One of the news feeds I look at is from Talking Points Memo, and this bit about Rick Santorum caught my eye:
For most of this campaign cycle Rick Santorum has been one of the least disliked Republican presidential candidates. This year especially he’s only been slightly underwater in terms of favorability and he was briefly in net positive territory. But around the 20th of last month that began to change in a big way
Why then? Well, earlier he had swept three states and was now seen as the “principal challenger” heading into the next round – including Super Tuesday – and for the first time was garnering serious media exposure, giving interviews on many national outlets. This was not a good thing. But he’s not the first, either.
One of the hallmarks of this primary season has been how poorly each of the “frontrunners” has been able to stand up to the media spotlight. I said in an earlier post:
While various candidates have had “buzz” within the party ranks at various times, their campaigns resembled more a local elementary school play than a Broadway production. Candidates were caught unprepared for the media spotlight, they couldn’t enunciate a clear view of what they wanted to do, and frequently seemed to be caught out by predictable issues.
When they were unknowns, or just a name on the ballot, people either didn’t have an opinion about them or there wasn’t a big gap in their favorable/unfavorable rating. That above-mentioned post was written when about the only people paying attention to the Republican field were Republican primary voters, the media, and political junkies. But as things started to move into the serious campaign season, more people started paying attention. While they’re still not paying attention to the extent that the various parties and media outlets might wish, they are paying at least some attention.
Which has become the Republican’s problem, as it turns out. Mitt Romney’s problems with the conservative base weren’t the problems he’s had connecting with other voters. He’s seen as “uncaring,” or “out of touch.” Newt Gingrich’s turn reminded people of his time as Speaker of the House. Right after I wrote my post about the difference between the parties, the birth control issue blew up, and while Republicans tried to paint it as a “freedom of religion” issue, instead it turned into a “women’s rights” issue, helped along by rhetoric from various presidential candidates and pundits, with Rush Limbaugh pouring gasoline on it.
Now, it’s Rick Santorum’s turn. He’s being seen as a credible challenger to Mitt Romney, particularly within the base, but his public statements aren’t resonating with the general public. The Onion spoofs it, but as they’ve had a tendency to do, they cut to the heart of the matter:
WASHINGTON—As Rick Santorum has emerged to become Mitt Romney’s leading opponent for the Republican presidential nomination, the American electorate said Monday it had slowly begun to realize that the former Pennsylvania senator sincerely believes every deranged word that exits his mouth.
Uneasy voters told reporters it was becoming more and more evident that comments from Santorum defending sodomy laws as acceptable restrictions on “wants and passions” and characterizing pregnancy occurring through rape as a “gift” from God were not politically calculated but were, in fact, spoken out of sincere, startling conviction.
Yes, a spoof, but it’s exactly why Santorum is now seeing a very large gap in his favorable/unfavorable ratings. His statements are not going over well with the public. What we’re seeing is that the candidates have a serious problem, and the Republican Party does as a result. The more people get to know these candidates, the more attention they pay to them, the less they like them. It’s not just Democrats or the “liberal media,” it’s independents and even various Republicans. Here’s my Assemblywoman, Teresa Sayward, talking about it:
SAYWARD: I do not have a favorite in the presidential race, if I had to vote today, I’d vote for Obama.
SAYWARD: Absolutely… Because I really, truly think that the candidates that are out there today for the Republican side would take women back decades.
That is going to be the problem for the Republican Party this year, and in the future. Women are not pleased by what they’re hearing. Add in the dog-whistling on race, the flirtation with – or even outright embrace of – birthers, and statements and laws about immigration, and you have a lot of people not liking what they see. It’ll be interesting to see if the Republicans can pivot once the primaries are over, but for now, the more people listen to them, the more they don’t like what they’re hearing.