Politics & Policy

Michigan’s Verdict

Our experts weigh the evidence.

Hunter Baker

As I write at 9:30 p.m. Central Time on Tuesday, Governor Mitt Romney has been projected as the winner in both the Arizona and Michigan primaries. With these victories, he has blunted the most potent attack on his campaign thus far.

Prior to last week’s debate, Rick Santorum was building up a powerful head of steam as perhaps the most serious challenger for the mantle of the “anti-Mitt” candidate in a campaign full of pretenders with feet of clay. However, at that debate Santorum stumbled badly and failed to realize that he simply could not defend his practice of attaching earmarks to bills (even if that practice is fully defensible). One cannot convince an audience hostile to earmarks of the righteousness of the practice in 30 seconds or less. At multiple points, Romney (who bears a tremendous natural load of suspicion that he is a big-government moderate) was able to rouse the crowd against Santorum, who ended up sounding like a man who loves government programs as long as they align with his worldview.

Based on his showing on Tuesday night, the damage to Santorum’s campaign was not huge. But it was enough to cost him Michigan — and winning in Michigan would have been a devastating blow to the idea of Mitt Romney as the front-runner or the inevitable candidate. Romney’s losing in Michigan (his home state) would not have been akin to Superman’s losing a fight in the Fortress of Solitude, but it would have been close.

Santorum still has a good chance to do well on Super Tuesday, but he won’t be in the contest stalking a wounded Mitt Romney. Instead, Romney has shown again that while he has been a weak front-runner, he has anything but a glass jaw. Romney just keeps learning, keeps doing his homework, and fights nasty when he has to do so. The former governor described himself as resolute. He may not have been so in his various positions over the years, but he has absolutely demonstrated that quality in his pursuit of the nomination.

— Hunter Baker is an associate professor of political science at Union University and author of The End of Secularism and the forthcoming Political Thought: A Student’s Guide.


Jay Cost

There were two big take-home points from Tuesday night. First, Romney is most certainly not the majority choice of his party. He won just 41 percent of the vote in Michigan, compared with 39 percent four years earlier. This is not the sign of a party electorate that is flocking to him, and it is unlikely that Romney will start winning an outright majority of voters any time soon (at least outside New England).

Second, he has nevertheless positioned himself almost smack dab in the middle of the GOP electorate. He does best among “somewhat conservative” voters, quite well among moderate and liberal voters, and holds his own among “very conservative” voters. This makes it extremely difficult for any candidate to defeat him, for the remaining voters are basically split between Romney’s left and his right.

Thus, while Romney does not seem likely to surge to the nomination, it has become extremely difficult to see who in this field can ever defeat him. Romney has managed to win the middle 40-49 percent of voters in New Hampshire and Florida, and now Arizona and Michigan. If he can do it again next week in Ohio, that should effectively be the end of the race.

Jay Cost is author of the upcoming Spoiled Rotten: The Story of How the Democratic Party Embraced Special Interests, Abandoned the Public Good, and Came to Stand for Everything It Once Opposed.


Burt Folsom Jr.

Governor Romney, after trailing in most polls, came back to edge Rick Santorum in Michigan. It was a must-win for Romney, to keep his campaign credible. Romney grew up in Michigan, and won decisively in the Detroit and Lansing areas. Santorum did well in rural Michigan, which is likely to go Republican in November anyway. (For example, Ottawa County, the most Republican county in the state, went strongly for Santorum — and will again go strongly Republican in November.) Romney did well with tea-party voters, Catholics, and those who list the economy as their main concern. In his victory speech, he ignored his rivals and stressed the weaknesses of President Obama. With his recent tax proposals — lower corporate-tax rates and no death tax — he is staking out a more clearly conservative position that may help him on Super Tuesday next week.

Burton Folsom Jr. is professor of history at Hillsdale College, and co-author (with his wife Anita) of FDR Goes to War.

John Fund

Mitt Romney scored two impressive wins on Tuesday night. He won Arizona by a clear margin of more than 20 points, a big enough victory that he would have won even if none of the voters in the most pro-Romney demographic (the one-ninth of the electorate who were Mormons) had shown up at the polls.

In Michigan, exit polling showed that 52 percent of primary voters were tea-party supporters. Romney actually carried those voters narrowly. In Arizona, where almost two-thirds of primary voters identified with the Tea Party, Romney carried that group by seven points. If the Tea Party can be considered the fiscal-conservative heart of the Republican party, Romney fared better with that group tonight than anyone else.

