Normally, I love me some EJ Dionne, but I think he’s putting too much credence in questionable polling results to make his argument in yesterday’s column:
Romney was never fully trusted or liked by the staunchest conservatives, a rather large Republican constituency. But until now, enough of them have been willing to swallow their doubts at critical moments because they believed the former Massachusetts governor was the one potential nominee who could win the election.
This is not true anymore. Reflecting the damage Romney’s image has suffered in the six weeks since voting started in Iowa, he is running little better than Rick Santorum, now his main opponent, in matchups with the president. And both of them are losing.
In the latest New York Times/CBS Poll, released on Tuesday, Romney was behind Obama by six points, while Santorum trailed by eight — a margin-of-error sort of difference.
Even Chait has come to a similar conclusion (though through less reliance on polls) and I don’t find this the least bit convincing. Other than the fact that Santorum is truly on the fringe on social issues, most voters simply have no idea of this because he has not had half the scrutiny that Romney has had. Furthermore, he’s shown an appalling inability to raise money, something that is very much a signal of his weakness as a candidate. Does anyone seriously believe that after a summer-long battle of a general election campaign a hypothetical Santorum campaign would truly be as competitive with Obama as a hypothetical Romney campaign? I doubt it. This is why it can be dangerous to over-rely on polls. They are just a snapshot in time and at this point in time Romney has come in for huge scrutiny and Santorum simply has not yet.
Why am I so convinced that Romney is more electable. First, appeals to the Tea party aside, he’s clearly shown the ability to create a strong organization and to raise money whereas Santorum has not. More importantly, though, once voters get to know Santorum some of his positions are simply untenable for a national candidate (and not easy to walk back). To wit:
As he told the “Evangelical blog” Caffeinated Thoughts last year:
One of the things I will talk about that no President has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea. Many in the Christian faith have said, “Well, that’s okay. Contraception’s okay.”
It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. They’re supposed to be within marriage, they are supposed to be for purposes that are, yes, conjugal, but also [inaudible], but also procreative. ..
Again, I know most Presidents don’t talk about those things, and maybe people don’t want us to talk about those things, but I think it’s important that you are who you are. I’m not running for preacher. I’m not running for pastor, but these are important public policy issues. These how profound impact on the health of our society.
This is just not the kind of stuff you say when you are running for president (as Santorum self-evidently knows). And where’s there’s statements like this, there’s more. I just really don’t see any reason to believe that after a general election campaign, Santorum would fare as well against Obama as would Romney.