Here’s one of the overriding ironies of the strange, strange 2012 Republican nominating season: as damaging as the primaries have been to Mitt Romney’s standing in the public eye, he hasn’t actually taken that many hits for his exceedingly moderate record in Massachusetts. Rick Santorum has been the only candidate to make a half-decent attempt to go after Romneycare. Other candidates have halfheartedly nicked Romney for raising revenues in the state by closing some business tax loopholes. But there has been so, so much that has gone untouched. Romney’s rivals have barely mentioned his claim, on the eve of the 2002 election, that he would be a “progressive” governor. Nor have they gone after any of the smaller-scale examples of Romney following up on that promise, such as his embrace of anti-car, anti-sprawl “smart growth” policies. Santorum threw up a new ad in Michigan today that tries to cover some of Romney’s apostasies, but it’s a pretty low-budget affair that still doesn’t come close to capturing the breadth of his rival’s heresies.
Which is why I find it mystifying that Santorum is now having to defend himself against Romney’s charge last night that he betrayed conservative principles by endorsing Arlen Specter for Senate in 2004, when arch-conservative Club for Growther Pat Toomey was challenging him. Santorum explained, as he has before, that he endorsed Specter, despite his pro-choice stance and overall moderation, because he thought Specter had a better chance of winning that fall and that Specter would play a crucial role in confirming Bush’s Supreme Court nominees—as he later did. What he didn’t say outright was that it was ludicrous to be blaming him for something that no one could have foreseen in 2004—that Specter would switch parties five years later and become a decisive vote in passing Obamacare.
But step back even further and consider just how absurd this attack is. Santorum is being pilloried for having endorsed against a primary challenge a sitting senator from his own party and his own state who was also endorsed by the Republican president at the time. The senator he endorsed was pro-choice and went on to vote for universal health care legislation. Santorum is being attacked for this endorsement by a man who himself was pro-choice and signed into law universal health care legislation. So Santorum’s crime, in Romney’s eyes, is to have endorsed someone whose moderation resembled that of ... Mitt Romney.
Yes, Romney will emerge bruised from this process. But still, you have to hand it to him—he’s still got some brazen moves in him.
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