2012 Tuesday: Are Obama and the left baiting GOP into nominating Santorum?

It’s been a couple of weeks since the Obama administration announced it would force religious-affiliated entities such as hospitals and colleges — most notably those tied to the Catholic church — to cover contraception, abortifacients and sterilization in the health insurance plans they provide their employees. And ever since, much of the commentary (including some of my own) has focused on the apparent mistake President Obama was making in alienating a large chunk of the electorate. Why would he make such an unforced error?

Maybe he thinks he can bait the GOP into making an error of its own.

After a couple of years of hearing that social issues would take a back seat in this election to the country’s soft economy and dire fiscal situation, suddenly social issues are all the rage:

  • There was the contraception mandate that came Jan. 20.
  • While those flames were still burning hotly, the decision by Susan G. Komen For the Cure to stop awarding grants to Planned Parenthood clinics was made public Jan. 31. Note my phrasing here: “decision … was made public.” We now know the decision had been communicated to Planned Parenthood weeks earlier. I recommend re-reading the original Associated Press story breaking the news with that fact in mind: It certainly reads like a story prompted by information from Planned Parenthood, with Komen reacting to Planned Parenthood’s reaction to Komen’s decision. It would appear the decision was revealed at a time of Planned Parenthood’s choosing, and Planned Parenthood is not exactly known as a friend of the Republican Party.

The result, predictably and understandably, has been a circling of social conservatives’ wagons. And you know who they’ve circled around? Rick Santorum.

Now, think back a few more weeks. You might recall George Stephanopoulos invoked Santorum’s name and beliefs when launching the lengthy series of questions about contraception during a Jan. 7 debate in New Hampshire — a line of questioning that, at the time, seemed to be completely out of left field. Dick Morris, who certainly knows a thing or two about incumbent presidents trying to win re-election, has gone so far as to accuse Stephanopoulos of asking the questions “under orders.” He didn’t specify whose “orders,” but in the same interview (with Sean Hannity on Fox News) Morris referred to Stephanopoulos as a “paid Democratic hit-man”:

They want to create the impression that the Republicans will ban contraception, which is totally insane, but they’re floating it out and they’re bringing it out there. And this move on Obama’s part was part of injecting that issue.

To be sure, Morris did get one thing wrong: He said this “impression” arose “after Minnesota and Colorado which was [sic] Santorum’s victories.” On the contrary, Santorum’s triple victories (also in Missouri’s non-binding primary) came Feb. 7 — one week after the Komen decision was revealed and two and a half weeks after the contraception mandate was announced.

There are no smoking guns here. But if — I repeat, if — there was an intent by the left to give Santorum a boost in the GOP contest, with the premise that his social views would turn off a number of moderate and independent voters in November, the boost sure appears to have occurred:

  • In Colorado, which Mitt Romney won by 42 percentage points in 2008, Santorum went from trailing Romney by 14 points on Feb. 4 to beating him by 5 points on Feb. 7.
  • In Minnesota, which Romney won by 19 points four years ago, Santorum went from a statistical tie with Romney on Feb. 4 to an 18-point win on Feb. 7.
  • In Missouri, where Romney ran a very strong third place (less than 4 points behind winner John McCain) in 2008, Santorum went from leading by 11 points in late January to winning by 30 points.

That’s an average swing of 19 points in Santorum’s favor within a week or two — the same week or two that just happened to feature the return of social issues to the fore of the national news and GOP primary politics. All three polls to which I referred were conducted by Public Policy Polling. Was the pollster simply bad? If so, it was a sudden drop in accuracy: In New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, PPP’s pre-primary polls proved very predictive of the final results. Even in Iowa, another state that held caucuses (which are harder to predict and poll than primaries) and where Santorum also was a surprise winner, PPP didn’t see anything like a 19-point swing.

Even if you don’t buy the idea that the Obama administration and its allies are actively nudging the GOP electorate in the direction of a social conservative like Santorum, they certainly aren’t doing anything to take social issues out of the headlines.

