To borrow a well-worn word of Newt Gingrich, there's been a "fundamental" misreading of Tuesday's Michigan GOP Primary results. Here are two examples [bolding by me], first from TAP's "Ringside Seat":
Conceding his narrow defeat in Michigan, Santorum set aside the culture-war logorrhea that likely cost him a narrative-changing win over Mitt Romney ...And second, from TPM:
On the national level, Santorum lost the establishment when he pulled out his social issue trump card to take on Romney by courting the evangelical vote.Wait ... there was "establishment" support for Rick Santorum that he ended up losing? There were scores of "moderate Republicans" and socially moderate "independents" who were going to vote for Rick Santorum but then decided not to? I don't remember either ever being the case. Santorum never had such support, and he was never going to get it. You can't lose what you never had.
That process reached its peak when he told a tea party crowd outside Detroit that President Obama wants to send more kids to college so he could turn them into liberals. The comment went viral, and likely did not do Santorum many favors outside the ultra-conservative base.
The social issues fight has left Santorum severely wounded when it comes to courting independents and moderate Republicans.
In Michigan, "Romney Country" is the Detroit Tri-County Area of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties. This is where one will find the heaviest amount of "moderate" Republicans and Republican-leaning "independents" in Michigan. Romney cleaned-up here in 2008 (versus an arguably more "moderate" candidate named John McCain) and in 2012. Santorum could have moderated his rhetoric all he wanted, but there was no way that Santorum was going to win these votes. These are Romney votes no matter what. Santorum would have been wasting his time in attempting to win them.
Santorum worked Michigan to a virtual tie in votes and an actual tie in delegates because of his social conservative rhetoric. He racked up big margins in socially conservative western Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. There is no way that Santorum would have done so well especially in western Michigan without his "culture warrior" rhetoric. At the same time, a more "moderated" rhetoric wouldn't have done Santorum any good in winning over Romney Country. Santorum was, you know, trying to win the primary election and crafted a strategy and engaged in tactics designed to achieve that goal. He knew that he had to enthuse his "very conservative" base, and he did a pretty good job at it. He did such a good job at it that he very likely won among those voters who cast ballots on Tuesday ... but ended up losing the total vote count due to the superior early voting campaign of Mitt Romney - the "favorite son" and "establishment" candidate.