“It’s the economy, stupid.”
It’s possible that nothing former President Bill Clinton ever said is more famous, not even “I did not have sex with that woman.” To the extent that the 2012 Republican primary contenders are making the race about the culture wars, they are failing to understand some of the deepest, yet simplest, political wisdom of the past fifty years.
The problem, from the Republican point of view, is that the economy is improving. Not merely improving, but doing so under policies that every single Republican running for office virulently refutes.
Meanwhile, Willard “Mitt” Romney has been unable to gain a foothold among the Republican base. Every single alternative candidate, even those laughably unqualified for higher office, has had a moment in the spotlight as a frontrunner, because the base simply cannot warm up to the man. So, following the shining moment and subsequent breakdown in the polls of Michelle Bachman, Herman Cain, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry, by February of 2012 it was Rick Santorum’s time to shine. Romney outspent Santorum in Michigan—Romney’s home state—and won by 3%. Let’s repeat that: With twice the money and a home court advantage, all Mitt could squeeze out of Michiganders was 3 points, and he declared that a stunning victory. On Super Tuesday, he seemed to feel his 1% win in Ohio was a mandate.
Romney runs primarily on the economy, and no one falls in love, while Santorum is a culture warrior, and is rising in the opinions of the most conservative voters, particularly in the South.
The problem is, President Clinton was right, it’s the economy, and the economy is improving. Unemployment is going down, people are starting to get raises again, the auto bailout was a genuine success and car sales are up. This encourages culture warriors like Santorum to double down on the rhetoric, alienating more and more of the centrist voters (who are the majority).