Parsing Rick and Dick

    Rick Santorum’s meandering, self-aggrandizing email message landed with a thud in the dead of night, and it was only after I did a control-F search for the word “endorsement” that I managed to discover, wedged into a phrase way down in the 13th paragraph, that he had ever so grudgingly given his nod to Mitt Romney.

    After trumpeting himself 21 times in the first-person singular, Santorum managed to cough up this hairball: “It will require all hands on deck if our nominee is to be victorious. Governor Romney will be that nominee and he has my endorsement and support to win this most crucial election of our lifetime.”Even so, the late-Monday missive had an escape clause: “I strongly encouraged Governor Romney as he builds out his campaign staff and advisers that he add more conservative leaders as an integral part of his team. And you can be sure that I will work with the Governor to help him in this task to ensure he has a strong team that will support him in his conservative policy initiatives.”Translation: “My endorsement is tepid because Romney is tepid. Which is why I intend to keep my foot on his neck every step of the way.”It’s tempting to simply goose Santorum for being so ungracious to the guy who ultimately crushed him, but, the truth is, Santorum is merely the latest Republican to endorse Romney with all the passion of a toll booth worker dispensing pocket change.Judge for yourself whether these paeans to Mitt are even more pitiful:Former New York Gov. George Pataki said, “Now, Mitt is not a perfect candidate. He has a number of problems. It’s hard for blue-collar families like mine to identify with him. It’s hard for economic conservatives to identify with him. He needs to do more to reach out to the Latinos. But I think he has focus on that and on defeating President Obama as opposed to winning the next primary in the next state, and it’s time to do that.”American Conservative Union chairman Al Cardenas said, “With all due respect to my fellow conservative leaders determined to oppose Gov. Romney, that is not a worthy endeavor. For the sake of our Republic, I’m not willing to wait until the Republican National Convention to sort this out. It’s time to unite behind a worthy presidential candidate.”Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said, “There are a lot of other people out there that some of us wish had run for president – but they didn’t. I think Mitt Romney would be a fine president, and he’d be way better than the guy who’s there right now.”Utah Sen. Mike Lee said, “I think we would be well-advised as Republicans to start getting behind our eventual nominee.”Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, after sending Romney a congratulatory telegram, told a reporter, “You have to campaign to govern, not just to win….Spend the precious time and dollars explaining what’s at stake and a constructive program to make life better. And, as I say, look at everything through the lens of folks who have yet to achieve. Romney doesn’t talk that way….You don’t change one thing about the policies you advocate or your principles…It’s not complicated. But, for some reason, sometimes candidates just miss that.”It’s tough to say where Santorum ranks among the underwhelmed; all we know for sure is that Mitt has been masterful at deadening the party pulse. Public opinion confirms this. The latest Gallup poll of 12 swing states reported on Monday that only 46 percent of Republicans are enthused about voting in 2012 (compared to 57 percent of Democrats). That GP enthusiasm percentage has dropped 16 points since January.Santorum is probably nuts to insist that Romney follow his advice and chart a party path back to the Middle Ages – starting with his insistence that the nominee give Rick and his followers “appropriate representation in a Romney administration” – because any further rightward lurch would spell doom in November. But Santorum’s decision to bury his Mitt nod in the 13th paragraph is proof that he’s in sync with the somnolent party mood.——-Meanwhile, last night, veteran Senator Dick Lugar was arguably less than gracious when he acknowledged defeat in the Indiana Republican primary by unleashing a 1400-word treatise about the poisonous governing climate in Washington – and about the victorious tea-party guy who would poison Washington even more.On the other hand, Lugar was right. The vanquished incumbent, who was thrashed in a right-wing landslide in part because he’d long had the temerity to work with Democrats every once in a while, said last night what needed to be said:”Partisans at both ends of the political spectrum are dominating the political debate in our country. And partisan groups, including outside groups that spent millions against me in this race, are determined to see that this continues. They have worked to make it as difficult as possible for a legislator of either party to hold independent views or engage in constructive compromise. If that attitude prevails in American politics, our government will remain mired in the dysfunction we have witnessed during the last several years. And I believe that if this attitude expands in the Republican Party, we will be relegated to minority status. Parties don’t succeed for long if they stop appealing to voters who may disagree with them on some issues….”Ideology cannot be a substitute for a determination to think for yourself, for a willingness to study an issue objectively, and for the fortitude to sometimes disagree with your party or even your constituents.”But that’s no longer the prevailing mood within the GOP. Richard Mourdock, the guy who beat Lugar, is right in sync with the new Republican mainstream when he complains (as he did the other day) that there is “too much bipartisanship” in Washington. He also says that “one side simply has to win out over the other.”I doubt that the Founding Fathers, who thrived on compromise, ever envisioned such a Manichean form of governance. It’s actually not governance at all. As Lugar pointed out, the GOP will never govern effectively if it binds itself to a “rejectionist orthodoxy.” But his landslide loss is proof that dysfunction is the new normal.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1


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