Still Kicking, Santorum Keeps Hammering Away at Romney

Ever so slowly, and ever so reluctantly, Republicans are lining up in typical jackbooted fashion behind Mitt Romney. The still-feisty Gingrich is an exception, of course, and he’s been hammering Romney for some time now as a “Massachusetts moderate,” but so too is Santorum, who is hoping for a comeback, post-Iowa, with strong showings in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri today, strong enough perhaps to let him blow past Newt into second place, and, with Newt apparently on the decline again, to allow him to take up the mantle of leading anti-Romney, the only credible conservative alternative left in the race.

And it’s funny, in a way, how while Newt is meeting resistance from conservatives (e.g., Dick Armey) who would rather he shut his trap, Santorum keeps hammering away seemingly without much blowback — and hammering away right at Romney’s main weakness for conservatives:

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum, hoping for some much needed momentum heading into the next round of primaries and caucuses, leveled some of his harshest criticisms yet at Mitt Romney over the issue of healthcare and the repeal of “Obamacare.”

Speaking near the campus of the Mayo Clinic, Santorum said the former Massachusetts governor was “dead wrong” and “the worst possible person” to put up on what he called the “most fundamental issue” of the campaign.

“I really don’t find any legitimate reason why [Romney] would oppose [Obamacare], because the plan he put together in Massachusetts is in fact Obamacare on the state level,” Santorum said during a strongly worded healthcare-centered speech, adding that Romney “should not be the nominee of our party.”

He added that Romney’s only argument against Obama’s healthcare plan is that the issue should be a state issue instead of a federal one.

“It’s a very weak argument to go and make to the American public,” he said, adding that Romney is “uniquely unqualified and I would argue disqualified” from making the case against the nation’s healthcare plan.

He’s right, of course. Obamacare is basically Romneycare. Actually, it is Romneycare. But why is he able to get away with it while Newt suffers?

It could be that Santorum isn’t taken as seriously as Gingrich is. No one really thinks Santorum could actually win the nomination, whereas Gingrich is, or at least is perceived to be, a serious threat to Romney.

Also, Gingrich’s attacks threaten to weaken Romney’s appeal to independents and white working-class voters (including formerly Reagan Democrats), because while he’s calling Romney a moderate he’s also exposing him — correctly, for the most part — as a vulture capitalist who cares not a whit for the middle class, let alone for the poor. The risk is that Santorum’s attacks will end up depressing conservative enthusiasm and turnout, but it’s pretty clear that conservatives will still come out for Romney in the end, and so they’re not nearly as much of a threat to Romney’s electability as Gingrich’s.

Still, Santorum’s attacks could hurt Romney significantly, not just by depressing turnout but by reinforcing the deep divide in today’s Republican Party between the pro-Romney establishment and the anti-Romney rest of the party. And if Newt can’t recover and Santorum does indeed (re-)emerge as a viable anti-Romney choice for conservatives, these attacks could continue well past Super Tuesday and perhaps even all the way to the convention.

Romney’s already got enough trouble balancing his faux conservatism and moderate record, trying to appeal both to the right and to the center, not to mention coming across as something other than an out-of-touch plutocrat who can’t connect to ordinary folk and who lacks anything resembling a human soul. He hardly needs Santorum to keep reminding voters — conservative Republican voters — that he implemented Obamacare long before Obamacare.

Keep it coming, Rick!

(Cross-posted from The Reaction.)