Will Mitt Romney Now Have To Start Making Plans For 2016 Or 2020?

It’s possible.

The polls indicate that Rick Santorum is beginning to consolidate the anti-Romney support, and in doing so he’s vaulting over the glass ceiling Romney’s been cracking his skull against since the 2012 presidential campaign got started.

The Real Clear Politics polling average now has Santorum at 30.2 and Romney at 28.6, with Newt Gingrich at 16.4 and Ron Paul at 12. And that average includes a Fox News poll from early last week that had Romney ahead of Santorum 33-23; the other four polls show a much different race. To wit…

  • Public Policy Polling (Feb. 9-10): Santorum 38, Romney 23
  • Pew (Feb. 8-12): Santorum 30, Romney 28
  • CBS/New York Times (Feb. 8-13): Santorum 30, Romney 27
  • Gallup (Feb. 9-13): Romney 32, Santorum 30

Take those four as your average and it’s Santorum +4.5, not +1.6.

And then there’s a poll by American Research Group of GOP voters in Michigan, which is one of the two primaries in the next round. Romney has to win Michigan or things start to get pretty ugly for him; his father was Governor of that state after all.

ARG has Santorum up 33-27 on Romney in Michigan with three weeks to go until the March 6 primary there.

Meanwhile, two major conservative publications – National Review and the American Spectator – have pieces up at present calling on Gingrich to get out of the way and back Santorum against Romney.

All along, this race shaped up as Romney on the East Coast establishment/moderate/RINO side and The Field on the conservative side. With the exception of Jon Huntsman attempting to position himself to the left of Romney, one of the most idiotic campaign strategies of recent times and strangely enough not a particular reflection of his record as governor of Utah, every candidate other than Romney could make a credible case as the conservative alternative, and every one of those candidates was tried on by the majority of the Republican electorate. There was Michele Bachmann, there was Rick Perry, there was Herman Cain, there was Gingrich.

Each one of those hopefuls had his candidacy trashed in the media, either overtly or covertly by Romney’s camp – whether through planted stories in the media or attack ads.

The electorate has taken notice. They’re not happy about it.

And now, with Santorum emerging as the potential Last Non-Romney standing, the Romney camp is threatening a final blitzkreig.

Mitt Romney’s campaign — and its slashing Super PAC — are locking their sights on Rick Santorum for a campaign that may make previous attacks on Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich look like mere love taps.

In an interview with BuzzFeed, a Romney advisor offered details of the campaign’s coming two-front attack, which the campaign expects will be echoed by the Super PAC, which cannot legally coordinate its message, but which has already bought hundreds of thousands of dollars of airtime in key states.

“Santorum’s a blank slate, so everyone’s projecting on to him what they want because he’s the last anti-Romney,” said the advisor. “Santorum is going to get introduced to people that don’t know him.”

The Pennsylvania Republican will “be defined by two things,” the advisor said.

The first is a comparison to Barack Obama: “He’s never run anything,” said the advisor. The Pennyslvanian’s experience is limited to roles as a legislator and legislative staffer. “The biggest thing he ever ran is his Senate office,” he siad.

The second is a challenge to Santorum’s Washington experience.

“They’re going to hit him very hard on earmarks, lobbying, voting to raise the federal debt limit five times,” said the advisor. “The story of Santorum is going to be told over the next few weeks in a big way.”

Romney, who allowed Restore our Future to do his negative work in Iowa, has long since given up any apparent worry that voters will react badly to negativity, and complains of unfair attacks don’t seem likely to deter him here.

“The expectation is that Santorum, just given his personality, is going to whine like crazy about this,” the advisor laughed.

Basically, Romney’s camp has given up on the idea that he would offer something to get conservatives excited about his candidacy. If anything, he’s insulted conservatives – like when he spammed the CPAC straw poll  last week or when he gave a speech there in which he called himself a conservative dozens of times without really saying anything actual conservatives could use as a bona fide reason to support him. Ed Rollins, writing at Fox News, dissected Romney’s CPAC speech with a dose of reality

In his CPAC speech he described his four years in office as: “I was a severely conservative governor of Massachusetts.” Whatever that means, many will argue that his most far reaching accomplishment, the implementation of “Romney care,” betrays all conservative principles. President Obama has on many occasions stated this was the model for his ObamaCare.

He also stated in the CPAC speech, that he had learned his conservatism from his family. “My path to conservatism came from my family, my faith, and my life’s work. I was raised in a home shaped by and rooted in conservative values.”

The values and religious beliefs may have been conservative but the family politics certainly were not!

Romney might have an easier time answering his critics on the right, and defeating the growing narrative that his campaign is merely about trashing conservatives on behalf of the RINO establishment, if he would start touting conservative ideas.

For example, a few weeks ago we heard Larry Kudlow talking about how Romney’s camp was cooking up some great ideas on a more aggressive tax reform policy. Nothing has come of that so far.

And back in November, speaking in DC at an Americans For Prosperity convention, Romney touted a plan to cut $500 billion from the federal budget through entitlement reform. But it was such a gauzy, unspecific proposal that it didn’t particularly excite anybody. Romney’s budget proposals center around Medicare, but other than that he’s largely copying what Paul Ryan would like to do he doesn’t present much in the way of specifics. And he’s also repeatedly offered up an across-the-board cut in federal payrolls – which is fine stuff, ought to be done, but it’s anything but transformative.

Trimming salaries and doing layoffs inside of federal programs which are inherently flawed is mere nibbling at the edges. Romney there is promising himself as a better manager of the welfare state. He’d be much better served to pick a program, or two, or three, or perhaps an entire agency, and target it for destruction.

The Department of Education being a perfect example. Or the Department of Energy. Or if he wants to get into more specifics and less bombast, then pick up Sen. Tom Coburn’s report on all the wasteful, ineffective and duplicative federal programs and promise to follow Coburn’s plan to wide them out.

But he doesn’t do that. And that’s why he’s in trouble, and that’s why Santorum is picking up steam.

$10 million in negative ads in Michigan – which everybody knows is coming over the next three weeks – won’t really change that. And if he falls short this year like he did four years ago, are we now going to wait for Romney’s third shot in four or eight years?

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