Santorum did well with evangelical and pro-life voters, but the clear implication of the night’s results is that he has trouble building a truly across-the-board coalition. Romney came closer to that on Tuesday night, and if he replicates his Michigan showing in Ohio on Super Tuesday, he will be much closer to wrapping up the nomination.

John Fund is a columnist and writer based in New York. He is the author of Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy.


Hugh Hewitt

As of Tuesday night, it appears that Mitt Romney has romped in Arizona, and has rebounded to a win in Michigan — and a comfortable win at that, especially in light of the Left’s failed “Operation Hilarity.”

Which means he will be the GOP nominee.

Really, it does.

A prediction isn’t an endorsement, and I hasten to add I will continue to welcome Senator Santorum on to my show and engage in the sort of conversations we had on Tuesday — serious, substantive reviews of key issues about the country’s direction and the distortions of his message put forward by the MSM. (That transcript, about the MSM’s deeply ignorant and/or deceptive descriptions of what freedom of religion means and of Santorum’s views on the Constitution’s guarantees, deserves a close read by anyone really interested in the senator’s views.)

But it does seem to me that Romney has won four out of five big primaries with tens of thousands and, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of voters streaming to the polls. He has won New Hampshire, Florida, and Arizona, which are “must wins” in the fall if the GOP is to get 1600 back; and his organization is getting better and better, learning from mistakes like the Ford Field fiasco, on how to run the general-election campaign. The candidate is also learning how and how not to talk about the issues with an ever-present and very hostile MSM waiting to declare another gaffe that helps the president’s narrative dominate the reporting.

One hopes that Romney will copy Santorum’s approach to conservative media and increase the frequency and duration of his engagement with it, and his jocularity about his gaffes, thus defusing those past and future. Whether he does or not, the probability of a Romney nomination, always high, got near certainty tonight.

The GOP’s fatigue with this process will be a factor next week. There is a growing desire to turn the focus back to the president and his ruinous tenure. Mitt Romney set up Super Tuesday in the best way possible, and the center-right’s desire to get to the main event will propel him through the next seven days.

Hugh Hewitt is the host of the nationally syndicated Hugh Hewitt Show.


Quin Hillyer

Mitt Romney barely escaped Tuesday with his campaign intact, while Rick Santorum showed that he can take a punch a lot better than Newt Gingrich can, and that he has real staying power. That said, Santorum also showed that he needs to do a better job of anticipating attacks and parrying them. Romney, for his part, showed for the first time that his campaign can react on the fly, as he turned a wholly unexceptional Santorum robo-call into a major campaign story in the past day, very much to his advantage. 

In short, both campaigns move forward without a lot of momentum, but both move forward with reasonable claims of potential strength. In this case, though, Romney comes out in better shape, because he just keeps adding to his delegate lead — even though the narrowness of his win in his home state really ought to be seen as highly embarrassing.

Yet Rick Santorum, as the under-financed underdog, needs to expand his appeal to new constituencies. He needs to appeal economically to Ron Paul libertarians so he can peel off votes from Paul. He needs to appeal to tea partiers by mentioning “side” issues such as the Common Core education standards (among others), which they care deeply about and which he should oppose strenuously. He should talk about the importance of judges, and about cleaning out the horrid leftists from the Justice Department. Finally, he needs to figure out the puzzle of why he actually is losing slightly among Catholics — and turn that around, quickly.

This race isn’t even close to a resolution, but Santorum still has a bit of an uphill climb. He’s lucky that Romney has far less appeal than money.

— Quin Hillyer is a senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom and a senior editor for The American Spectator.

Henry Olsen

Santorum’s close defeat in Michigan is both a blessing and a curse for him. A blessing, because it demonstrates that he, unlike Mitt Romney’s previous conservative rivals, has staying power. A curse, because a glance at the exit polls suggests that the strategy Santorum is pursuing will, if not changed, ultimately prove unsuccessful.

After Santorum’s trifecta, I wrote that he needed to understand that “the path to the nomination runs through the somewhat conservative vote. . . . Somewhat conservative voters like experience and judgment along with their principles. Santorum needs to keep his head about him and speak in modulated tones to show he can talk the talk and walk the walk.” I called this the “base-plus strategy.” Instead, Santorum employed a base-only approach, spending much of the last couple of weeks making gaffe after gaffe on social issues and religion and often speaking in tones more reminiscent of an Old Testament prophet than a president. The result: He lost the somewhat conservative vote in Michigan, 31 percent of the electorate, by a whopping 18 points, 50–32.

