You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Just when I was beginning to think that I had some sort of handle on the dynamics of right-wing US politics, something like Rick Santorum’s unlikely resurgence happens, and confuses me all over again.

I can just about rationalise Santorum’s sweep of Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri by imagining that the GOP base were voting tactically, in an effort to pull Mitt Romney further to the right before he is confirmed as the candidate. There are some indications that this has been happening at the big-money level, as backers of Newt Gingrich, Romney’s other would-be conservative nemesis, have indicated that they will swing behind Mitt now he has embraced their pet policies, like bombing Iran.

But this theory only works if one believes that Romney’s main problem in the general election will be that he is not conservative enough, a view which is completely divorced from reality. Romney has to win over independents and disaffected Democrats, a trick which he might be able to pull off if he spins his fiscal conservatism as sound technocratic business sense, but which will surely be impossible if he is weighed down by the wingnut social conservatism championed by the likes of Santorum.

I think that I can understand the psychology of the Republican right on one level – as a life-long leftist I have supported more than a few hopeless causes in my time, and I do have some sympathy with the idea that one should stick to one’s principles rather than pander to electoral considerations. It is usually better to vote for what you want, and not get it, than to vote for what you don’t want and get it. But there has to be some room for compromise, and when you have a candidate who has a half-decent shot at winning, and who is going to support 90% of your programme, it is perverse to withhold your endorsement because he is soft on the other 10%.

So what’s my advice to Republican voters? Back Romney, and you might get what you need. Let’s hope they ignore me.

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