A couple of polls came out from Public Policy Polling this weekend showing that Santorum seems to be replacing Newt Gingrich as the main "not Romney" candidate in Minnesota and Colorado. There seems to be a desire to "give another conservative a chance" as well as to potentially field a candidate without as much baggage as Newt so that Mitt Romney's negative ad carpet bombing will not be as effective.
I think though that this reasoning is fallacious and switching support from Newt to Santorum at this point would be a major mistake. Let's just look at what I believe are the two main arguments for the switch:
1) "Give another conservative a chance". Didn't Rick already have a chance after his victory in Iowa? He had a ton of positive press coverage even when it appeared that he had narrowly lost (by 8 votes) in Iowa and he could have really taken advantage of it. But he didn't. He is just not as competent with voters or with the media as he should be. He followed up his surprising Iowa finish with a 4th place finish in New Hampshire, a 3rd place finish in South Carolina, a 3rd place finish in Florida and now a 4th place finish in Nevada. In none of these contests was he able to break through 17% of the vote (he got that in evangelical heavy South Carolina) and in two contests (New Hampshire and Nevada) he wasn't even able to break through 10%. And it isn't like Newt has the establishment media on his side keeping Rick down, if anything it is the opposite. After 25 debates and a victory in Iowa, Rick Santorum really has no excuse for not catching on, other than himself.
2) "We need a candidate with less baggage than Newt". Right now, because Rick Santorum has generally escaped much criticism in the media it appears that he would be a much safer candidate than Newt, one who could survive the carpet bombing of negative ads that will inevitably come from Romney once Rick is viewed as a threat to them. But this is an illusion as I don't think any candidate with any actual record could escape unscathed from Romney's attacks. Ad markets have been deluged with so many negative ads by the Romney team that their tactics practically meet the threshold to be considered brainwashing. Just think about what Newt has actually been attacked for. He has been attacked for an ethics charge related to the tax exempt status of a college course he taught (oooh, run for the hills!), something even the IRS decided did not hold water. He has been attacked for, as a private citizen, consulting for a politically unattractive client, Freddie Mac (If it was Iran, I would understand, but a publicly traded company that even Romney was invested in? Come on.). He has also been attacked for sitting on a couch for a commercial with a liberal democrat and actually promoting green energy (the horror)! All of these issues have been completely blown out of proportion by the Romney machine and the media and have nothing to do with Newt's very conservative record while in office.
I'm sure some people would argue that if they had anything on Rick Santorum, that they would have used it already. Not really. The Romney machine and its allies in the media establishment only attack when they see a threat to their candidate. I seem to remember a time when the very same people who are vilifying Newt today were cheering him on for his witty answers in various debates. The difference at the time was that they were trying to take down Rick Perry and Herman Cain and thought Newt had no chance. Just wait until they set their sights on Rick Santorum. There will be wall to wall ads about his involvement in the K Street Project, his endorsement of Arlen Specter (who became a Democrat and helped usher in Obamacare), his "leadership PAC" (which gave a paltry 18% of its money to candidates and spent the rest on everyday expenses for Rick Santorum), his scam of a charity and his numerous "gaffes" which will help sour his appeal among women and independent voters (he blamed the church's child molestation scandal on Boston being liberal, he equated homosexuality with bestiality and he said radical feminism is to blame for the decline of the American family). Then of course is his record which is more liberal than Newt's. He voted against NAFTA, against Right to Work and for steel tariffs, as well as various earmarks (especially in election years). If you don't think the Romney attack dogs won't find enough fodder in Rick Santorum's record to vilify him to the same extent that Newt has been vilified, think again. Remember, there was a time that even Newt had the highest positive intensity score in the entire field. Things change. In a few months, after the establishment is done with him, Rick Santorum's image as a straight shooting conservative family man will turn into one of a corrupt religious zealot who is only interested in his own advancement.
One final point. I know that conservatives seemed to have become addicted to switching horses in this primary race, going from Bachmann to Perry to Cain to Gingrich to Santorum and then back to Gingrich, but at some point, it just becomes too late. Due to his string of lackluster finishes, Rick Santorum continues to have a pretty decrepit organization which just recently couldn't even find enough signatures to get on the ballot in Indiana. Newt was attacked for not having an organization, so how does it make sense to go to a candidate who probably has an even worse one, especially with Super Tuesday coming up? Newt has his weaknesses, but like it or not, he is the best we have right now. He is a Reagan conservative who has a great ability to excite the base and explain to everyone else why we believe what we believe. We need to coalesce around him and defeat both Romney AND Obama and make America great again.
Cross posted from libertarian neocon's blog.