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Left Stuff Blog: Sorry, Aaron. Rick Santorum Was No Hillary Clinton

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I had to chuckle last night when my Republican rival commentator Aaron McLear suggested, with a straight face, that the GOP primary battle royale between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney was just like the battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton during the 2008 primaries.

In fact, they had nothing in common.

Democrats had an embarassment of riches in their 2008 field: two top-notch candidates that inspired a record primary turnout and who had few differences on the key issues facing the nation. Only a handful of negative ads were launched by either side.

Compare that to the 2012 Republican primaries. By any measure, the GOP field was weak to begin with. Led by 2008 GOP primary loser Romney, the GOP’s motley crew included Santorum (an ex-U.S. Senator who lost a re-election bid by 20 points), Gingrich (the ethically-challenged former Speaker who self-destructed), pizza franchiser Herman Cain (ditto on the self-destruction), Jon Huntsman (who?), and one-term Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (Sarah Palin light).

But not only were the GOP choices weak, the clash between them, unlike the Obama/Clinton battle, was fierce. More than $120 million in negative advertising filled the airwaves, driving down the popularity ratings of every candidate. Polls today show independents and even Republicans uninspired by Romney, who hobbles into the general election race with a weak and unstable GOP base as well as a 25 point gender gap among women. All of that can be chalked up to the bruising and ugly Republican primary.

Can Romney recover? I doubt it. He already has a well-earned reputation for flip-flopping on every major issue facing voters. And any move to the center will dampen his ability to solidify the Tea Party base that he needs to defeat Obama.

This time, the Etch-a-Sketch won’t help Romney. It may hurt him. And unlike Democrats who united instantly after it was clear Obama would win the nomination, the Republican wounds from their primary won’t heal easily.

 

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