Santorum's robocall maneuver in Michigan strikes at the heart of his message
Rick Santorum didn't invite Democrats to join his team because he stands for principles that they believe in.
Rick Santorum's robocall maneuver trying to convince Democrats to vote for him in the Michigan GOP primary says a lot about his core beliefs. It suggests that he's an advocate of the Vince Lombardi school of politics, and Lombardi's creed was simple: "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing."
You can see evidence of Santorum's application of that creed in other instances as well. For example, he said that as a U.S. Senator he voted against his principles on the No Child Left Behind legislation and he justified his vote by saying, "I took one for the team":
"I have to admit, I voted for that, it was against the principles I believed in, but you know, when you're part of the team, sometimes you take one for the team, for the leader, and I made a mistake. You know, politics is a team sports, folks, and sometimes you've got to rally together and do something, and in this case I thought testing and finding out how bad the problem was wasn't a bad idea."
Santorum's right about politics being a team sport. You can't win support for your ideas in a legislative body if you aren't willing to negotiate, and negotiation by definition entails compromise so it's not compromise per se that's objectionable. Trustworthy politicians must prioritize their beliefs and rank order them according to importance. That's what good politicians do, and principled politicians are willing to trade lower ranking principles to achieve a higher ranking goals. That's not what Santorum did when he invited Democrats in Michigan to vote for him unless he believes as Lombardi did that winning is the only thing.
Some have argued that Ronald Reagan did they same thing in 1980 when he was running against Jimmy Carter, and they are half right. Reagan did invite disaffected Democrats to vote for him, but he invited them to join his team and abandon the Democratic Party. Many of them did, and there was a groundswell of support among Democrats for Reagan. It helped him win the election, and it enabled him to win support for his legislation in Congress.
What Santorum did in the Michigan primary was very different. He didn't invite Democrats to join his team because he stands for principles that they believe in. Santorum asked them to vote for him in the Republican primary so that he could defeat Mitt Romney -- period, thus revealing that he is willing to use unprincipled tactics if he thinks they will help him achieve what is obviously his most important goal -- winning.
Reagan didn't change his principles to attract Democrats. He just explained that his principles were theirs, too. Enough Democrats agreed with him to create tremendous hardship for the Democratic Party for many years to come. Santorum's maneuver actually played into the Democrats' hands because they think he will be easier to beat than Romney in November. That's what Ron Radosh was writing about in his article for PJ Media titled "Voting for Santorum Equals Electing Obama in November." Santorum's entire professional life has been devoted to politics. In fact, Santorum has been actively engaged in politics since his college days, and everything he has done since graduation has been aimed at winning a political office or influencing others who hold political office. Democrats believe his record is weak and that they can beat him. They're probably right.
Notwithstanding what polling data shows right now or may show as we move forward and regardless of what pundits and radio talk show hosts might think and say, when November rolls around, the economy will be one of the most important issues under consideration, if not the most important issue, and Romney stands head and shoulders above President Obama on anything having to do with economics. Democrats know that, and they are doing everything they can to help Santorum win the GOP nomination.
Based on his experiences at Bain Capital and in Massachusetts politics, Romney can make a strong case that he understands our economic problems and that he knows what to do in the legislative arena to solve them. So far, the best that Santorum has been able to do is explain that he is a principled man and that we can trust him. That's eerily reminiscent of Jimmy Carter -- not Ronald Reagan. Santorum's robocall maneuver in Michigan strikes at the heart of his message.
Neil Snyder is a chaired professor emeritus at the University of Virginia. His blog, SnyderTalk.com, is posted daily.