From the coda of George Will's column today:
Romney is right about the futility of many current policies, but being offended by irrationality is insufficient. Santorum is right to be alarmed by many cultural trends but implies that religion must be the nexus between politics and cultural reform. Romney is not attracting people who want rationality leavened by romance. Santorum is repelling people who want politics unmediated by theology.
My admiration for Dr. Will is second to none, but I think him slightly off the mark here.
Romney's style problem (that he doesn't have one) is a secondary consideration. Indeed, if conservatives really are averse to a buttoned-down technocrat, it's hard to explain why Mitch Daniels sent so many of them to their fainting couches at this time last year.
Rather, Romney's primary shortcoming is dispositional. We've seen it on display recently in his support for increasing the minimum wage and retaining the progressivity of the tax code, as well as in his warning that cutting federal spending will slow the economy. It's not, as some of his more adamant detractors allege, that Romney is a liberal; it's that he's a conventional wisdom Republican -- the sort of person whose ideas are shaped more directly (and more regularly) by the editorials of the Washington Post than by the work of Milton Friedman; the sort of person who prefaces every political conversation at a cocktail party with "I'm not that kind of Republican." The corresponding fear for conservatives is that all they'll get out of a Romney Administration is whatever right-leaning real estate is still available after conceding a liberal premise.
As for Santorum, Will's criticism was a lot more salient prior to last night's debate (in fairness, I assume it was written prior to the forum). Santorum has actually proven himself surprisingly capable of consistently making his religious views -- and their effect on his policy stances -- seem utterly within the American mainstream (although the media frenzy that accompanies his every pronouncement that even grazes the issue will continue to dog him).
After last night, it seems that Santorum's biggest problem may turn out to be the fact that he is a pathological senator: prone to self-reference and Washington jargon, long-winded at the expense of clarity, occasionally "nuanced" to the point of parody (his 'I voted for bills that I didn't support' moment last night summoned the ghost of the John Kerry campaign).
Fortunately for Santorum, he seems able to escape these tics at times. In the right setting, on the right topic, he can be forceful and clear. He ought now to redouble his efforts to marshal that tone. If he doesn't, this will turn into a race between the guy who thinks like Bob Dole and the guy who talks like Bob Dole.