But would a Santorum nomination really be an error by the GOP?

Just today, the same pollster, PPP, published a national poll finding Santorum fares better against Obama than Romney does. It’s a small edge, and I’m not sure it even qualifies as an “edge”: He trails the president 49-44, whereas Romney is behind by 7 points at 49-42. But PPP notes that, even in this tumultuous GOP race, “Santorum’s the first insurgent to challenge Romney on [the electability] front.”

PPP goes on to note:

Santorum’s net favorability is 21 points better than Romney’s. Santorum’s at -7 (39/46), while Romney is at -28 (29/57). That’s mostly because Republicans like Santorum a lot better (+40 at 62/22 to Romney’s +2 at 43/41). But Santorum also does a good deal better with independents, coming in at -6 (40/46) to Romney’s -23 (32/55). In the head to heads Obama leads Romney by 9 with independents, but has only a 4 point advantage on Santorum with that group.

A close call with independents and a more-fired-up GOP base sounds more like the Bush recipe for winning in 2000 and 2004 than the McCain formula for losing in 2008.

We’ll see how Santorum holds up to the Romney attack ads that are coming. But there are signs that his emergence could overturn a lot of the conventional wisdom about him — including any desire by the left to see him as Obama’s opponent come this fall.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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239 comments Add your comment

Gimme Gimme Gimme

February 14th, 2012
1:37 pm

The Republican candidates are all lame. What a chance to beat Obama and we come up with these Stooges.

Face reality, these Candidates are all weak.

detritusUSA

February 14th, 2012
1:45 pm

Somebody flush the entire republican party and make the U.S.A. a more sanitary place.

Jefferson

February 14th, 2012
1:48 pm

Anything can happen. Don’t outthink yourselves.

reebok

February 14th, 2012
1:49 pm

Santorum’s favorability will drop as people get to know him (as happened with Cain, Bachmann, Perry, and all the right-wingers). The nominee is going to be Mitt, and he’s going to get drubbed.

Cynic

February 14th, 2012
2:00 pm

Its a hell of a note to think that a president who is running up the debt at record pace, will have 4 dollar gas prices hanging around his neck, crammed forced healthcare down are throats, and who’s answer to everything is more taxes more spending will be re-elected. Nice work republicans. Next time around trot out Sandusky as a candidate!

Do what??????

February 14th, 2012
2:02 pm

“Somebody flush the entire republican party and make the U.S.A. a more sanitary place.

Or we could just flush you.

carlosgvv

February 14th, 2012
2:03 pm

The Republican Party is increasingly being taken over by crazed Tea Party right-wing zealots. It would not take much “baiting” to get them to go for Santorum. We would then have to see just how dumbed down America has become. Obama – still hope – Santorum – dumbed down with no hope.

Do what??????

February 14th, 2012
2:04 pm

“The Republican Party is increasingly being taken over by crazed Tea Party right-wing zealots.

So explain how Romney is still in the lead. Last time I checked Romney was no tea party type of dude.

Jefferson

February 14th, 2012
2:07 pm

The longer the show, the more popcorn sales.

DannyX

February 14th, 2012
2:09 pm

“So explain how Romney is still in the lead.”

According to the Real Clear Politics average Santorum is now in the lead. Most of the recent polls now show Santorum with the lead.

Do what??????

February 14th, 2012
2:10 pm

“According to the Real Clear Politics average Santorum is now in the lead.

Mitt has won how many delegates?

Santorum?

Nuff said.

Del

February 14th, 2012
2:15 pm

The Democrats may be careful what they wish for. Santorum may be now for the Republicans what Jimmy Carter was for the Democrats several elections ago. Carter wasn’t a big name on the national political scene and when he came along he was perceived kind of like the fresh face, breath of fresh air type of candidate that just suddenly caught on with the voters.Who knows, politics like life is full of surprises.

ByteMe

February 14th, 2012
2:16 pm

if … there was an intent by the left to give Santorum a boost in the GOP contest

No, you’re missing the bigger picture. You think it’s all about the specific candidate and not all about the party itself.

