Funny how the word “crazy” comes up quite a bit today, in modifying the words “Republicans” and “conservatives.”
First we have the Daily Beast’s John Avlon with, “The Case for Crazy: What the GOP Would Learn by Picking Rick Santorum.” Then there’s Rick Perlstein in Rolling Stone, whose “Why Conservatives Are Still Crazy After All These Years” is the usual hit job listing (and often exaggerating and/or misunderstanding) the most extreme excesses involving a minority on the right (which Perlstein attributes to the majority on the right), as well as ignoring the similar variety of wackos on the left.
We can dismiss Perlstein as a partisan guy engaged in writing polemics. Avlon’s article is different, and bears some looking into—not because it’s good (it’s not) but because it raises some interesting points about Santorum’s candidacy. Avlon seems to believe that if Santorum were to be nominated and lose the general, conservatives would finally get it that “ideological purity and electability are [not] one and the same,” and then would come back to their senses and towards the center.
I’m not so sure. I think there are plenty of other ways for Santorum-supporters to explain his defeat that would not lead them towards a more moderate candidate next time.
For example, one argument might be that Santorum wasn’t conservative enough; after all, he’s hardly the small government champion conservatives are looking for, at least not in his voting record. Others might say that he lacked executive experience, or economics experience, or gravitas, or was Catholic rather than Protestant, or was just too weird a person, or wore too many sweater vests, or—you get the picture. A Santorum defeat would not necessarily lead Santorum-supporters to abandon their devotion to finding a candidate who could best express their conservative principles; why would it? It might be more likely to cause them to double down on those principles with a renewed dedication to finding a candidate who better expressed those principles, or who carried them in a more electorally-pleasing personal package.
What’s more, there’s a wing of the far right that I call the apocalypse-seekers. By using that phrase I don’t actually mean anything religious, but instead am referring to those who believe that if the electorate doesn’t see the conservative light and pull a hard reverse of our recent trend towards a larger welfare state and the demise of traditional social morality, then we deserve what we get, which will be some sort of societal/governmental breakdown and/or conflagration. They reluctantly welcome that because they see it as the only chance to rebuild. People who believe such a scenario aren’t going to be deterred by a little thing like Santorum’s losing.
Are Santorum-supporters crazy? I’ve made no secret of the fact that I think he’s a very poor candidate who would get creamed by Obama in the general, but I see no reason to call those who would vote for him crazy. If you’re a social conservative, it’s hardly crazy to support the guy who most closely mirrors your views. It’s not crazy to vote for a man who spent a lot of years in the Senate as a conservative representing a large somewhat-purplish-but-mostly-blue northeastern state. It’s especially not crazy to do so if you think his opponents in the primaries are either losers or non-conservatives, or both.