Tips for Santorum for the final debate tonight | Bleader

Tips for Santorum for the final debate tonight

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  • AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
The last scheduled debate in the Republican presidential primary campaign begins at 7 PM CST in Arizona.

The candidates have shown great intellect and courage throughout the campaign, and tonight should be no exception. The main issue has boiled down to which candidate is the farthest right. Most of the candidates concede that their opponents are really, really conservative, but they all claim to be the only true triple-really conservative. Mitt Romney asserted last week that he was a "severely conservative" governor in Massachusetts, and Ron Paul just released a commercial calling Rick Santorum a "fake" conservative. If you've heard Santorum's views on any of the issues, you'd have to say he's faking it pretty well. Speaking of authenticity, the Paul commercial also uses the words "dude" and "groovy"—and aren't those the first words that come to mind when you think of Ron Paul?

Tonight's debate should at least be entertaining. Aides to Newt Gingrich are saying their new strategy is to "Let Newt be Newt." In two debates in Florida he'd tried to be gracious and humble, but that made him nauseous. I also expect to see Santorum call Romney a mental case, then explain tomorrow that he meant environmental. Romney will respond by calling Santorum a nut job, but will assure the audience that he doesn't mean it negatively.

The rising price of gas will surely be a topic. A gutsy candidate might suggest what Americans on tight budgets could do about it: drive less. Can you picture anyone saying that tonight? Instead, Gingrich is promising a $2.50 gallon if he's elected. This pledge may set off a reverse-bidding war tonight, climaxing with Romney offering to fuel everyone up himself.

According to Michael D. Shear on the New York Times "The Caucus" blog, tonight's debate is crucial for Santorum in his efforts to overtake Romney. "A strong performance by Mr. Santorum, or a particularly weak one by Mr. Romney, could ensure a shocking upset in Michigan," Shear wrote Sunday. "If that happens, the nomination could slip from Mr. Romney’s grasp."

Shear helpfully provided debate tips for Santorum—"five things that he must do if he wants to emerge from the debate with momentum on his side." They're tips that only an astute political observer could have offered.

One: Focus on health care. When Santorum did so in a Florida debate, "he had Mr. Romney stammering," Shear noted. "If he can do that again, it will be a good moment for him."

So, tip number one is really: Make Romney stammer.

Two: Look Presidential. Voters watching Santorum "will be trying to determine whether they can picture him in the Oval Office," Shear wrote.

I've been able to picture Santorum in a straitjacket, but not the Oval Office. Still, this is excellent advice. No one wants to vote for a president who's looking janitorial.

Three: Rattle Romney. "If he can get Mr. Romney to lose his cool without seeming like a bully," Shear said, "it will help him in the coming primaries."

I thought this was covered by tip number one—but apparently making Romney stammer isn't enough.

Four: Be authentic. "With Mr. Romney sometimes seeming calculating about his positions, Mr. Santorum seems that much more real," Shear wrote.

Yes, as I noted above, Santorum fakes authenticity with the best of them.

Five: Avoid Gingrich and Paul. This is generally good advice, not just for debaters. Shear said Gingrich and Paul "will be eager to knock Mr. Santorum down," and he must give them the slip.

So, there you have it: If Santorum can rattle Romney into stammering while looking authentically presidential and avoiding Gingrich and Paul, he'll win the debate, and probably the nomination.

One tip Shear forgot: Don't pick your nose. Voters are willing to tolerate all kinds of shortcomings in their presidential candidates—shallowness, racism, hypocrisy—so long as no booger contact is evident. Ever since presidential debates moved from radio to TV in 1956, candidates have had to tough out any tickles in their noses.

Now, Santorum could pick his nose, in an attempt to rattle Romney and show authenticity. The Santorum Gambit, we may be calling this in years to come. But this would be a risky maneuver—it's not the kind of snot voters want from their candidates.

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