Guy Benson

The 'Stop Romney' movement is in full swing in South Carolina, where voters will head to the polls in just five days.  Rick Santorum -- who has wisely eschewed Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry's ill-conceived salvos against Mitt Romney's successful private sector career -- is demonstrating that he isn't afraid to let a few of his own attacks fly against the GOP frontrunner.  The former Senator's campaign has released a no-punches-pulled television ad in the Palmetto State, which went up on air last night:
 


Unlike Gingrich's failed attacks from the Left, this spot delivers a strong right hook to Romney's jaw.  You know what helps?  It's factual and not overly demagogic.  The former Massachusetts governor did, in fact, support TARP, sign a signature state-level healthcare law that became a policy stalking horse for Obamacare, and tout socially liberal credentials when he was running for office in Massachusetts.  On TARP, Romney would likely fire back that many Congressional Republicans and conservatives supported the emergency measure, and that elements of Santorum's record suggest that he may have voted for the measure had he still been in the Senate.  On Romneycare, Team Mitt tries to argue that there are big, meaningful differences between his legislation and the president's national version.  While that contention isn't entirely without merit, there's a lot of truth to the criticism.  It's amazing to me that the entire GOP field has basically let that dog lie for months.  Finally, on social issues, Romney says he had a genuine change of heart on abortion, and that he's always opposed same-sex marriage.  Voters are free to evaluate his authenticity on those questions, but they're totally legitimate for Santorum to raise.  Last night, ABC News posted this quasi-indignant piece about the ad:
 

Though he pledged just hours ago to keep his campaign “above board,” and not go negative, Rick Santorum unveiled a bitingly critical new campaign ad that portrays rival Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama as political clones.  This morning at campaign stop in Columbia, he addressed the negative ads a pro-Romney super PAC is running against him in this state, and was asked specifically whether he would respond in kind.

“What you’ve seen me on the campaign is what I’m going to do on our advertising, which is to talk about my record, if I’m going to juxtapose it versus how I’ve voted or what I believe that I’ve done here versus others,” Santorum said at the Lizard’s Thicket restaurant. “I’ll do that, but I’m not going to go out there and misrepresent someone’s record for political purposes. I don’t do that, I don’t believe in it. The people of South Carolina deserve an honorable campaign, someone who goes out and tells the truth, someone who talks about their record and juxtaposes it with someone else on a factual basis, and we are going to do that, as we have in this campaign, and we’re going to keep it above board, we’re going to keep it about issues, not about things that clearly are intended to mislead the people of South Carolina,” he said.


With all due respect to the gang at ABC, there's nothing about this particular ad that isn't "above board."  Santorum is highlighting Romney's policy weaknesses and reminding voters that the Republican frontrunner is a gifted shape-shifter.  Additionally, Santorum has sustained some incoming fire in South Carolina, too.  Ron Paul's campaign has hit him hard, as has a pro-Romney Super PAC.  It's entirely reasonable for Santorum to fire back by citing facts, and without co-opting pathetic Leftist arguments. Despite some MSM fretting about negativity, going after Romney on his record is completely fair game.  As I wrote yesterday, if the frontrunner's momentum is to be impeded, someone not named 'Mitt Romney' must carry South Carolina.  If that doesn't happen, this could become a very real possibility:
 

...Let's say that Romney does win in South Carolina. Is there anything stopping him from sweeping all 50 states?  Think about it. Romney has a commanding lead in Florida, and will simply obliterate the field if he enters the Sunshine State after having won South Carolina. And if he does win South Carolina and Florida, what will become of the rest of the field? Rick Perry, who came in fifth in Iowa and bailed on New Hamphshire, already has very little justification for continuing. A distant finish in South Carolina would give him even less reason. It's true that there are states in which Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich can theoretically beat Romney, but if they can't beat him in South Carolina, where will they go from there? Even now, Romney has a 23-point lead nationally, according to Gallup.  Sure, perhaps Rep. Ron Paul's fervent supporters can out-hustle Romney's organization in a caucus here or there. But it's also possible that Romney will run the table. Remember, as the field gets narrowed, it'll get a lot harder for Paul to outright win a state, because he'll have to start getting into the 40-50-plus point range.


Meanwhile, Newt has opened up a new attack angle on Romney:
 

"Why would you want to nominate the guy who lost to the guy who lost to Obama?" Newt asked a standing-room only crowd in Myrtle Beach, S.C.


Not terrible, except there's an obvious rejoinder: 1980.


Guy Benson

Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Senior Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography