At CPAC, Santorum Surges Despite Idiotic Claims; Romney Poses as 'Severe' Conservative; Gingrich Makes War on GOP

At the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, the three top candidates for the presidential nomination laid out their case before the nation's largest annual gathering of right-wing activists.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who received a warmer reception than one might expect at such a confab, nonetheless failed to dispel the image he projects as a man who so desperately wants to be president that he'll say whatever he thinks is required to win over the G.O.P. base -- sometimes to laughable effect.

Romney, who is distrusted by many in the Republican base for having introduced a mandated health-care program during his term in the governor's mansion, repeatedly used the words "we conservatives" or "conservatives like us" in his remarks. (I lost count, but Politico's Jonathan Martin tallied it at 25 times.)

"I was a severely conservative governor," Romney asserted, using an adjective that caused some head-scratching. While the ideology of right-wingers may seem severe to those outside the movement, it's not a term its adherents generally ascribe to themselves. 

As evidence of his severity, Romney touted his opposition to marriage equality, which was legalized in the commonwealth by the Massachusetts Supreme Court, which ruled that, under the state Constitution, marriage could not be denied to same-sex couples. Romney claimed that a constitutional ban, which he supported, "lost by only one vote" in the state legislature, a claim that was immediately contested by LGBT activists.

Romney Losing Frontrunner Status?

It was a tough week for Romney, who came to CPAC after losing nomination contests in three states on Tuesday to Rick Santorum, the former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, who wears the conservative mantle more comfortably, at least on issues related to sexuality. While current polls show Romney still leading the pack, Public Policy Polling issued a tweet saying that the the national field survey they're currently conducting shows Santorum in the lead. UPDATE: The PPP poll, now published, shows Santorum with a double-digit lead over Romney, with 38 percent, compared with 23 percent for Romney.

Most strident in the case for his candidacy that Santorum made to the CPAC audience were remarks aimed at Romney, whose support among Republicans is on the soft side. "Why would an undecided voter vote for a candidate who the party's not excited about?" Santorum asked the crowd.

"As conservatives and Tea Party folks, we are not just wings of the Republican Party; we are the Republican Party," Santorum said. And first among the priorities of Tea Party members is the repeal of the health-care reform law passed by Congress two years ago.

Seizing on the issue of Romney's Massachusetts health-care program, Santorum told CPACers that if Romney wins the nomination, the G.O.P. will have squandered away its best election issue, the fear of what the right calls "Obamacare."

Without directly naming him, Santorum painted Romney as "someone who would simply give that issue away in the fall."


Listening to Santorum, it was sometimes difficult to discern whether he was running for president or village idiot. I'm not generally inclined to use those kinds of pejoratives, but what else can be said of a candidate who makes the kinds of claims made by Santorum from the CPAC podium?

Liberals, he said, had preyed on the well-meaning "sentimentality" of Americans who want "to pass a beautiful Earth onto their children" by promoting the "radical idea" of "man-made global warming." It was all a ruse, he said, to assert government control of choices that should be up to the individual -- choices like what kind of light bulb to buy and what kind of car to drive. But that wasn't even the idiotic part.

Correlating two phenomena as if one caused the other, Santorum pointed out that among the nations of the world, the highest standard of living was enjoyed by those nations that used the most of the world's energy resources. So, implied, if you want to keep your standard of living up, use more energy than you need. (Going on vacation? Be sure to turn on all the houselights before you leave and return America to greatness!)

He contended that Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of the United Kingdom, failed "to accomplish what Reagan did" because of Britain's nationalized health-care system, which encouraged "dependency" among the people.

Visually, Santorum asserted his fecundity offensive, delivering his speech while surrounded by his wife, Karen, and six of their seven children. Yet instead of mentioning his opposition to birth control of any kind (he has said he believes it to be "wrong"), Santorum argued against the administration's new rules -- which will require contraception coverage by employer-provided health insurance -- by calling contraceptives "things that only cost a few dollars." Actually, a month's supply of birth-control pills goes for about $50, a good chunk of change for, say, an orderly working in a Catholic (or any other kind of) hospital.

Of course, like his fellow candidates -- and nearly every other speaker who graced CPAC podium -- Santorum characterized the Obama administration's requirement that workers in Catholic hospitals and universities be granted access to contraception coverage as a violation of religious freedom, a claim that is less idiotic than it is demagogic.

(UPDATE: And speaking of demagogues, Right Wing Watch reported that before the day was through, white nationalist leader Robert Vandervoort, who enjoyed major exposure at CPAC this year, would tweet that he had dinner with Santorum. You'll recall that Santorum told a group of white Iowans last month at a campaign stop, "I don't want to make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money." AlterNet's Sarah Jaffe has more on Santorum's use of race anxiety here.)

But back to the idiot piece, someone on Santorum's staff might want to tell the anti-gay crusader, who once famously said that gay marriage could lead to the sanctioning of "man on dog" sex, that he might want to stop referring to conservatism as a "bottom-up" movement. Just sayin'.

The Return of Newt the Destroyer

If there was any surprise to be had in Newt Gingrich's appearance before the CPAC audience, it was his introduction by third wife, Callista, who is not known to do much in the way of public speaking. Her discomfort on the stage was palpable as she described the former House Speaker as a devoted husband who she can count on to be there for her in the church pews when she sings in the choir at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, or in the audience when she plays her French horn in a local Virginia orchestra.

The Gingriches were introduced by David Bossie, president of Citizens United, the organization for which the famous Supreme Court case is named -- the one that extended the claim of money as speech to bar the government from limiting spending by corporations and unions for "independent expenditures," changing the advertising landscape of what is already a brutal presidential campaign.

Newt and Callista are partners in Gingrich Productions, which has made several Catholic-themed movies for distribution by Citizens United, which is a non-profit movie and ad-making company.

Newt, it seems, came not to praise what counts as the mainstream Republican Party these days, but to bury it in the Pompeiian lava flow of his resentment against its establishment. It was at the hands of that establishment that Gingrich believes he was vanquished by Romney in the Florida Republican primary, the contest that came on the heels of his phenomenal win in South Carolina. (A host of Republican luminaries, include former Sen. Bob Dole, the former presidential nominee, issued damaging statements against Gingrich during the Florida campaign.)

"We need to teach the Republican establishment a lesson," Gingrich said, citing a need to "change the trajectory" of America, not "manage its decay," which he said is the aim of the G.O.P. leaders.

He also asserted that Americans could expect President Barack Obama, if he is re-elected, to "wage war on the Catholic Church." Gingrich is a convert to Catholicism, his third religious identity after his conversion to the faith of the Southern Baptist Convention from his native Lutheran faith. Some guys change wives like they change their shirts. And some guys change their religions like they change their wives. But, hey, it's a free country.


Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Washington correspondent. Follow her on Twitter: @addiestan

AlterNet / By Adele M. Stan

Posted at February 11, 2012, 2:57am

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