Rick Santorum has a solid chance to follow up his three victories this week by beating Mitt Romney in his own home state of Michigan, and the situation has conservatives worrying again that Romney might be a bit of a wimp.
Romney grew up in suburban Detroit, and his dad was governor of the state, but Santorum's blue-collar persona and social conservatism could help him, The Wall Street Journal's Peter Nicholas and Joseph B. White report. "I think Santorum is going to do surprisingly well here," Dennis Pittman, head of a county Republican Party, told the Journal, echoing other Republican strategists. Santorum's victories Tuesday help him more than his win in Iowa did, The New Republic's Walter Shapiro argues, because in January he didn't have enough time to raise enough money or meet enough voters before the next vote in New Hampshire. This time he's got three weeks.
Polls show Romney way up in Michigan for now. But they've also fluctuated a lot. In late January, Romney had 31 percent of the vote, followed by Gingrich's 26 percent. Santorum had just 10 percent. But as of last week, Romney has 31 percent and Gingrich and Santorum are tied with 15 percent. Romney still has huge money and organizational advantages, but his apparent weakness has conservatives sighing. Really! "At the precise moment when Rick Santorum is demonstrating how a fired-up, combative, but issues-centered conservative message can resonate with Republicans, the Romney campaign seems strangely... empty," The National Review's Jim Geraghty writes. Geraghty points to Romney's Twitter feed (his screenshot at left), which was filled with bland nothingness despite all kinds of controversial issues in the news -- contraception, superPACs, Syria. "Any one of these could help Romney connect with a base of the party that appears to be growing more skeptical of him instead of less skeptical. Instead, we’re getting birthday wishes to Roberta McCain and fond Olympic memories. Sigh."
And it all has The Wall Street Journal's editorial page concluding that Romney's a bit of a weakling, saying, "He seems to retreat at the first sound of a liberal moral argument." When Santorum challenged him on Romneycare, "Romney fell back on his feeble talking points." Further, "That Mr. Santorum even has this opening owes much to Mr. Romney's weakness."
Romney's performance has inspired two vastly different political analysts to make the same joke. The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol:
“Mitt can not ****ing throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time. I can’t believe they dropped the ball so many times...”
"Romney was at a loss to explain why he dropped the ball. In fact, his wife is now blaming the New England Patriots wide receivers. He can't vote and run at the same time!"