Commentary: I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

Commentary: I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

Sometimes it pays to take advice from people you aren’t paying to give it, writes Michael Steele.

Published February 10, 2012

In sports, the term “hat trick” is often used to describe when a player scores three times in a competition (e.g., goals in hockey). It is usually a big deal. So you can imagine, when Rick Santorum pulled off the political equivalent of a hat trick by winning the Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado primaries this week, it was a very big deal.

Given that these three contests were “just” caucuses, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich took a pass (Newt wasn’t even on the ballot in Missouri), Mitt Romney, and most of the national media, pretty much assumed victory in at least two of the states (Colorado was a virtual given) and Santorum, mindful that he needed to do better than third place, bolted out of Nevada and planted himself firmly in front of as many voters as he could.

The beauty of a hat trick is they happen when least expected — and usually from a player you didn’t know was still on the team. But when such things happen in politics that go against conventional wisdom, it is truly a beautiful thing to behold.

So it was close to hilarious to listen to political gurus, prognosticators and internet junkies reassess, reevaluate and reorder the players, their play and, in particular, the likelihood of their becoming the nominee. Let’s just say, by all accounts, Romney should be worried and Santorum had a very good week.

I would agree with the general idea that Santorum’s calculations and hard work paid off for him. He threw the GOP establishment a curve ball and then hit it out of the park. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Santorum’s sweep exposed a serious liability for Mr. Romney. However, the issues conservatives have with Mitt are starting to take precedence over their desire to beat Obama in the fall (the lack of enthusiasm and low primary turnout are beginning to become obvious), which is really dangerous for him. Mitt was actually close to overcoming conservative concerns about everything from Romneycare to his tax returns in favor of a "most electable" vote, but that's all back on the table now.

Soon after the humiliation was complete in Colorado, the whispering began, and by the end of the week, several members of the Senate were moved to offer advice (never a good thing) to help the Romney campaign get its act together. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) observed that “playing it safe, which Romney tends to do, is not going to get it for him,” while Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) warned that conservatives believe “we’re losing this country” and want “a strong messenger carrying a strong message,” adding “Gov. Romney should probably be a little concerned.” Yeah, that was helpful.

My turn.

If I could offer some advice to Santorum, it would be that he needs to take his hat trick from this past Tuesday, coupled with his upset in Iowa, and build a win in a non-beauty contest primary. Arizona and Michigan are next up. Either would do, but Michigan offers a good opportunity for him because of the makeup of the voters there. However, a strong second or outright win in Arizona for Santorum would be a devastating blow to Romney. But if he can’t establish his ground in either state and he gets beat badly, Super Tuesday on March 6 could be ugly. Very ugly.

If I could offer a little advice to Newt, it would be to get focused on running a campaign and find some donors besides Sheldon Adelson (I’m sure Sheldon would appreciate that, too). His continued lack of organization threatens his candidacy at every level, and is becoming the real-world embodiment of what his detractors fear about Newt: he has an uncanny inability to organize to the point where it becomes a personal problem for him. Short of locating that mojo he showed in South Carolina (start by getting Mitt out of his head) and stepping up into a full-blown presidential campaign, his days will start to become numbered as any Santorum wins sap all earned media attention (we saw some of that this week). In the wake of Santorum’s sweep, some voices among GOP activists are starting to ask: when will Newt endorse Santorum?

If I could offer Mitt some advice, it would be it’s time for a campaign shakeup. Every primary or caucus in this process shouldn't threaten or cause a wholesale shift in the political landscape but, for this crew, it does. That's the sign of a fundamentally weak campaign — one that doesn't recognize the decision-makers they are trying to influence. Certainly, if you've spent the last five years of your life in pursuit of something, raised and spent tens of millions of dollars to get it, and you remain as vulnerable today as you were on the day you first started, then, at some point (like now), shaking things up may not be such a bad idea. So, if Mitt wants to be the GOP nominee then he should bring some movement conservatives into the campaign, cut out the negative attack ads and get serious about competing for the conservative vote … if it's not too late. Now that would be a hat trick.

Michael Steele served as the first African-American chairman of the Republican National Committee. He is a former lieutenant governor of Maryland and a political commentator. He will be providing commentary on all things politics for each week.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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Written by Michael Steele


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