1. I don’t want this to be true, but, from watching several of Gingrich’s appearances (on television) over the last several days, Gingrich seems to have found a groove on the stump. I don’t like him, but I still found him likeable. I’m not sure it matters at this late stage, but it could be something.
2. From watching the coverage of the Santorum surge, the only Santorum narrative I’m getting is that Santorum is surging, getting momentum, getting endorsements, etc.. No real Santorum policy message is getting though in any media I’ve seen. Maybe that doesn’t matter and stuff I can’t see on the ground in Iowa matters more (probably true), but Santorum needs a real message and to find a way to get the media to cover it if he does well in Iowa.
3. Ross Douthat finds something good to say about all the Republican candidates. I think his most important observation is that Romney has the most prudent (in the sense of really addressing problems in the system and maybe gaining enough support to be implemented and consolidated) Medicare reform plan. I also have the sense that Romney has the most realistic (which is not to say totally realistic) tax plan. He doesn’t offer large tax cuts in the face of gigantic projected deficits and he has proposed only slightly unrealistically large spending cuts (I don’t see 20% of GDP for federal spending happening, but it is in the ballpark.) You can see the outline of a sustainable budget in there.
4. But do any of us trust Romney to actually fight and fight for some version of his reform plan? Even the most realistic and prudent reform plan is going to face a firestorm from the institutions of the center-left and they will find receptive audiences among groups who feel themselves vulnerable. I’m not saying it is an unwinnable fight. I’m just saying it isn’t a fight you would take on for reasons other than principle. I think Santorum, for all his overpromising, is really serious about reforming the budget along right-leaning lines. I just doubt he has the political skills to make it happen.
5. I also don’t worry that Santorum might appoint liberal-leaning or otherwise non-constitutionalist Supreme Court Justices as a way to avoid fights. I’m not saying that Romney would appoint the next Anthony Kennedy or David Souter. There would be huge political costs to be weighed against doing such a thing. But I think Santorum would try to avoid doing such a thing out of principle rather than through weighing the political incentives.