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Analysis of Rubio-Bush-Ryan plan: Stop Rick Santorum

Marco Rubio sounds worried. So do Jeb Bush and Paul Ryan.

Their candidate, Mitt Romney, is losing to President Barack Obama. The GOP primary is becoming "counterproductive."

So when the three Republicans endorsed Romney over the past two weeks, it wasn't so much about jockeying for a vice-presidential slot on Romney's ticket. Their underlying goal was more fundamental: Stop the primary.

That means stop Rick Santorum.

The former Pennsylvania senator has little chance of winning the nomination. But his ability to damage Romney and the Republican National Convention in Tampa is real. Nothing says tea party like wrecking the establishment's tea party.

Santorum has pledged to take his candidacy to the convention. So has Newt Gingrich.

"They are saying the only way they can win this race is by having a floor fight in Tampa in August," Sen. Rubio said Wednesday of the "recipe for disaster" on Fox News. "I think that's a recipe to deliver four more years to Barack Obama. And our country — forget about the Republican Party — our country cannot afford that."

Even before Rubio's endorsement, Gingrich appeared to be softening his attacks on Romney. He looks like he's preparing for a graceful exit.

Not Santorum. It's as if Obama's campaign is writing Santorum's attack lines about how Romney is virtually indistinguishable from the president.

"If you're going to be a little different," Santorum said recently, "we might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk with what may be the Etch-A-Sketch candidate for the future."

Sounds like Santorum's basically endorsing Obama, eh? Santorum denied that and got peeved that his words were being twisted.

That's Santorum's trick — he stumps as the plain-spoken candidate who makes provocative statements. Then, when people get provoked at the plain-meaning of his words, he gets as mad as a tea-party hatter.

Romney, Santorum said at another event, "is the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama."

When mild-mannered and utterly professional New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny simply/innocently/artlessly/ asked Santorum about the statement ("you said that Mitt Romney is the worst Republican in the country....") Santorum seethed with anger.

"Stop lying," Santorum said. "I said he was the worst Republican to run on the issue of ObamaCare. That's what I was talking about ... Quit distorting my words. If I see it, it's bull- - - -."

For a guy who bashes Obama about using a TelePrompTer, Santorum might want to invest in one.

Imagine the spectacle of Santorum unplugged in Tampa.

"I think we're entering a phase where it could be counterproductive if this drags on much longer," Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman and author of the GOP House budget, said Friday on Fox News. "If we drag this thing on till the summer, it's going to be harder to beat Barack Obama this the fall."

Rubio, Bush and Ryan have each spoken favorably of Santorum and Gingrich. And they've gone out of their way to say the primary has been a good thing.

It probably has been — for Obama.

About three weeks before Florida's Jan. 31 primary, Romney appeared to be beating Obama in Florida, 46-43 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University Polling Institute survey that indicated Romney's lead was within the poll's error margin.

Last week, a Quinnipiac survey showed Obama beating Romney in Florida 49-42 — outside the error margin. That's a 10-point shift in Obama's favor since the Florida primary, in which Bush and Rubio refrained from endorsing. Other polls show Romney losing to Obama nationwide.

If Romney loses Florida, he probably loses the election. If Santorum stays in and wins the huge Texas primary May 29, it'll continue to make Romney look uninspiring and like the weakest of frontrunners.

Santorum and Gingrich bear some responsibility for Romney's problems. So does gaffe-prone Romney. Also, this poll and others indicate that the GOP's stances on contraception and abortion have hurt the party's brand among women and independent voters. The improving economy has worked against Romney and in Obama's favor as well.

Romney's trailing of Obama is a blip right now. A long general-election campaign lies ahead. The numbers will change. The race is likely to tighten, especially if the price of fuel continues to rise.

"We face huge challenges," Bush, Florida's highly popular governor from 1999-2007 said in a written statement March 21. "We need a leader who understands the economy, recognizes more government regulation is not the answer, believes in entrepreneurial capitalism and works to ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to succeed."

Will Santorum give Romney the chance to make that case in time?

Analysis of Rubio-Bush-Ryan plan: Stop Rick Santorum 04/02/12 [Last modified: Monday, April 2, 2012 1:12pm]
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