Crux of the Matter

Before we get to the weightier topics of the morning, such as the ritualistic responses to the president’s FY 2013 budget, I did want to note a weekend development that sorta sums up the GOP nominating race as it stands.

As our intrepid (and self-sacrificing, since he wasn’t told to post past noon) Guest Weekend Blogger, Jesse Singal, noted, PPP released a poll showing Rick Santorum booming out to a double-digit national lead over the Mittster, destroying both Romney and Gingrich among the key right-wing demographics. The same day, the self-same Mittster won the presidential straw poll at the annual jamboree of right-wing activists, CPAC.

Why the disconnect?

The single most important finding in the PPP poll is Ricky’s vast advantage over his rivals in favorable/unfavorable ratios: Romney is at 44/43, Gingrich is at 42/44, Paul is at 35/51, and Santorum is at 62/24. This advantage, presumably the result of the Mitt/Newt slugfest rather than Ricky’s inherent huggability, is very unlikely to persist for long, even if Mitt doesn’t go nuclear on Santorum; he’s just the kind of nightshade candidate who will not grow stronger with exposure to heat and light. High-information (by that I mean quantity of information, not necessarily quality!) activists like those who attend CPAC, even if they were cheering Ricky’s culture-war ravings til they were hoarse, probably realize that and figure he’ll eventually crash and burn.

The other thing to keep in mind, of course, is that CPAC, wacky as it is to those of us who don’t watch Fox News, has become a mainstream GOP event. People used to joke that the CPAC crowd resembled the bar scene in Star Wars. Now, in terms of its relationship to standard-brand Republicanism, it’s more like Happy Hour at TGI Friday’s. Even among CPACers, you can find some people determined to re-run the Goldwater campaign, and other people who would settle for another Nixon. The latter listen to Rick Santorum, and hear a guy at war with much of the twentieth century. They figure it won’t wear that well on Republican voters, and they’re probably right.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.