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MagRack: The Weekly Standard Spreads Santorum

July 26th, 2006 · 4 Comments

I expect partisanship from the Weekly Standard, and I expect a partisan magazine’s horse-race handicapping to be colored by a bit of wishful thinking, but there’s a level of hackery past which it becomes impossible to do any useful analysis at all. As a case in point, consider “Will Casey Strike Out?” Purporting to be an examination of the beleaguered Sen. Rick Santorum’s (R-Pa.) re-election chances, the piece is penned by former Santorum campaign worker Salena Zito and appears to be little more than a clipjob of talking points issued by people who work for Santorum.

To determine what hidden weak points might work against Democratic opponent Bob Casey as the campaign unfolds, Zito goes to– wait for it– a strategist with Sanorum’s media firm, who offers this:

After 10 years in public office, we still don’t hear from Bob Casey on where he stands….He does not want people to know that he is socially conservative in southeastern Pennsylvania, and he does not want voters in western Pennsylvania to know that he is a big spending liberal.

Now, I don’t follow Pennsylvania, so maybe there’s something there: Maybe Casey really is trying to keep himself vague to avoid alienating voters who are significantly to his right economically. But soliciting a campaign-commercial soundbite from a guy whose job is telling Santorum how to make campaign commercials seems like a poor way to find out. (A flack for the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee similarly offers his professional opinion that Casey’s proclivity for speaking “in platitudes” will be a liability.)

In what may be the most ballsy waste of column inches I’ve seen this year, Zito spends a graf introducing strategist Charlie Gerow and establishing his objectivity by noting that he boldly supported Casey’s bid for state treasurer in a preordained contest against a no-name challenger whom he stomped in a landslide victory. After several lines of this, the payoff is the following pearl of wisdom:

That’s because, Gerow says, Santorum will win in November: “Eventually, Bobby Casey comes out of hiding and has to confront him.”

Read on, and you’ll learn that Santorum’s employees regard him as “the best candidate in modern Pennsylvanian politics”! That his dim showing in the polls so far must be attributed to “incumbent-fatigue,” which presumably is some kind of nebulous, free-floating malaise that afflicts voters when they’ve got to put up with anyone for a whopping two terms, and is wholly unrelated to any of Santorum’s personal qualities (such as, say, being an embarrassing nut). It gets a little better toward the end, but only slightly.

Maybe it’s that, having only just subscribed, my expectations are unrealistically high, but it is kind of mindboggling how piss-poor this is. Again, it’s not that I’m shocked (shocked!) that the Standard is wildly pro-Santorum, but even in Nineteen Eighty-Four, the party understood that while “2+2=5″ could be true at the party rally, two and two had to make four on the factory floor. Isn’t it a strategic disadvantage to be so mesmerized by your own guy’s talking points that you lose the ability to do anything resembling a neutral appraisal of strengths and weaknesses?

Update: “Ester” in the comments steps up to defend Salena Zito’s “insightful” piece. “Ester,” in addition to being very well informed about the specific professional responsibilities of people quoted in the article, is writing from an IP that resolves to the internal network of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, where Salena Zito works.

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4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ester // Jul 26, 2006 at 3:16 pm

    interesting that you failed to note Rendell and Sabino Mistick quotes, Gates works in CA and does NO work for the Santorum campaign, so some homework on her regular stories at the Trib, pretty insightful on both sides of the aisle

  • 2 Julian Sanchez // Jul 26, 2006 at 3:59 pm

    Those two quotes were what I had in mind when I said it got “slightly better” later, at least in terms of source variation. Though Sabino Mistick’s contribution is basically one line to the effect that Santorum is “good on the stump,” which you’ve got to have rather low standards to regard as “pretty insightful.” “Pretty insightful” might have been, say, an actual analysis of how much voter attitudes have varied in the past following Santorum’s debates or speeches, though even that would be grading on a curve.

    As for Gates, that he doesn’t work directly for Santorum doesn’t seem to cut very hard against my point here: Santorum is a client of his firm, and that’s going to predispose him to say flattering things. Hell, that almost makes it worse: At least if he’d been working directly with Santorum, you might have gotten some commentary based on detailed knowledge of the campaign to compensate for the conflict of interest.

    Incidentally, “Ester”, does your detailed knowledge of Gates and his position relate in any way to the fact that your IP address resolves to the internal network of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review where, coincidentally, Salena Zito works?

  • 3 JRoth // Jul 27, 2006 at 11:44 pm

    I’m going to note, as I always feel obliged to do when out-of-staters talk about this race, that, in his first two campaigns, Santorum ran as an all-American moderate. I mean, sure, he’s a Republican, so he’s going to be on the conservative side, but his 2000 ads were truly an insult to Pennsylvanians – he did not acknowledge holding a single opinion outside of, say, the middle 50% of American politics.

    But the mask is off now. After Schiavo and 6 years as Bush’s biggest cheerleader, no one in PA thinks Little Ricky is anything but Inhofe with a crucifix, and guess what – that’s not what this electorate is about. And so he’ll be kicked to the curb, barring epic incompetence by Casey.

    PS – Why the home of the Homestead Steel strike would be afraid to learn that Casey is economically liberal is a mystery that perhaps Scaife’s monkey Ester could explain to us all.

  • 4 Patr // Aug 20, 2006 at 12:49 am

    “Will Casey Strike Out?” is a good article.
    It points out why we shouldnt underestimate Santorum’s chances.

    Well, lookee here, it seem here article prognosticated quite well …

    “Casey’s been here before. In 2002, eight weeks before the Democratic gubernatorial primary, he had a 26-point lead over current governor Ed Rendell. But, as soon as Casey had to stake out ideological ground and say where he stood on the issues, that lead evaporated.” said Zito.

    Poll from 8/15/06:

    “The latest Quinnipiac poll confirms the Morning Call poll from a couple of weeks ago that this race has indeed tightened considerably. ” – Casey lead now a mere 6 points from 18 points.

    Casey’s lead is evaporating, like it did in previous races, and it will be a very close race. My guess is Santorum will win in a squeaker…

    And rightly so. Santorum gave one of the best speeches on the GWOT by any Senator from either party – he hit the nail on the head:

    ââ?¬Å?In World War II we fought Nazism and Japanese Imperialism. Today we are fighting Islamic fascism. They attacked us on Sept. 11, because we are the greatest obstacle in front of them to their openly declared mission of subjecting the entire world to their fanatical rule.ââ?¬Â – Rick Santorum, July 20, 2006.

    Our top issue, and Santorum has staked a bold position that resonates with most voters.