[Santorum's] Wednesday night [debate performance] clearly hurt Santorum’s standing with GOP elites. The Huffington Post’s survey of “Power Outsiders” — GOP leaders and activists around the country — found that 44 percent of them judged Romney the winner of the debate, compared to just 15 percent for Santorum.Kornacki here puts the cart before the horse. Santorum has had very little support from GOP "leaders and activists from around the country." Santorum has very few elected official endorsements, and consequently very few surrogates to spin for him post-debate. Without that "opinion-shaper" spinning on behalf of Santorum, stuff like this becomes the debate performance conventional wisdom (Kornacki again):
Santorum came across as hesitant and defensive, lapsing over and over again into DC-speak as Romney blasted him for his past support of earmarks, No Child Left Behind and Arlen Specter. Santorum’s defense of his No Child Left Behind vote — “Sometimes, you take one for the team” — was particularly damaging, and has given Romney a weapon to wield for as long as the campaign lasts. To the casual observer, it seemed like Santorum, and not Romney, was the candidate facing a skeptical party base.The candidate without spinning surrogates is at a disadvantage in "winning" a televised debate. Jonathan Bernstein looks at GOP media figures' reactions to the Wednesday debate:
Even with debate ratings relatively high this year, far more voters are likely to hear sound bites after the fact than they are to sit through the whole thing. Even the memories of those who watched it will fade and recycled sound bites will be what lingers. And for Republican primary voters, that means what Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the rest of the Republican Party press talk about now will matter most. By that standard, Rick Santorum seems to have been a clear loser.Rick Santorum isn't stupid. One doesn't get as far in the process as Santorum has without having at least some political intelligence. I'm quite sure that he's aware of his lack of prominent party official endorsements and lack (save for Glenn Beck, which I'll get to later) of prominent media figure alliances. At the same time, I'm sure that Santorum is aware of this particular and important Romney problem that Nate Silver identifies:
[I]t harms Santorum that he has virtually no prominent support from Republican officials who have endorsed him and are willing to spin for him — the kind of official who may be well-positioned to influence the Republican partisan press. No governors, no senators, nothing.
In states and counties that would appear to be strong for [Romney], turnout is generally running below its 2008 pace. But in [Romney's] weaker areas [...] it has been steady or has improved some.In terms of the universe of GOP primary/caucus voters, Romney does best in urban and suburban counties where GOP primary/caucus voters tend to be much less socially conservative and less doctrinaire in terms of economic conservatism as compared to voters in exurban counties and rural counties. Throughout the primaries and caucuses, Romney has been winning the urban and suburban counties percentage-wise, but the overall (e.g. aggregate) turnout in these counties consistently has been lower than it was in the 2008 primaries and caucuses. In other words, Romney's GOP primary/caucus "base" is not as enthusiastic about Romney as, on paper, Romney's "base" should be.
Meanwhile, GOP primary/caucus voters in rural and exurban counties (who tend to be more conservative) in 2012 have been turning out at levels equal to or greater than the 2008 primaries and caucuses.
So, if you're Rick Santorum and you want to win Michigan's GOP primary (which, by the way, is critical for you in terms of momentum toward Super Tuesday), then what do you do to try and win it? You're not getting any endorsements from any elected officials willing to be your surrogate spinner in the media and you're not getting any support from GOP-friendly "opinion-makers," while Mitt Romney has both of these things going for him in spades. Still, the urban and suburban population centers that should be Romney's base aren't all that enthusiastic about Romney. Romney isn't going to get the turnout that, on paper, he should get.
If you're Rick Santorum trying to win the Michigan GOP primary, then you double-down on your social conservative rhetoric. You try and turn out more of your base than Mitt Romney's base. You go on Glenn Beck's show and say stuff like this:
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said Thursday that President Obama wants more young adults to go to college so they can undergo “indoctrination” to a secular world view.
In an hour-long interview with conservative television host Glenn Beck, Santorum also defended his record on abortion and his vote in favor of President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind education law.
On the president’s efforts to boost college attendance, Santorum said, “I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because of their indoctrination mills, absolutely … The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country.”
He claimed that “62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it,” but declined to cite a source for the figure. And he floated the idea of requiring that universities that receive public funds have “intellectual diversity” on campus.
And you double-down on the rhetoric because the rhetoric is what got you here in the first place. You know that there was never going to be any winning-over of "opinion makers" because if you hadn't won them over by now then they'd never be won over. The "opinion-makers" cast their lot with Romney a long time ago. What you need are votes - more votes than Romney. You might not succeed, but this is the only way that you can try and get those votes. You're hoping that you can enthuse Western Michigan GOP voters more than Romney can enthuse Detroit suburban GOP voters. It's your best strategy.
It looks like a close one next Tuesday night. It'll be all about how enthusiasm translates into turnout.