Santorum’s Michigan coalition looks like the same base-only rump that backed Pat Buchanan in 1996 and Mike Huckabee in 2008. He carried white evangelicals by 51–35, but they were only 39 percent of the electorate. He carried very conservative voters 50–35, but they were only 30 percent of the electorate. He won those who said it was very important that a candidate shared the voter’s religious beliefs by 63–21, but they were only 24 percent of the electorate. He won those who believe abortion should be illegal in all cases by 60–25, but they were only 23 percent of the electorate. These voters are the heart and soul of the Republican party, but they are not enough to propel a candidate to victory. Despite the best efforts of our most vocal conservative friends, pursuing this strategy is what gave the Republican party Bob Dole and John McCain.

A winning conservative strategy makes common cause with those Republicans who are sympathetic to, but not part of, the party base. It reaches out to somewhat conservatives who live in the suburbs. It emphasizes prudence and judgment as well as principle; it seeks, like Ronald Reagan, to call forth the better angels of the American nature.

Rick Santorum can pursue his base-only strategy and do well for about a month. He can use it to win the caucuses in North Dakota, Alaska, Washington, Hawaii, and Kansas. He can win primaries: Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. He could even win Ohio next week, whose electorate is slightly more favorable to Santorum than Michigan’s. But it won’t be enough.

Santorum’s path to the nomination ultimately runs through California, which offers a treasure trove of delegates on a winner-take-all-by-congressional-district model. And California remains a suburban state whose Republican voters prefer a sober conservative to a firebrand: It gave John McCain 48 of the state’s 53 CDs four years ago. If Santorum wants to give an acceptance speech in Tampa rather than a prime-time endorsement of Mitt Romney, he needs to start talking to Republicans who are slightly less conservative than himself. And he needs to start today.

Henry Olsen is a vice president at the American Enterprise Institute and the director of its National Research Initiative.


Henry Payne

“I’m the best candidate to beat Barack Obama, because . . . I draw a clear contrast,” says Rick Santorum. But Democrats disagree. They think Mitt Romney is the best candidate.

That was the message of the Democratic party’s extraordinary effort to get out their troops to vote for Santorum in Tuesday’s Michigan primary.

From thousands in Obama-super-PAC money to auto-czar op-eds to 24/7 talk-radio calls to implement Operation “Santorum Chaos,” Democrats played every trick in the book. They salivate over the opportunity to run against Santorum, a polarizing, undisciplined social conservative — but fear Romney’s unique Michigan assets in this must-win Democratic state. If Obama is fighting for Michigan this fall, he is in trouble.

Conservatives have good reason to be skeptical of the former Massachusetts governor, yet he has responded to the challenge by doubling down on conservative principles. His economic speeches to the Detroit Economic Club and Americans for Prosperity were detailed, growth-oriented plans for Washington reform. Romney’s discipline contrasts with Santorum’s display of a troubling tendency toward undisciplined detours — into JFK attacks, and comments on Obama’s alleged snobbery about wanting higher ed for all.

— Henry Payne is editor of TheMichiganView.com and editorial cartoonist for the Detroit News.


John J. Pitney Jr.

The Michigan exit poll showed that Catholics made up 30 percent of the GOP primary electorate. By a 44–37 percent margin, they favored Mitt Romney over Rick Santorum — even though Santorum is Catholic. There are probably multiple reasons for this outcome, but a comment by Santorum may have alienated his coreligionists. In a Sunday interview with George Stephanopoulos, he said that John F. Kennedy’s famous 1960 speech to Houston ministers made him want to “throw up.” Santorum explained that Kennedy was wrong to suggest that religion should have no influence on politics. As a matter of principle, Santorum may have had a point: Indeed, WFB made a similar argument. But as a matter of political prudence, it was a mistake to attack John F. Kennedy personally and in such graphic terms. By more than a 2–1 margin, Republicans view JFK favorably. After all, Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp liked to cite his muscular anti-Communism and support for tax cuts.

Santorum’s penchant for unforced verbal errors is among his greatest problems. He doesn’t have much time left to fix it.

— John J. Pitney Jr. is Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College.

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