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Rick Santorum: As Electable As George Wallace

15 February 2012

6:57 PM

15 February 2012

6:57 PM

On the other hand, Jonathan Chait makes an argument that, though "electability" is notionally Mitt Romney’s greatest strength, there’s reason to suppose he’s no more electable than Rick Santorum. It’s true that Santorum, as yet unpummelled on the national stage, can conceivably reach downscale voters for whom Romney’s Bain Capital background is a significant problem. As Chait puts it:

As hard a time as Santorum would have closing the sale among certain moderate quarters, I don’t think it’s sunk in quite how poisoned Romney’s image has become among downscale voters. Coverage of Romney’s wealth, corporate history, and partially released tax situation coincided with, and almost certainly caused, a collapse in his support with white voters with income under $50,000. Republicans have enjoyed great success attracting downscale whites in recent years, but that success has hinged in part on things like not nominating standard-bearers who epitomize everything blue-collar whites distrust about their party.

Fair enough. But this is a stronger argument is you start from the assumption – increasingly warranted, admittedly – that no Republican is likely to defeat Barack Obama. Or, more specifially, none of the Republicans actually running for the GOP nomination are likely to unseat the President.

At the Atlantic, Ron Brownstein has a very useful article demonstrating how the coalition that elected Obama in 2008 is, rather quietly and perhaps even surprisingly, being reassembled.

Whether the electorate is viewed by race, gender, partisanship or ideology (or combinations of the above), Obama’s numbers against Romney now closely align with his support against McCain, according to the 2008 exit polls. Overall, the Pew survey put Obama ahead of Romney by 52 percent to 44 percent, close to his actual 53 percent to 46 percent victory over McCain.
On the broadest measure, Pew found Obama attracting 44 percent of whites (compared to 43 percent in 2008) and 79 percent of non-whites (compared to 80 percent in 2008). In the Pew survey, Obama attracted 49 percent of whites with at least a four year college degree (compared to 47 percent against McCain) and 41 percent of whites without one (compared to 40 percent in 2008).
Looking at ideology, the reversion to 2008 is almost exact. Against Romney, Pew finds Obama attracting 89 percent of liberals, 20 percent of conservatives (each exactly his share against McCain), and 61 percent of moderates (compared to 60 percent in 2008.) On partisanship, the story is similar: against Romney, Pew finds Obama attracting 9 percent of Republicans (exactly his 2008 share), 51 percent of independents (compared to 52 percent last time) and 94 percent of Democrats (up from 89 percent in 2008). In the Pew survey, Obama wins 46 percent of white independents (compared to the 47 percent he drew against McCain).

Granted, this is just one snapshot of the electorate and so many 50-50 cases (or states) fell Obama’s way last time that it’s hard to imagine he can win quite as convincing an Electoral College victory this time around.


What about the gender divide? Brownstein reports:

There’s only slightly more variation by gender. In 2008, Obama won 49 percent of men; Pew finds him with 45 percent against Romney. Against McCain, Obama won 56 percent of women; Pew finds him drawing 59 percent against Romney. Among white men, Pew finds Obama’s support slipping from 41 percent in 2008 to 36 percent now (with all of the decline coming among white men without a college degree, the toughest audience throughout his presidency.) Among white women, though, Pew finds Obama rising from 46 percent in 2008 to 52 percent against Romney-and recording gains among both college-plus women (whom he carried last time) and the working-class "waitress moms" who strongly preferred McCain.

All this, as Brownstein observes, should trouble Mitt Romney. But what about Santorum’s chances against Obama? Let us assume, for the sake of the game, that Santorum will do better amongst "downscale" white men than Romney would or John McCain did in 2008. does anyone really think he will do as well with moderate voters or any kind of women as either Romney or McCain? I doubt it because Santorum is an extremist.

To take one example: 80% of Americans support abortion in cases when pregnancy has been caused by rape or incest. Since polls tend to find that 10% of voters can be trusted to endorse any idea, no matter how extreme or far-fetched or otherwise impossible it might be anything that commands 80% support is close to being as settled as anything can be in a country as vast, varied and disputatious as the United States. Rick Santorum disagrees. According to the former Senator from Pennsylvania (a state he lost by 18 points – a data point worth recalling when considering his "electability") however, abortion should be prohibited even in cases of rape:

The right approach is to acccept this horribly created, in the sense of rape, but nevertheless gift, in a very broken way, the gift of human life and accept what God is giving to you as as as you know we have to, in lots of different aspects of our life.

That’s one view, even if one miles from the American mainstream and, yes, it’s consistent with Santorum’s view of life and god. But it’s not, I think, the kind of thing likely to help win an election in modern America. John McCain only won 40% or so of self-proclaimed moderates: could Rick Santorum do better than 25%?

And, just in case you think it’s unfair to bring this up, Santorum’s views on abortion and rape aren’t being hauled from some dusty, long-closed opposition file. They were reiterated in an interview last month.

Santorum is an unabashed Culture Warrior which is, you know, fine and dandy and all that but not, I reckon, the kind of thing that’s likely to prevail in a nationwide election. So perhaps arguing for his "electability" is like arguing George Wallace was electable too?


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