-case when he's only slightly nuttier than the evangelical nut-cases who make up such a large proportion of the Republican base. Such words would not come kindly from a Mormon any more than they would from a Moonie or a Scientologist. So, unable to hit Santorum there, he has to try and pin the hated 'liberal' label on him.

    Still, the idea that Romney has a "much more comprehensively conservative record" is laughable from 1-term Massachusetts Governor with no other governmental experience.

    But, Republicans don't argue with logic or facts; they argue with emotions and impressions. Romney has millions and millions to spend on negative emotional messages.

    Still, if these two want to fight over who is closest to the extreme right fringe of the political spectrum, I'd say "go for it".

  • g on February 14, 2012 8:26 PM:

    Don't forget that Santorum was rated the most liberal US Senator.

    (riffed off of how every Democrat running for President somehow is rated "the most liberal")

  • TCinLA on February 14, 2012 8:29 PM:

    The way Willard and his campaign lie with such audacity on so many issues really has no previous example of this sort of complete bullshitting. They just make things up and put them out there and when they get called on it they say "We're running for public office, for Pete's sake!"

    A man who will say or do anything to become President is a man who will say or do anything if he becomes president. Willard has to be stopped if only for this, and since the MSM won't do their job of pointing out that one candidate is completely bullshitting the public, we have to do it. People need to show up at his campaign events and call him out for his lies.

  • Felicia on February 14, 2012 8:46 PM:

    It'll be nice to see his campaign try to paint Santorum as a liberal with Romney's past as governor of MA.

  • Alison S on February 14, 2012 9:47 PM:

    Mitt's campaign must have bought every available bag of pretzels. How else to explain their utterly twisted "logic".

  • RT on February 14, 2012 11:21 PM:

    By the time this primary campaign is over, we'll know the limits of the 27-percenters' gullibility, thanks to the lies Mitt will throw at Santorum.

  • Repack Rider on February 14, 2012 11:31 PM:

    It's right out of the Rove playbook. Don't attack your opponent's weakness, attack his strength.