Mitt Romney Hits New Low With Rick Santorum Takedown

Romney's attack of Santorum's support of No Child Left Behind proves he will do anything for the nomination.

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On the eve of the Michigan and Arizona GOP primaries, it appears that, despite some last-minute Democratic subterfuge, former Gov. Mitt Romney will eke out a victory in the state of his birth.

If so, it will have been his ugliest win yet.

I didn't mind one bit watching Romney disembowel Newt Gingrich in Florida. Put simply, the former House speaker had it coming; the picture Romney painted of Gingrich—that of a sleazy moonbeaming motormouth—stuck because it's true.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Newt Gingrich.]

Romney didn't need to lie in order to pluck Gingrich's low-hanging fruit: Gingrich did support an individual mandate until about five minutes before the campaign started. Gingrich was obviously valued by Freddie Mac for more than his copious historical knowledge. Gingrich did resign from Congress in something like disgrace. Etc.

Yet with Rick Santorum, it feels different. I have a great many differences with the former Pennsylvania senator—especially the panting for war with Iran—but Romney's caricature all boils down to the fact that Santorum served in Congress during the George W. Bush era.

Granted: Santorum should never have let the words "take one for the team" issue from his mouth during last week's debate in Arizona. He provided Romney the rope. But the way Romney is hanging him with it is utterly disingenuous.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Rick Santorum.]

Most obvious is the fact that, on the issue at hand—Santorum's support for Bush's No Child Left Behind education reform law—Romney was on the same team as Santorum! But Romney is diabolically clever in the way he phrases this attack: "I wonder what team he was taking it for. My team is the American people."

See what he's doing? This is a sterling example of the kind of "thread of truth" that Romney always clings to when dissembling, as Slate's Will Saletan documents. The merits of No Child Left Behind are not the issue. The issue is playing for a team. One's "team" should never be a political party. It should always be the People. Which, for those under the yellow sun, is an absurdly naive way of thinking about democratic politics. On any given issue of substance, what can the People be said to want with clarity and unanimity?

[Read Susan Milligan: Rick Santorum Should Not Apologize for Compromise]

Has Mitt Romney never "taken one for the team?" He was spared the indignity of parliamentary compromise because he lost his 1994 bid for the U.S. Senate. But what about his "severely conservative" term as Massachusetts governor? I seem to remember Romney and his surrogates (like, ahem, Ann Coulter) citing the reality of having to work with a Democratic legislature as a defense of his record. What is that, if not "taking one for the team"? 

I should stop. This whole inquiry is rabbit hole.

Romney knows this all this. He's simply doing what he must to secure this nomination. And it is one sorry display.

Mitt Romney isn't "hollow." He's actually quite full of something.

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