Based in DC, Dan covers politics and national security. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe Magazine, the Village Voice, the Columbia Journalism Review, and other publications. Email him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com.
With the Republican convention in Tampa, Mitt Romney has launched the most ideological presidential campaign in recent history. At issue is not merely the current state of the economy and Romney's ability to become the CEO-in-chief and perform a turnaround. Romney is waging a battle for the opportunity to conduct a conservative social experiment that would remake fundamentals of American society. But he neglected to mention that Thursday night during his climactic—though hardly soaring—acceptance speech.
See our full coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention.
The previous evening, his veep pick Paul Ryan, when he wasn't tossing out profoundly false talking points, married two ideas together: The first is that Romney is a successful businessman who can revive the flagging economy and return the nation to greatness. The second is that voters are now living in an American gulag, where basic freedoms have been destroyed and sanctimonious central planners dictate citizens' lives, smother initiative, and doom everyone to a life of entitlements and control. The first of these notions is upbeat and hopeful, addressing the immediate concerns of voters confronting economic challenges: Romney, the guy who looks like a president from central casting, is galloping in on a white horse to rescue you. The other is gloomy and of more concern to the arch-libertarians of the tea party and conservative movement: We are living in a place akin to the former East Germany and must break free of the chains.
On Thursday night, Clint Eastwood, the Academy Award-winning actor, director, and screenwriter, delivered one of the most bizarre political convention speeches in American history.
Speaking without prepared remarks, Eastwood carried on an imaginary conversation with an invisible President Obama seated in a chair next to him on the convention stage. I can't even begin to try to summarize Eastwood's rambling address to a bewildered audience and press corps. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), Mitt Romney's vice presidential pick, looked less than pleased with Eastwood's speech. And the Hollywood star's invisible Obama skit quickly spawned its own Twitter feed—@InvisibleObama—and a satirical 2012 presidential bid. As well as #eastwooding.
In HBO's hit show Game of Thrones, there are dragons, sword fights, and zombie armies. But the heart of the show is intense political intrigue. Alliances are forged and broken; backroom deals are cut; principles are sacrificed. It's a dirty game. Yet imagine how much more unsavory it would be if super-PACs and dark-money outfits existed in the Seven Kingdoms. We did—and here are the results. Mild season 2 spoilers to follow.
The klieg-lit ballroom inside Manchester's Derryfield restaurant is where Rick Santorum's unexpected surge coughed, sputtered, and stalled. Munching on chicken fingers, making small talk, and checking email on iPhones and Blackberries, reporters appeared to outnumber Santorum supporters at the candidate's primary party. This was where the reality of Santorum's spare, insurgent campaign overtook the media hype surrounding it.
The Santorum campaign had zeroed in on Iowa, where the candidate methodically hit all 99 counties, a strategy that paid off when the former Pennsylvania senator claimed the second slot—and the media spoils that accompanied it—in the state's GOP caucuses. But his focus on Iowa left Santorum with little beyond media momentum to carry him into New Hampshire, where he didn't have much of an infrastructure to speak of. (Though his campaign manager, Mike Biundo, does hail from the Granite State.)
Despite this disadvantage, the Santorum team ran a dogged campaign in the week leading up to the primary, stacking the candidate's schedule with town halls and meet-and-greets. But his social conservative message, which found a small but diehard base of support here, didn't really penetrate—at least not in the way the Santorum campaign needed it to in order to pose a real threat to Mitt Romney's slick, cash-flush operation. (The contrast between the two campaigns couldn't have been more stark. At Santorum's events, it was a crapshoot whether the candidate would even have a working mic; Romney's appearances were meticulously choreographed, resembling a presidential—not a primary—campaign.)
Before Santorum's Iowa near-victory, the former Pennsylvania senator was polling in the single digits in New Hampshire. Afterward, one poll briefly had him at 21 percent. In the state's primary, he ended up placing fifth, slightly behind Newt Gingrich, with less than 10 percent of the vote. The campaign's goal had been to score in the double digits and possibly overtake Gingrich, but it was ultimately unable to achieve either.
Taking the stage at the restaurant flanked by his wife Karen and two of his seven children, Santorum—appearing a tad dejected—spun his back-of-the-pack finish as a victory. The fact that he competed at all, Santorum suggested, was a win. "We wanted to respect the process here," he told supporters, to cheers of "We pick Rick!"
He added: "We came where the campaign was and we delivered a message not just for New Hampshire but for America—that we have a campaign that has a message and a messenger."
Now message and messenger head to South Carolina, running the same bare-bones operation. But now, the momentum—and the media swarm—that carried Santorum north to New Hampshire are quickly disappearing.
During a campaign stop at an Elks Lodge in Salem, New Hampshire, on Monday, Rick Santorum fielded a question about his stance on immigration, to which he provided his rote response: If you're in the United States illegally, he believes, you're breaking the law and should return home to pursue the immigration process through the proper channels. Period. End of story. As a first-generation American himself, his black-and-white position had nothing to do with a lack of empathy or compassion, he explained, but merely his belief in justice and law and order. He stressed that he certainly had no antipathy towards our neighbors to the south.
Then he launched into a curious tangent: "I thank God for America that our southern border is Mexico," he said. "And it's not Libya, and it's not Tunisia, and it's not Iran. Mexican culture and American culture is Western civilization, and the basic values and understanding of our laws and our government are based in those Western civilization traditions. That is not the case in Europe, and you're seeing the effects of it. I have nothing at all against people in this hemisphere who want to immigrate."
But what about immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere? Santorum seemed to be implying that he was uncomfortable with immigrants from other parts of the world—namely Muslims—who do not share America's Judeo-Christian values. Santorum has previously stated that Islamic "Shariah law is incompatible with the Constitution"—and, as the event in Salem progressed, Santorum's view of a civilizational clash between the Muslim and Western worlds came further into focus.
While talking about Iran—whose nuclear facilities the former Pennsylvania senator recently said he would bomb if they weren't opened to international arms inspectors—Santorum noted that one of the regime's enrichment facilities is located near the city of Qom, home to the Jamkaran mosque, which houses an ancient well considered sacred to some Shia Muslims. According to local belief, Santorum said, the Mahdi—"he's the equivalent in some respects to a Jesus figure—was going to come back at the end of times and lead Shia Islam to the ruin of the world and peace and justice. That's what their end of times scenario is." He continued:
Well he comes back at a time of great chaos. So there are many who speculate that there are folks over in Iran who wouldn't mind creating a time of great chaos for religious reasons. And the fact they built this nuclear program in the city next to where this man is supposed to return leads one to the think that there may be more to it because they could have picked anywhere else in the...country...to do so...
Contrary to what Santorum suggests, this is not a mainstream theory, but a fringe one that holds that the Iranian regime is trying mightily to sow chaos in the world—through any means at its disposal—to usher in the arrival of the Shia messiah. The fact that there's an enrichment site near Qom is hardly evidence of an Iranian strategy to bring about the Islamic apocalypse. That Santorum suggests it is speaks only to his perception of the Muslim faith as one either intent on undermining American values or eradicating America outright.