(Un)Free for All

I’m on Rick Santorum’s side – in a narrow, limited sense.  The former senator from Pennsylvania is not my kind of politician.  There may be a few issues on which we agree, but I’m not inclined to seek them out.

That said, Mr. Santorum meets the qualifications to run for president of the United States.  He’s a native-born American over the age of 35.  His candidacy should succeed or fail based on the number of voters who think he’s best fit to serve in the Oval Office and only on that basis.

That, however, is not what happened in Iowa.  This morning, the Des Moines Register broke the news that rather than losing the Iowa caucuses by eight votes to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, Mr. Santorum actually won them by at least 34 votes.

I have to write “at least” because the Iowa Republican Party claims the votes from eight precincts have been irretrievably lost.  Due to this, the official word on the caucuses is that it was a “tie” between Messrs. Santorum and Romney.  It wasn’t a tie on Caucus night; it was a “win” for Mr. Romney.  How is an eight-vote margin a “win” and a 34-vote (at least) margin a tie?  (Hint: It’s a “tie” when you’re trying to throw the election to Mr. Romney.)

A few days ago, pundits were saying that having won in Iowa and New Hampshire and heading into the South Carolina primary with a double-digit lead in the polls, Mr. Romney would be the first Republican to win the first three contests and had the GOP presidential nomination all but locked up.   How quickly things change.  Now the Iowa “victory” is in sincere doubt and Newt Gingrich is leading the South Carolina polls.  (We’ll see how that stands up after ABC airs an interview with Marianne Gingrich – wife number two – in which she details Mr. Gingrich’s infidelity.)

For anyone who’s confused about where all this is going, let me be clear: the Republican Party has long been the purveyor of crooked politics in this country and it’s gotten to the point where they’ve turned their nasty deeds on each other.

George W. Bush stole the 2000 election with the help of his brother Jeb, Katherine Harris and the Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices.  In 2004, the GOP pulled numerous dirty tricks around the country, particularly Ohio and likely stole a second national election.  I worked on that election in Marion County, Florida and saw plenty of them.

Rick Santorum made Iowa his focus.  He visited every county, moved his family there for several weeks before the caucuses and staked all his hopes on coming out strong and building momentum.  He has, however, no chance of winning a general election and Republican politicos know this, so they apparently have done everything they can to sabotage his campaign and get him out of the race.

Given the way the Iowa Republicans have treated Mr. Santorum, I wouldn’t blame any GOP candidate for passing the state by in 2016.  It’s also worth noting that Republicans – first on a federal level during the recent Bush II administration and then at the state level – have been trying to restrict the voting rights of poor people and people of color, key democratic constituencies, with the unsubstantiated excuse of “preventing voter fraud” (even though they can’t point to any cases of voter fraud).

I’ve said in this space that since 2004, I’ve been pessimistic about the survival of American democracy.  We have now reached a point where the Republicans are willing to purge even candidates who swear fealty to every NRA and Grover Norquist litmus-test pledge, no matter how stupid.  Now they disenfranchise Mr. Santorum’s Iowa supporters with the “eight lost precincts,” a ruse so flimsy it would make Lyndon Johnson blush.

I don’t agree with Republicans, but this kind of Republican infighting does not fill me with glee.  It scares me, because if these people get any more power than they already have, this nation will be a very ugly place.  John Donne was right, no one is an island and the loss of anyone’s civil rights, even (especially!) someone with whom I disagree, diminishes mine.

© Mark Floegel, 2012

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