What’s the Republican answer to the contraceptive issue? Make it harder to get contraceptive coverage for anyone! Brilliant! Who do you lose as voters with that stance? Women and young (fertile) people. The same people who voted for Obama in droves and will be needed for the next election. And the same people who — polls show now — are strongly favoring Obama over Romney.

So just because Santorum embodies this stance doesn’t mean it was about him.

ragnar danneskjold

February 14th, 2012
2:17 pm

Not beyond the realm of the possible. I believed Herman would be the one most likely to undercut the Obama re-election strategy, and all but the last Bimbo eruption seemed to arise from a relationship with David Axelrod, but I think Herman’s poor responses to questions on foreign affairs did him more damage. Unlike Republicans, I believe any of the republican candidates can beat Obama, due to the miserable record of the Oval Office Occupier. I’ll probably vote for Santorum now, as I think he has no reservation about attacking Obama’s core beliefs. (Newt cannot do so, as he has been on the same side of too many of those core beliefs. Did you hear Dick Morris’s joke last night: “A liberal, a moderate, and a conservative walk into a bar. The bartender says, ‘Hi, Mitt.’”)

DannyX

February 14th, 2012
2:23 pm

Michigan

Rasmussen
Feb 1….Romney +15
Feb 13….Santorum +3

ragnar danneskjold

February 14th, 2012
2:23 pm

In all fairness, Mitt’s “unspecific” candidacy, is almost a mirror of Obama’s campaign of 2008, where he stood for nothing but “change.” Mitt is running on the same theme.

Do what??????

February 14th, 2012
2:32 pm

“Michigan”

One state. Try again.

ByteMe

February 14th, 2012
2:34 pm

Did you hear Dick Morris’s joke last night: “A liberal, a moderate, and a conservative walk into a bar. The bartender says, ‘Hi, Mitt.’”

Nice.

DannyX

February 14th, 2012
2:40 pm

“One state. Try again.”

Did you even read Kyle’s post?

Ernest T. Bass

February 14th, 2012
2:42 pm

As we all know the Catholic church is the authority on condoms and reproductive matters.

Look at all the good they have done in Latin America with their policies.

Also they have a long track record of being right on scientific issues, and we all know they handled the rape of children by Priests in the best possible manner.

When it comes to who does and doesn’t get condoms the Catholic church is clearly the authority.

Ernest T. Bass

February 14th, 2012
2:44 pm

The republican party is nothing more than a regional party who’s appeal is increasingly being limited to Southern white males.

john

February 14th, 2012
2:45 pm

“It’s been a couple of weeks since the Obama administration announced it would force religious-affiliated entities such as hospitals and colleges — most notably those tied to the Catholic church — to cover contraception, abortifacients and sterilization in the health insurance plans they provide their employees.”

Why is this such an issue with you Kyle? GA and several other states have been forcing religious-affiliated entities such as hospitals and colleges (and churches) to cover contraception for several years…without a single word from conservatives. Now because it’s Obama that agrees with those states, except he allowed for an exception for Churches, it’s become a big issue. The hypocrisy of republicans…demonizing issues they supported just a couple of years ago (this issue, cap and trade, bailouts, individual mandates for health insurance).

Pizzaman

February 14th, 2012
2:50 pm

Yea Kyle! that pesky left. Baiting and all that. And that “socialist community organizer” making the Catholic Church (my Church BTW) do something it already has to do in 28 states, including georgia. Damn pesky if you ask me. Not an issue at all till the 29th time!

john

February 14th, 2012
2:52 pm

“After a couple of years of hearing that social issues would take a back seat in this election to the country’s soft economy and dire fiscal situation, suddenly social issues are all the rage:”

Before these, you failed to mention it’s been the GOP that’s been making social issues a big priority. Since the GOP has taken back the House, how many bills on social issues has the GOP brought up for debate? It was the GOP that almost shut down the government over PP funding. The GOP has been making social issues a top priority for years.

