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US ELECTIONS/ The State of the GOP Race

In view of the upcoming Super Tuesday, MICHAEL SEAN WINTERS on Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, what is holding them back and what they each should do to win the Republican nomination.

Mitt Romney at a rally Mitt Romney at a rally

Two key facts emerged from the results in Michigan’s GOP primary. First, Mitt Romney only wins when he outspends his opponents by more than two-to-one, almost all of it going to negative advertising, and even then, and in the state he once called home, Romney barely crosses the finish line ahead of his rivals. Second, Santorum is a dreadful candidate.

To say that Romney is unloved by the Republican Party is, by now, to speak a truism. Even in Arizona, where he beat Santorum by twenty points, a majority of voters cast their ballots for someone other than Romney. Anecdotally, I had dinner the other night with a longtime Republican friend who could not tell me very much about why he was supporting Santorum, but repeated several times “He is not Romney.”

The anti-Romney animus in the heart of the GOP base has many sources. His record in Massachusetts is the prime difficulty, especially his health care overhaul. But, at a deeper level, Romney’s inability to come across as authentic is what hurts him the most with the GOP base which consists largely of white evangelicals committed to the Tea Party’s political agenda. For people who grow up listening to personal testimonies about their conversion experience, authenticity is important. They can tell when someone is faking it and reward authenticity above all else. The noxious self-centeredness of Tammy Faye Bakker did not keep millions of people from sending in their checks to the PTL Club because Tammy Faye was so obviously authentic: She really did believe shopping was the best form of therapy. The fact that she had almost nothing of consequence to say about the spiritual life mattered less than the fact that her praise for God’s blessings was so supremely authentic. Perhaps, Romney should try lots and lots of eye shadow.

So, it is not just Romneycare that hurts Romney. It is the habit he has of looking down when he tells a fib. Has anyone else noticed that? When Romney describes himself as some variation of hyper-conservative, he looks down at his feet. He knows he puts on ideology the way other people put on a second-hand sweater, and in his striving to appear authentic he actually proves the opposite. Second-hand ideas, like second-hand clothes, come easily off and on.