The GOP Race Gets Messy
Is Santorum’s surge a sign of voters’ confidence in him or distrust of Romney?

Mitt Romney speaks in Grand Junction, Colo., February 6, 2012.


Jonah Goldberg

But I don’t really buy it. The single biggest factor in this campaign remains the fact that the base of the GOP is uncomfortable with Romney and refuses to believe that it can’t do better than the guy who invented Romneycare and talks to conservatives like he’s reading from a right-wing Berlitz phrasebook. He rails about “Washington politicians” –— which looks great on paper but sounds somewhat ridiculous coming from Romney, given that he seems more like a Washington politician than any of the Republican opponents left in the field.

The irony is that, in a weird way, Santorum has many of the same problems Romney has. Superficially, he looks like an anti-Romney when it comes to personality. Romney often sounds like HAL refusing to open the pod-bay doors in 2001: A Space Odyssey, while Santorum overflows with passion and emotion.

But simply having an authentic personally doesn’t necessarily mean you have a presidential one. All too often, Santorum looks like he has a thumbtack in his shoe that he presses down on to fool the polygraph. He can be dour and resentful.

Likewise, on substance, if you were going to design a GOP candidate to fit the moment, it wouldn’t be Santorum. The difference between him and George W. Bush: Santorum’s deadly serious about compassionate conservatism. He is honestly and forthrightly committed to using government to realize his moral vision for America. That’s his prerogative, and he has many good (and some very bad) arguments on his side.

But, suffice it to say, he is not the one the tea partiers have been waiting for.

Now, the race is just a mess. I feel like the revolver in reality’s hand is full of blanks, and anyone who thinks they know what happens next is stabbing in the dark. I could live with either man being the nominee. And while I would happily vote for either in a contest against Obama, I honestly have no idea who would be more electable. Frankly, I find the prospect of any of them becoming the nominee worrisome and hard to imagine. A brokered convention seems ever more plausible –— and desirable.

 — Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can write to him by e-mail at [email protected], or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.