Odis

February 14th, 2012
2:58 pm

It doesn’t matter who the republicans nominate, they’re all such losers.

Mitt – the say anything to get elected empty suit
Newt- the morally corrupt windbag
Paul – the racist
Little Ricky – who want the Pope for President?

john

February 14th, 2012
3:01 pm

“They want to create the impression that the Republicans will ban contraception, which is totally insane, but they’re floating it out and they’re bringing it out there. And this move on Obama’s part was part of injecting that issue.”

Democrats don’t need to create that impression…that’s exactly what Republicans support. Just look at the personhood amendment Republicans tried to pass in MS and now in VA. Check out personhoodusa.com.

Road Scholar

February 14th, 2012
3:02 pm

President Obama clarified that the church did not have to make birth control available, but the health ins companies did, at no cost. This wasn’t a retreat; it was a clarrification, esp since 98% of Catholic women alledgedly used BC.

Where was the Catholic Church”s outrage when children were molested under their guise? And I am of the Catholic persuasion!

DoWhat?@ 2:04: Because the tea party does not like Mitt and have distributed their votes over the other 3 candidates!

Uncle Jed

February 14th, 2012
3:03 pm

It seems more and more a shame that we are all forced to play in the cat turd infested sandbox known by another name as our illustrious two-party system. I have seen good and bad apples with both letters behind their names in my 57 years. My observation is that we are all played for fools and duped into lazily sucking up whatever drool the mass media serves up. I would be thrilled to see a couple or five new political parties allowed a meaningful place at the table. Perhaps the Liberal Teat Suckers Party; the Conservative Constitution Defenders Party; the Spend Only What You Got Party; The Mind Your Own Business Party; and the Just the Facts, Ma’am Party.

But to be totally serious about it: The way we are doing it now is wrong; it is broken; it is unsustainable; it is proven to always fail; and it much be chocolate, because we seem to love it.

Uncle Jed

February 14th, 2012
3:04 pm

Oh, I almost forgot the most important part of my post. Congratulations, Kyle. Best wishes to you; your wife; and your expanding family.

Intown

February 14th, 2012
3:05 pm

“But if — I repeat, if — there was an intent by the left to give Santorum a boost in the GOP contest, with the premise that his social views would turn off a number of moderate and independent voters in November, the boost sure appears to have occurred”

Kyle – if the Dems could summon this level of deviousness, I’d be pretty amazed and … proud. Also, we all know what Santorum has to say about everyone else’s morality, but what does he have to say about any other issue. I honestly don’t know. I’ve already DQ’ed him from consideration based upon his pushing Sharia … oops I mean Christian laws upon my mind and body.

Road Scholar

February 14th, 2012
3:08 pm

Jed: Add the State’s Rights party.

As I have said before, why aren’t we defining what we want the US to be and then fund just that! Defense? Check. Social Security? Check. Medicare/caid? Check. Regulatory ? (address all regualtions first) Check……

Kyle Wingfield

February 14th, 2012
3:08 pm

ragnar @ 2:23: The problem with that strategy is Romney’s lack of history voting “present.”

Jefferson

February 14th, 2012
3:10 pm

So I guess you GOP supporters have that warm fuzzy feeling, eh ?

Kyle Wingfield

February 14th, 2012
3:12 pm

Ernest @ 2:44: Right, that’s why the GOP has 29 governors and controls both chambers of 27 state legislatures and one chamber in seven other state legislatures.

getalife

February 14th, 2012
3:14 pm

Obama’s fault.

Geez.

Uncle Jed

February 14th, 2012
3:17 pm

Don’t embarass ETB in front of his beloved Romeena, not on Valentine’s Day.

carlosgvv

February 14th, 2012
3:20 pm

Do What??????? – 2;04

Did you bother to read Kyle’s piece before making such a mindless comment? The idea is MAYBE the Democrats will sucker the Republicans into nominating Santorum. So far, we have had only a small number of primaries. So,with the Tea Pary getting stronger, who knows what might happen. A generous increase in reading comprehension would help you to actually make some half-way decent posts here, ignorance.

