Is Santorum More Electable than Romney?

by Maggie Gallagher

I’m a Santorum fan, at this point, so don’t take my word for it. Here’s James Taranto making the case in the Wall Street Journal:

This column has recently become skeptical of the view–nearly universal on the liberal left but common as well among conservative elites–that Rick Santorum is “unelectable” or far less likely than Mitt Romney to defeat President Obama in November. A new USA Today poll reinforces our skepticism.

The survey, conducted by Gallup, included two samples of registered

voters: 1,137 from a dozen “swing states”. . .

The findings: Santorum leads Obama in the swing states, 50% to 45%, and nationwide 49% to 46%. This gives him an edge of three percentage points over Romney, whose swing-state lead is 48% to 46% and who ties the president nationally at 47%.”

The “Romney is more electable” crowd posit that once independents come to know Santorum’s “extremist” social views, they will bolt.

The trouble with this is that, as we’ve noted, ‘the extremism on sexual politics’ is in substantial part mythical–and the propagation of the myth doesn’t seem to be hurting Santorum. The timing of USA Today’s survey (Feb. 14-21 in the swing states and Feb. 20-21 nationwide) coincides with a media hysteria in which the former senator’s critics have frequently exaggerated or distorted his views to make him appear more extreme than he is. If he wins the nomination, he will have several months to explain himself to an electorate in which extreme social liberals constitute a small minority. And by that point, conservatives and Republicans who are now joining in on the “extremist” attacks would have an interest in setting the record straight.

Jeff Bell, author of the just-released book The Case for Polarized Politics, takes on the myth that “social issues” are what cost the GOP the election:

Isn’t an elevated debate on social issues in the fall a formula for Democratic victory?

Recent history says no.

In the six general elections since Ronald Reagan, social issues became prominent in the fall campaign twice: in 1988 (furloughs, Pledge of Allegiance, membership in the ACLU) and 2004 (same-sex marriage).

These also happen to be the only two post-Reagan elections when the GOP won a majority of the popular vote.

Look, independents are independents and not Democrats or Republicans, because they don’t vote on the social issues. If they voted on abortion or gay marriage, they would be in one of those two parties.

Democrats are betting they can scare independents by painting Santorum as an extremist for being a faithful Catholic. I don’t think it’s going to work. The odds it works are less than that the Democrats will exploit anti-Mormon bigotry in the fall.

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