Santorum's faux pas secures a win for Romney in Puerto Rico

The more Santorum raises issues that don't need to be raised, the more Romney looks like the most re

A few weeks ago, New York Times columnist Charles Blow was asked by a morning-show host on MSNBC why Rick Santorum keeps raising issues that don't need to be raised.

Instead of maximizing his image of being the grandson of a coal miner, father of seven and a man of faith, Santorum talks about the nausea he felt after reading John F. Kennedy's speech on church-state doctrine and the tendency of American colleges to brainwash youth into accepting the evils of liberalism.

Blow's answer, I think, was pretty much right:

This is part of who Rick Santorum is,.It is always going to surface. It has nothing to do with what's happening in the news. ... He has always wanted to fight on this ground and that is what he is doing and that is going to hurt him.

This is the Santorum who surfaced right before Sunday's GOP primary in Puerto Rico -- and it hurt. The island's primaries are rarely contentious, but this year's nomination had ramped up competition for its 20 delegates. That's why Santorum and rival Mitt Romney spent two days stumping in the commonwealth.

But during a town hall meeting, Santorum blow it all away when he said English had to be the first language of any American state. Later on, he clarified his remarks: "Like any other state, there has to be compliance with this and any other federal law. And that is that English has to be the principal language."

There is no such law nor is there any such language requirement enshrined in the US constitution. Nevertheless, a howler like that might have been ignored if Puerto Ricans weren't set to vote in November on whether to vote for statehood. As Albor Ruiz of the New York Daily News wrote:

His comments exploded like a bomb ... It is difficult to believe that even Santorum could have made a mistake so stupid it could guarantee a Romney victory.

It did. Romney won by a landslide, with 83 per cent of votes. Santorum got 8 per cent; Newt Gingrich got 3 per cent.

This is the longest GOP nomination in memory, and the longer it goes, the more moderate Romney appears compared to Santorum. Indeed, this all might be according to plan. Romney has already locked up a lead that's probably insurmountable. Now, he's pivoting from the rhetoric of radicalism to the rhetoric of moderation, where he's most comfortable. The more Santorum raises issues that don't need to be raised, the more Romney will look like the most reasonable guy in the room.

It strikes me that Puerto Rico has something to say about the future of the Republican Party -- ostensible moderates like Romney are more appealing to Latinos than fanatics. As Blow said, Santorum "scares the bejesus out of people."

Though Santorum is Catholic, and though Puerto Rico voters are largely Catholic, they, like their counterparts on the mainland, have rallied around the Latter-Day Saint. The future of the GOP is multicultural, but how can it do that without abandoning a xenophobic past? It probably can't. That is, unless Romney wins. That wouldn't be good for the U.S., but it might be for the GOP.

 

John Stoehr teaches writing at Yale. His essays and journalism have appeared in The American Prospect, Reuters Opinion, the Guardian, and Dissent, among other publications. He is a political blogger for The Washington Spectator and a frequent contributor to Al Jazeera English.

 

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Letter from Donetsk: ice cream, bustling bars and missiles in eastern Ukraine

In Donetsk, which has been under the control of Russian backed rebels since April 2014, the propaganda has a hermetic, relentless feel to it.

Eighty-eight year-old Nadya Moroz stares through the taped-up window of her flat in Donetsk, blown in by persistent bombing. She wonders why she abandoned her peaceful village for a “better life” in Donetsk with her daughter, just months before war erupted in spring 2014.

Nadya is no stranger to upheaval. She was captured by the Nazis when she was 15 and sent to shovel coal in a mine in Alsace, in eastern France. When the region was liberated by the Americans, she narrowly missed a plane taking refugees to the US, and so returned empty-handed to Ukraine. She never thought that she would see fighting again.

Now she and her daughter Irina shuffle around their dilapidated flat in the front-line district of Tekstilshchik. Both physically impaired, they seldom venture out.