Rockerbabe

February 14th, 2012
3:20 pm

President Obama did not make an unforced error; he stood up for women’s rights to make their own decisions about their own healthcare needs and treatment and for parity with men in terms of benefits in the work place. Most American women, 98%, at sometime in their reproductive years use artifical contraception, irrespective of the church’s policy. The church is not the boss of women and women are not property of the church [or the government for that matter]. Whether to use contraception or not is none of anyone’s business but the woman, her doctor and any other significiant other she chooses to inform. All President Obama did was make sure that women could access the benefit if that is what they choose to do. I can only try an imagine what a ruckus who be dusted up, if the Prez took away those little blue pills you fellows are so fond of using.

As for Santorum; he’s DOA. Only someone wanting to live in the 19th century would vote for that joker. His attitudes are disrespectful of women, education, working people, union, healthcare professionals and common sense in general. The Dems might have an easier time in getting reelected, but he is not the one. Face it, Kyle, you GOPer just do not have a really viable candidate against President Obama. The President has done a lot to try and clean up the giantic mess that was left to him and I think most folks know this and are willing to give him some slack, especially when they see all of the crap the GOP is showing off in the Congress.

getalife

February 14th, 2012
3:24 pm

Our President is up by 10 on rasmussan.

They are busy trying to match the gop unlimited donations.

Take off your tin foil hat Kyle.

Who's there?

February 14th, 2012
3:26 pm

So, now the truth comes out: the GOP is committing suicide, but Obama is going to take the rap for it. It truly is an ingenious plan. Is there a meeting of paranoid cons every day, or just once a week to go over the new conspiracy theories? How do we get invited? I’ve got a few crazy theories I’d like to run by them. I think it’s a great idea to come up with reasons why the GOP is going to lose the presidential race in Nov. ahead of time. It will save bemoaning and wailing time after the election is over. The GOP can then get back to their main objection: making President Obama a two term president.

Do what??????

February 14th, 2012
3:28 pm

“Did you bother to read Kyle’s piece before making such a mindless comment?

Oh goody, another trigger happy left winger.

“So,with the Tea Pary getting stronger, who knows what might happen. A generous increase in reading comprehension would help you to actually make some half-way decent posts here, ignorance.”

I’m not sure if you were either dropped on your head by your parents or you just have a big problem with common sense.

Do what??????

February 14th, 2012
3:29 pm

“Our President is up by 10 on rasmussan.”

Wait til gas goes up to $5. Get back to us then, jobless one.

getalife

February 14th, 2012
3:29 pm

It was the gop that marched lock step to the mic and scream about it.

corporate media happily gave them the time and cover.

I guess you missed it.

Do what??????

February 14th, 2012
3:30 pm

“The republican party is nothing more than a regional party who’s appeal is increasingly being limited to Southern white males.”

Then explain Bush, Bush, Bush and Reagan.

Aquagirl

February 14th, 2012
3:30 pm

The GOP has been making social issues a top priority for years.

They try to talk economics but inevitably slide back into the same poisoned well. It’s like watching an alcoholic relapse over and over and over again. And, like a drunk, sensible people eventually get disgusted and cut them out of their life.

Do what??????

February 14th, 2012
3:30 pm

“I guess you missed it.

You mean like when you miss getting your welfare check?

Do what??????

February 14th, 2012
3:30 pm

” It’s like watching an alcoholic relapse over and over and over again.”

So now we’re talking about John Kerry?

Aquagirl

February 14th, 2012
3:39 pm

So now we’re talking about John Kerry?

Maybe more like a Kennedy. Wait, I forgot they do pills now.

john

February 14th, 2012
3:40 pm

What Kyle trying to say, Obama is a superhero with mind control powers. He is controlling the minds of Republicans to think the way he wants them to think and vote for the person that would be his weakest competitor.

jewcowboy

February 14th, 2012
3:40 pm

Do it! I dare you. I double dog dare you.