Race to Far-Right Dims GOP's Chances

Hattiesburg American/Detroit Free Press, March 1, 2012

Mitt Romney narrowly escaped humiliation in his home state, and Rick Santorum sustained, at least for another week, his claim to leadership of his fractured party's Anybody-but-Mitt wing. But it's hard to know how anyone who cares about the Republican Party's future can distill anything positive from Michigan's GOP primary verdict or the superficial, rhetorically overheated campaign that preceded it.

Primary elections tend to be contested along the margins in both parties, so it's hardly remarkable that Santorum and Romney both honed their Michigan campaign messages to appeal to the hard-core conservatives most likely to participate in Tuesday's contest. Still, the duration and intensity of the past month's intramural bloodletting, and the rhetorical extremes to which each of the leading candidates drove the other, will make it much harder for either to compete for the independent voters that will be decisive in November's general election.

When the leading candidates were not insulting organized labor, they were competing to see who could be more contemptuous of the federal auto rescue to which hundreds of thousands of Michiganders owe their continued livelihoods.

In a state where even the Republican governor who endorsed his candidacy pleaded with legislators not to send right-to-work legislation to his desk, Romney pilloried Santorum for opposing federal right-to-work legislation.

When he wasn't attacking Romney for the unpardonable sin of moderation, Santorum was denouncing champions of higher education as snobs and extolling the virtues of a government founded on the principles of evangelical Christianity.

The aftershocks of this pyrrhic firefight could even hurt more moderate Republicans competing for statewide office in November's general election. Voters who smugly sat out Tuesday's balloting are hardly immune from the fallout of this dysfunctional primary season.

Even those who chose not to play may discover that they have somehow managed to come out on the losing end.

- The Free Press, Detroit

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