I finally broke down and listened to the last Republican debate last week prior to the Michigan and Arizona primaries. Up to then I was content to see highlights on news reports and internet sites, on the idea that why listen to seven or eight people when only one is going to be the candidate?
The key moment in this campaign for Santorum came, I believe, when someone texted in asking for each candidate to define themselves in one word. Paul said "Consistent", Romney said "Resolute", Santorum said "Courage", and Gingrich mischievously said "Cheerful."
I think they all revealed a lot, but most especially, Santorum. Up until then apparently he had run a fairly focused and smart campaign, speaking as a working class guy that connected with people who were feeling the hardship of the economy and wanted to find a way to make a living and feel some self respect again which had been so hurt by the Great Recession. That was a message with some appeal to a lot of people.
But, I think that once he defined himself with the brand of Courage, I think he felt he had found his true voice, and had given his campaign a greater purpose - to be Courageous. And, I think he proved to us what being courageous really means in Rick Santorum's world - to speak out against Godlessness and sin. He became the preacher rather than the politician. He scolded the country for their sins, courageously. He spoke the truth on those things that he held as being the most important - issues of morality - courageously. Say "no" to contraception because it places the will of men and women above the Will of God; wanting to Throw Up when he heard what John F Kennedy said about the separation of church and state - misinterpreting Kennedy's assurances that he would not be a pawn of the Vatican for a declaration that people of faith should stay out of politics; etc. He revealed his deepest passions, his deeply held convictions of his faith and his obvious desire to impose his dogmas on as many Americans as he could manage.
Not an attractive message to most people, certainly not to me. Those that shared his dogmatic views were thrilled, of course, but they had already seen him as one of them. But many of the rest saw him as someone other than themselves. So, he is losing. I am willing to give thanks to God for that, personally.
As for Romney's identifying himself as "Resolute", I think that is also instructive. I think he is resolute. He is the energizer bunny that just keeps going even though he is not doing an awful lot to catch on. I expect him to resolutely plow ahead and win the nomination. I'm not inspired, but I think he would be so much better than his Republican opponents that I am happy to see him continue his upward, laborious path to the nomination. I expect Super Tuesday to pretty much put the competition to bed and show that there is only one viable candidate.
But, as long as billionaires are willing to back the non-Romneys I suppose we will have to endure more primary drama. And that relentlessly negative drama only hurts the conservative brand - or does it just reveal it?