MICHIGAN CAGE MATCH
Mitt "The Raider" Romney vs. "Prayerful" Rick Santorum vs. Ron " The Gold Standard" Paul vs. "Grandiose" Newt Gingrich
But could the outcome here help steer Republicans to a brokered election?
Published: February 22, 2012
In at least a few cases, Romney could just let the process run its course when challengers came to the fore. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a darling of the Christian right, only needed to start opening his mouth in debates before his support evaporated. Apparently, even the fundamentalists expect their candidates to be able to at least remember what government agencies they'd targeted for elimination.
And then there was Herman Cain with his 9-9-9 plan and a rags-to-riches résumé that included stints as chief executive of Godfather's Pizza, conservative radio host and chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City in Missouri.
Multiple allegations of sexual harassment and infidelity brought his campaign to a crashing halt.
As for Gingrich, when he appeared to be gaining momentum in Iowa, the first state to hold a nominating contest, attack ads decrying the surplus of negative "baggage" put a halt to his surge.
And again, after riding the wave of strong debate performances to an important victory in South Carolina, Gingrich was slapped down in Florida by an onslaught of negative ads that portrayed him as being in bed with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage lenders blamed in part for playing a role in the foreclosure crisis.
Here in Michigan, Romney's tactic is to portray Santorum as a faux conservative when it comes to fiscal issues. In an ad that's getting much air time, an old television clip shows Santorum defending his use of earmarks — which are, generally speaking, provisions inserted into a bill with the intent of allocating money to a certain project or creating a special tax break without going through the usual legislative process. They've come to symbolize, for many, the worst of irresponsible pork-barrel spending.
Santorum is vastly outgunned when it comes to money — both in terms of what he has in his own campaign coffers and the cash being funneled into associated Super PACs — political action committees that can spend unlimited amounts of money in support of a candidate as long as they operate independently and don't contribute directly to a campaign. Nonetheless, the Santorum side is fighting back.
Employing a clever bit of political jujitsu, the pro-Santorum Red, White and Blue Fund Super PAC is airing commercials that show a somewhat freakish-looking Romney, wielding an automatic weapon that fires blobs of mud, stalking a cutout of Santorum.
The piece ends with the Romney character getting splattered himself as the announcer intones, "In the end, Mitt Romney's ugly attacks are going to backfire."
(As Comedy Central's Jon Stewart so ably points out on a recent episode of The Daily Show, the ad is unintentionally hilarious when you consider that — thanks to columnist Dan Savage — santorum has come to be used to describe what Stewart tactfully calls a "staining anal liquid." The derisive term was created when Savage, who is openly gay and writes a syndicated sex advice column that appears in this paper, held a contest asking his readers to assign a definition to the politician's name after he equated homosexuality with bestiality.)
The ugly nature of these ads, which are in heavy rotation, offer a preview of much more to come now that the U.S. Supreme Court, in the Citizen's United case, opened the door to unlimited political spending on the part of corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals.
The effects of that ruling are already being seen as campaigns that struggle to raise money through traditional means can get a disproportionate boost from a few super-rich benefactors.
In Santorum's case, the primary backer of his allied Red, White and Blue Fund is Wyoming billionaire Foster Friess, whose questionable sense of humor recently proved to be a distraction for the Santorum campaign. Talking about contraception, Friess quipped, "Back in my day, they used Bayer Aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn't that costly."
Feminists were not amused, and began raising concerns about a return to 1950s-era attitudes toward women by the GOP.
Santorum attempted to distance himself from his benefactor's bad joke while at the same time repeatedly denouncing the Obama administration for briefly attempting to require that hospitals, schools and other businesses run by Catholics and other religious organizations pay for health insurers to provide contraception to employees.
The whole controversy strikes the fourth Republican still in the race — Ron Paul, a U.S. representative from Texas — as a dangerous distraction.
Paul, a libertarian who has failed to take a lead role in the Republican primary, has had little presence in the run-up to the Michigan contest.
Like Gingrich, Paul appears to be saving his limited campaign funds to focus on "Super Tuesday." That comes on March 6, when nominating contests will be held in 10 states: Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia
However, Paul has a committed following and could yet play a role in the nomination process if he stays in the race and accumulates enough delegates to become a power broker at August's convention if no candidate has the nomination locked up by then.
> Email Curt Guyette