The highlight of the women’s day is the television series Posledniy Yanychar (“The Last Janissary”), about an Ottoman slave soldier and his dangerous love for a free Cossack girl.

They leave the dog-walking to Irina’s daughter, Galya, who comes back just in time. We turn on the TV a few minutes before two o’clock to watch a news report on Channel One, the Russian state broadcaster. It shows a montage of unnerving images: Nato tanks racing in formation across a plain, goose-stepping troops of Pravy Sektor (a right-wing Ukrainian militia) and several implicit warnings that a Western invasion is nigh. I wonder how my hosts can remain so impassive in the face of such blatant propaganda.

In Donetsk, which has been under the control of Russian-backed rebels since April 2014, the propaganda has a hermetic, relentless feel to it. If the TV doesn’t get you, the print media, radio and street hoardings will. Take a walk in the empty central district of the city and you have the creeping sense of being transported back to what it must have been like in the 1940s. Posters of Stalin, with his martial gaze and pomaded moustache, were taboo for decades even under the Soviets but now they grace the near-empty boulevards. Images of veterans of the 1941-45 war are ubiquitous, breast pockets ablaze with medals. Even the checkpoints bear the graffiti: “To Berlin!” It’s all inching closer to a theme-park re-enactment of the Soviet glory years, a weird meeting of propaganda and nostalgia.

So completely is the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in thrall to Russia that even its parliament has passed over its new flag for the tricolour of the Russian Federation, which flutters atop the building. “At least now that the municipal departments have become ministries, everyone has been promoted,” says Galya, wryly. “We’ve got to have something to be pleased about.”

The war in the Donbas – the eastern region of Ukraine that includes Donetsk and Luhansk – can be traced to the street demonstrations of 2013-14. The former president Viktor Yanukovych, a close ally of Vladimir Putin, had refused to sign an agreement that would have heralded closer integration with the EU. In late 2013, protests against his corrupt rule began in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (“Independence Square”) in Kyiv, as well as other cities. In early 2014 Yanukovych’s security forces fired on the crowds in the capital, causing dozens of fatalities, before he fled.

Putin acted swiftly, annexing Crimea and engineering a series of “anti-Maidans” across the east and south of Ukraine, bussing in “volunteers” and thugs to help shore up resistance to the new authority in Kyiv. The Russian-backed rebels consolidated their power base in Donetsk and Luhansk, where they established two “independent” republics, the DPR and its co-statelet, the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR). Kyiv moved to recover the lost territories, sparking a full-scale war that raged in late 2014 and early 2015.

Despite the so-called “peace” that arrived in autumn 2015 and the beguiling feeling that a certain normality has returned – the prams, the ice creams in the park, the bustling bars – missiles still fly and small-arms fire frequently breaks out. You can’t forget the conflict for long.

One reminder is the large number of dogs roaming the streets, set free when their owners left. Even those with homes have suffered. A Yorkshire terrier in the flat next door to mine started collecting food from its bowl when the war began and storing it in hiding places around the flat. Now, whenever the shelling starts, he goes to his caches and binge-eats in a sort of atavistic canine survival ritual.

Pet shops are another indicator of the state of a society. Master Zoo in the city centre has an overabundance of tropical fish tanks (too clunky to evacuate) and no dogs. In their absence, the kennels have been filled with life-size plastic hounds under a sign strictly forbidding photography, for reasons unknown. I had to share my rented room with a pet chinchilla called Shunya. These furry Andean rodents, fragile to transport but conveniently low-maintenance, had become increasingly fashionable before the war. The city must still be full of them.

The bombing generally began “after the weekends, before holidays, Ukraine’s national days and before major agreements”, Galya had said. A new round of peace talks was about to start, and I should have my emergency bag at the ready. I shuddered back up to the ninth floor of my pitch-dark Tekstilshchik tower block. Shunya was sitting quiet and unruffled in his cage, never betraying any signs of stress. Free from Russian television, we girded ourselves for the night ahead.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war