Friday, February 24, 2012

Another memo to Obama: Focus on Romney, play up Santorum

Ignoring my sage advice, it seems that the Obama campaign has indeed begun to turn some of its attention to Rick Santorum:

Last week, the Obama campaign made what seemed, on its surface, like a startling announcement: They were steering some of their opposition researchers, who had been mostly trained on Mitt Romney, to a rocketing Rick Santorum.

The announcement was factual — the campaign is, indeed, busy beefing up its dossier on the former Pennsylvania senator, thanks to his recent trio of wins and surprising strength in Michigan. It was also a bit of classic campaign jujitsu designed to further degrade the standing of an already wounded Romney, the man Team Obama still thinks will be the eventual GOP nominee.

"Circumstances have changed," said Stephanie Cutter, Obama's deputy campaign manager, referring to Santorum's sudden relevance.

But more than anything, the shift revealed a genuine sense of befuddlement within Democratic circles over how to deal with the once-unthinkable possibility that Rick Santorum — you know, the guy who lost his last Senate race by 18 points — could actually be their opponent in November.

That's the Santorum paradox, Democrats say: He's too dangerous to ignore — yet impossible to take seriously.

As usual, Politico is overstating the case. Democrats aren't befuddled as much as they are bemused -- and for good reason. Santorum would be a disaster of a candidate in the general election, and Republicans would be even stupider than we thought they were to nominate him.

Furthermore, while circumstances may indeed have changed, insofar as Santorum has indeed emerged as an apparently credible anti-Romney, and hence as a relevant possibility, there's no way the Obama campaign is actually taking him, or the likelihood of his nomination, all that seriously. If anything, it's playing a game here, appearing to take Santorum seriously as a way of further weakening Romney -- this point Politico gets right.

Is there a Santorum paradox? Maybe, for the media. But surely not for anyone with any sense. The Obama campaign would be wise to continue playing up Santorum as a viable alternative to Romney, just as many of us have been doing, those of us on the left openly rooting for Santorum (as we rooted for Gingrich before), but there's certainly no good reason to consider him much of a threat. Romney's still the one to beat (and he seems to be back in the race in Michigan, as expected, meaning he could get back the momentum with wins both there and in Arizona next week), and Santorum will implode. It's just a matter of when.


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