Mitt Romney's campaign released this video today following his narrow victory over Rick Santorum. Progressives, as well as the Santorum folks, encouraged Democrats to vote for Santorum in the Michigan Primary with the hopes of upsetting Romney in his home state...and it nearly worked.
But now, after what could have been a dramatic stand by his campaign, Santorum finds himself taking heat from Romney for "betraying the party" and involving Democrats in the primary race. I expect to hear a lot along these lines from Romney in the coming days. The funny thing is, Romney doesn't get it. The joke is on him.
Democrats didn't turn out to vote for Santorum because they see Romney as a strong candidate who needs to have a few barbs tossed his way in order to slow him down and make him an easy target for Obama. No, Democrats voted for Romney because it's evident how vulnerable he is, and that they sensed there's a very real opportunity to disrupt his path to the nomination. Romney proved his weakness by being so spooked by Santorum's tactics. Romney's campaign is in a tizzy over the threat of a few thousand crossover Democrats getting involved in a handful of open primary states. For a strong nominee, there's nothing those few Democrats could do to get in the way.
So how will Romney-supporting members of the GOP establishment react to what happened in Michigan? Perhaps by calling for the elimination of open primaries in the years ahead.
It's a trap!
If this disappointing crop of Republican candidates has taught us anything, it's that the Republican Party is too ideologically close minded. When a Republican candidate comes along with true crossover appeal, the party needs to be able to see this in the primaries. If Democrats are truly are willing to break rank and vote for a Republican for ideological reasons, then it's important they be allowed to do so so that the Republican Party can nominate this unusually strong candidate with a good chance to win the presidency. By contrast, closing off party primaries to independents and Democrats only raises the walls of the Republican echo chamber.
Let me be clear, Rick Santorum did himself no favors with his robocalls targeting supposed "Reagan Democrats" in Michigan. Santorum should have left it to liberal talk show hosts to do the work of convincing activists to go out and vote for Santorum on their own initiative, which many did. Instead, he's now an easy target for his unsuccessful act of rebellion, and for the first time this election, there's actually a reason to vote for Romney in the eyes of conservatives frightened of the mere mention of Democrats. The narrative Romney voters can use going forward: "We don't want the Democrats deciding who our nominee should be, so we support Mitt."
But there used to be a time when Republican candidates did court Democrats. Santorum's pitch in Michigan was indeed a subversive one that played into the Democratic agenda of sabotaging Romney instead of any ideological affiliation with the candidate, but the very fact that so many Republicans maintain a principled stand against their candidates even acknowledging there are necessary voters to pursue outside of the collapsing GOP tent exposes just how weak their eventual nominee stands to be this Fall.
By contrast, Obama is a master of campaign strategy and a politician who dares to expand his appeal. His campaign demonstrates a bravery when it announces its pursuit of victories in difficult swing states, and his broad political appeal was proved in 2008 by the successful inroads he made among groups that typically lean conservative. That he pursues these challenging votes sincerely—while Santorum does so with an eye to disrupting Romney—and that a small cadre of Obama's loyal supporters understand the power of their influence over the President's Republican opponents shows just how much of an advantage Obama has in the upcoming election.