E.J. Dionne wonders whether the extremist tone of the Republican primaries is weakening the party in his column, “A GOP Circular Firing Squad?”
It isn’t every day that political candidates are asked whether the 10th Amendment allows states to nullify federal laws, but that was precisely the question Rick Santorum faced at a forum here a few days ago organized by a libertarian-leaning group.
To his credit, Santorum did not pander to the nullifier. “We had a Civil War about nullification,” Santorum said with a smile. “I’m not sure I want to go there.”
But Santorum’s experience raises a larger question about this year’s Republican primary contest: Rather than strengthening the party for the coming battle against President Obama, will it instead leave it more marginalized from the views of swing voters? Have the party’s candidates, particularly Mitt Romney, had to spend too much time and energy wooing voters far to the right of the mainstream?
And something else happened during Sunday morning’s debate on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: Front-runner Romney came under the first sustained attack from his opponents on his character, especially his core claim to be a citizen-businessman rather than a politician. The assaults were especially fierce from Santorum and Newt Gingrich.
A Rubicon was crossed when Gingrich looked at Romney at one point and commented acidly: “Can we drop a little bit of the pious baloney?” Both Santorum and Gingrich argued that Romney has been in and out of campaigns since 1994 and has fabricated a misleading public persona that tried to hide just how much of a politician he really is.
It was a telling charge that Obama would certainly highlight if Romney won the GOP nomination. Sunday’s raucous encounter suggested that unless Romney closes the nomination struggle quickly, he could suffer further damage.