When the Ayatollah Santorum announced on Tuesday that he’s aborting his campaign for president, drivers of the Romney Campaign Juggernaut breathed a sigh of relief because they now can turn from crushing Santo under the wheels of their temple car to concentrating their fire power against President Obama.
And certainly the conventional wisdom is that Frothy’s pullout benefits Mitt the most. As one Republican member of our brilliant Calbuzz California Consultanate put it:
The benefit is all Romney’s. He can now focus on general election messaging and escape the idiotic culture wars that had been shaping the tenor of the primary process. Sewing up the nomination in first week of April provides ample time to move on to a new election framework. One might even say he can now shake the Etch A Sketch.
True, that, agreed one of our Democratic panelists:
The field is now essentially cleared for him (despite Newt’s vow to stay in until Tampa). American Crossroads has announced they are starting to spend their $20 million in ads in swing states against Obama. Mitt can now focus on replenishing his campaign coffers, retooling his message, and reintroducing himself to the general electorate.
He’s in a much better place than many predicted he would be even a few weeks ago. Imagine how much money he would have had to spend if the California primary had come into play for the nomination.
Or as one Republican rascal on our panel noted:
Santorum’s exit most assuredly helps Romney, as it hastens Mitt’s Etch-A-Sketch moment. Santorum in the race was helping Obama. Now Romney is no longer in the straightjacket of GOP orthodoxy — he is now merely in the straightjacket of Mitt the Mormon.
Unconventional wisdom: But Calbuzz and our Advisory Board of Leading Authorities on Practically Everything are anything but conventional. And it turns out there are some pretty good arguments about why Santorum’s campaignus interruptus could actually benefit Obama. Said one Democratic consultant:
I have a theory that Santo getting out actually helps Obama. The longer Santorum was out there shouting about how Romney isn’t a true conservative, the harder is gets for Democrats to hang the Tea Party and the rest of the far right around his neck. Romney wants a war with Iran, thinks Russia is the enemy, hates health care reform, and believes in trickle-down economics. But the press has been calling him the moderate in this race for more than a year. Better for that to be over.
Said another Democrat:
Obama benefits. Now the Obamaniacs [progressive Dems who have been carping about Obama from the left] can focus all their pent-up energy on “the enemy” instead of on what Obama may or may not have done for them.
Maybe. But Obama has already tied the Paul Ryan budget and the destruction of Medicare around Romney’s ankle and the Democrats have been blasting with both barrels at the war on women, self-deportation of Latinos, the Buffett Rule on taxation and just about anything with the stink of Tea Party on it. So it’s hard to see how losing a loser like Santorum makes Obama’s path to 270 electoral votes any easier.
Said one GOP panelist: “Suggesting that Obama somehow benefits from Santorum dropping out is Democratic spin in hyper-drive. All advantage goes to Romney. The gore-fest ends, the party unites behind him and the real campaign begins.”
We miss Rick already: Indeed, the Democrats were having a damn good time watching Santorum tie Romney in knots and drive him to the right. As one Democratic panelist put it in response to our question, “Who benefits most?”
Romney by a mile. He can start healing the rift with the conservative base instead of continuing to fight with it. And he no longer has anyone pulling him to the right. More importantly Santorum had been doing major damage to the GOP brand with women. His fight on contraception and abortion helped open up a huge gender gap between Romney and Obama. This is one fight that Democrats would have gladly urged on all the way to the convention. Very sad to see it all end so soon.
Some Democratic brainiacs have mixed emotions about seeing the GOP fight concluded:
I could make a case for both but I guess I come down on the side of Romney because it cuts his primary spending down and allows him to more seriously begin his march to November (ugh.) Obviously Obama was enjoying the lack of a focused opponent.
And, it really helps me. Because if I spent one more moment listening to Washington Week, Face the Nation, Meet the Press or whatever the heck the ABC Sunday Morning show’s name is talk about at what precise moment Santorum would drop out I would have to do harm to someone or something.
Now the “when will Newt and Ron Paul finally give in” can begin and wow have I been waiting for that.
Dem Views Extra:
— The obvious answer is now Romney can focus on the general election and begin etching new more moderate positions on issues — technically called a series of double reverse flip flops. In reality, Mittens now faces a much broader electorate and some really pissed off women. His crawl back towards the middle will draw intense media attention underlining his total lack of conviction to policy. And then he has to explain to seniors and near seniors (60% of likely voters) that he supports the Ryan plan to basically eliminate Medicare. Romney will play defense for the next several weeks or longer. Right wing pressure will heighten the VP discussion….emphasis again on Romney’s Waffle House campaign.
— Although it seems as if the GOP primary has gone on forever, it’s only April, giving Romney plenty of time to bring the Santorum conservatives into the fold and consolidate his base. If you doubt there’s time for Romney to recover, consider that in April 2008, Clinton and Obama were still debating (and Clinton was still winning states like Pennsylvania.) Just as important, the full force of Republican and right-wing SuperPAC firepower can now be turned to Obama. Of course, this means you need to ignore the other two remaining contestants, Newt (increasingly easy to dismiss) and Paul (running only to make a point). Also, Santorum’s exit gives Romney a chance to repair his favorability ratings, which have taken a beating from attacks by both the Democratic establishment and his Republican opponents.
GOP Views Extra:
— Romney. The bloodletting is over, the rush to the right is receding, and now the campaign can consolidate and focus on one target—Pres. Obama.
— This is the moment that Romney has waited nearly six years for. He’s now the nominee despite the fact that part of his party isn’t sold on him. Santorum dropping out means that argument is over and now Romney can focus in on the general election and Obama. Everyday Santorum was still in the race was a good day for Obama.
Dem Diehard Bottom Line:
— Anything that ends the ugly primary season is good for Romney, but he probably has already been damaged irreparably by the process. He made no real case for himself during the primaries, just played whack-a-mole with every other candidate who reared his/her head, using his superPAC and massive financial advantage to bludgeon them back into their hole. He’s paid a heavy price for that — along with his many verbal and behavioral gaffes — and his favorability numbers are far underwater. And Obama has barely started in on him yet.
— At this point doesn’t matter one way or the other – all of the damage is already done. Romney has been pushed far to the right and exposed as a fundamentally weak candidate. People talk about parallels between this and the ’08 Democratic primary – but are ignoring the significant difference. Democrats came away from that primary believing that they had two good choices and either would have been fine in the end. Not the case here – there are some seriously hurt feelings – a lot like sour residue left over from 1964 Republican convention.