After Rick Santorum's Iowa caucus victory, I predicted that he would be a formidable opponent for Mitt Romney, and not only that, but that he might be a tougher general election opponent against Barack Obama.
I stand by my predictions. I believe it is an extremely bad idea for Democrats to follow Markos Moulitsas' advice and vote for Santorum in the Republican primaries ("Operation Hilarity").
It shouldn't take much argument to show that Operation Hilarity is a bad idea. Here are three quick points.
1. It will make Democrats look bad and accomplish nothing, since Santorum has a very good chance to win the Republican nomination anyway. As I wrote more than a month ago:
[Santorum] is a good speaker, conservative, likeable to the average Republican voter, and will quickly become the consensus Not-Romney candidate. Since Romney basically has a hard ceiling of about one-third of the vote among Republicans, Santorum can win if he can raise enough money to keep going and fight the nomination battle to the end. Frothy mix? Yeah, a frothy mix of pain and disappointment for the perennial plastic candidate Mitt Romney, as he watches a likeable "true conservative" shatter his presidential ambitions.Therefore, if Democrats vote for him in the primaries, it won't have the effect of prolonging the battle for the Republican nomination; it might actually have the opposite effect, by helping Santorum wrap things up more quickly than he would otherwise. Santorum is probably going to beat Romney. That's no joke, and it's not hilarious.
For the most part, what Operation Hilarity will do is make progressive Democratic activists look juvenile and dirty in our political tactics, and it will distract attention and resources from promoting a positive progressive message and candidates.
2. If Santorum wins the Republican nomination, he will be a tougher candidate for Obama to beat than Romney would be. As I wrote more than a month ago:
[Santorum] is positioning himself as a populist, and will be strong in precisely the areas where Obama is weak. Santorum appears to have a smart strategy of speaking to issues that appeal to the old "Reagan Democrats" and Hillary Clinton voters in the traditional midwestern swing states whom Obama had trouble attracting to his side.There is already some polling evidence to show that Romney's electability advantage has disappeared, and that Santorum is in fact currently polling better against Obama. Why would we want this guy to be the Republican nominee, when he might actually make it a more competitive race than Romney -- not to mention the fact that Santorum's presence at the top of the ticket would energize conservatives to come out to vote and cause Democrats to do worse in downticket races.
3. A strong showing by Rick Santorum is bad for America. This man with backward values based on a narrow interpretation of Catholic religion will be getting more airtime and be taken more seriously by the media if he does better in the primaries, and especially if he actually becomes the Republican nominee for president. His radical views about abortion and homosexuality will come to be seen as part of the mainstream of the political spectrum -- just based on the fact that a major political party chose someone with those views as their national leader! Even if Romney ultimately beats him, the better Santorum does in the primaries, the more his extremist ideology will come to be seen as mainstream conservatism.
Conservatism is not going to go away. But it could be redefined, for good or for ill, depending on which candidate becomes its standard-bearer. Do we really want the philosophy of Rick Santorum to come to be seen as the next incarnation of conservatism in America? Let's hope not. All that would do is perpetuate the outdated, dangerous theocratic views that he espouses as part of the mainstream American political debate for another election cycle or more.
So, progressive Democrats, vote for Rick Santorum as an "Operation Chaos" style joke on the Republicans, and you might find that the joke's on you.