John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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Wake Up Call

Posted on February 8, 2012


The Romney campaign might be tempted to ignore the results from the three different beauty contests held tonight.

After all, Rick Santorum had received slightly north of eight thousand votes by the time they called the election for him in Minnesota.  Missouri doesn’t vote for real until sometime in March.  And the Colorado caucuses are naturally biased in favor of the most committed voters.

But something is wrong here for Mr. Romney.

He is not connecting to the Republican primary voters nor the Republican caucus goers.  This is a problem that needs to be corrected, and corrected soon.

I don’t think sending out Tim Pawlenty to beat up Rick Santorum is the way to make that connection.

Pawlenty is a nice guy, and he makes a terrible Spiro Agnew.

Rick Santorum is a serial ear-marker?  Ouch.  That really hurts.  Not.  Nobody cares about ear-marking in the rest of the country, and if voters do care, they probably want some of that federal money.

Santorum has done well in the debates.  Unlike Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Hermann Cain, Santorum knows what he is talking about.  He has policy depth.  He understands the issues, having worked on them for a long time.

He is not just reciting talking points.  He can get beyond the first three lines.  Only Newt Gingrich can rival Santorum in policy depth.

Romney certainly can’t rival Santorum’s knowledge of the issues, and Romney can’t beat Santorum when it comes to a well-developed world view.

Santorum has a view about how all of these policies fit together.  He is a traditional conservative.  He believes in traditional values.  He believes in traditional defense.  He believes in the traditional role of Congress, which yes, means ear-marks.

You get the feeling that Romney is kind of discovering all of this stuff for the first time.  He has to reinvent himself from the candidate who ran for Governor of Massachusetts at the beginning of the century.

Romney doesn’t quite get the language of the conservative movement.  He is a businessman.  You get the sense that he thinks that every thing should be done through a lens of business rationality.

But politics is rarely, if ever, based on rationality.  It is based on emotion.  Politics is poetry, business is prose.

Rick Santorum has proven that if Newt Gingrich is not in the race, then he becomes the de facto winner.  And that should make Mr. Romney more than a bit nervous.

Romney is better positioned to compete against Barack Obama than Rick Santorum.  Santorum will turn off moderate voters, white female voters, and many swing voters.

But right now, Santorum is better positioned with the GOP primary voter.  He has a message that resonates with the base and with the Reagan Democrats.  He preaches the gospel of manufacturing, of jobs, and of a bright contrast with Barack Obama.

Romney needs to do better than just attack Rich Santorum.  He needs a reform message (tax reform, spending reform, government reform).  And he needs to connect better with the Republican base voter.

The Romney people believe that these contests tonight don’t matter, and I think that is probably true, at least from the delegate perspective.  But they should serve as a wake up call to all the smart people who are working for Team Mitt.