op-ed

Dump Santorum and bring on the Etch-a-Sketch

James Poulos Daily Caller Columnist
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Options for dealing with the latest twists in the Republican race:

(a) Ridicule Romney for his campaign’s desire to approach the general election by starting the race over like an Etch-a-Sketch;

(b) Heap scorn on Rick Santorum for claiming his party might be better off if Obama beat Romney;

(c) Get blind drunk and pass out in a ditch;

(d) None of the above.

If you answered (d), congratulations! You’re correct. If you chose one of the other answers, let’s see what you did wrong.

Answer (c) is incorrect because Rick Santorum is not going to be the nominee, and because Rick Santorum might be right about the benefits of Obama’s re-election. On the other hand, he might be wrong — which made his remark needless and harmful to his own campaign, like far too much of what he says. But let’s face it: it’s possible that a Romney win and a Romney presidency would be an agonizing disaster for the Republican Party as we now know it.

The good news is that we also can’t really know whether this would be a good thing for the GOP in some ultimate sense. The party does need to change to thrive on anything more than a random or improvisational basis. Perhaps a phase of torment is inevitable. If so, better get it out of the way sooner rather than later (like in 2016, when Republicans are actually poised to romp.)

Answer (b) is incorrect because scolding will not get Rick Santorum out of the race, where growing numbers of people are now certain he belongs. Santorum is to scorn as baleen whales are to krill. The way to get him out of the race is to bury him with praise.

This is unseemly, but not as unseemly as the primaries will become if Santorum soldiers on, his coffers getting emptier, his determination growing grimmer, his jaw clenching harder. Give him a plum place at the convention, second only to the nominee and his running mate, who should strike a perfect contrast in style and substance with Santorum himself.

Answer (a) is incorrect because this race needs an Etch-a-Sketch moment more than anything. The bitter irony of the candidates who are supposed to be benefiting from the gaffe lugging around Etch-a-Sketches is more than any Republican should have to take. In an iPad era, it is a misery that the GOP narrative is now being driven by a primitive and obsolete toy for juveniles.

For too many Americans, the GOP itself looks like a primitive and obsolete toy for juveniles. Mitt Romney has contributed to this impression as he has struggled to fend off his adversaries, but Rick Santorum has come closest to cementing it, dragging the political conversation away from where both the establishment and the tea party want it to be. Even if you think Santorum is right on the issues, this is a debacle.

That’s why an Etch-a-Sketch moment is so important. Barack Obama is supposed to be the guy heading the party that’s stuck with its record. If Republicans are more hamstrung by their recent past than Democrats, the GOP may as well nominate Newt Gingrich, whose transports of fancy at least illustrate one way to transcend a burdensome political history.

In fact, the GOP requires a shaky-shake from top to bottom. The Etch-a-Sketch moment will be a gigantic waste unless it is followed up with an iPad moment, driving younger and more adventurous Republicans to the front of the public ranks. Paul Ryan is a dynamo, but he is already in danger of getting prematurely dreary, with his congressional district and his succession of plans. That stuff is great for the Hill, but it’s not the stuff of partisan leadership. Ron Paul gives off more excitement — and he too has never held statewide or national office.

It once seemed like a bad idea to push promising pols out into the spotlight whether they were ready for prime time or not (ahem, McCain campaign). But that presumed better alternatives were standing in the wings. With no one to carry the standard of George W. Bush Republicanism, and the freshest-faced “grown-ups” flaming out the fastest, the GOP found itself with a field of ’90s leftovers. Of the remaining candidates, Romney is the most contemporary.

Rick Santorum is a lot of things, but the face of the GOP’s future he is not. Romney can bridge the gap, but if Republicans don’t ensure that there’s a next step after they shake things up, they’ll be trapped inside that Etch-a-Sketch forever.

James Poulos is a columnist at The Daily Caller, a contributor at Ricochet, and a commentator in print, online, and on television and radio. Recently he has been the host of The Bottom Line and Reform School on PJTV and a fellow of the Claremont Institute. His website is jamespoulos.com and his Twitter handle is @jamespoulos.