It was Rick Santorum's last stand. When he lost by a narrow margin to Mitt Romney in Wisconsin on Tuesday night, the national media consensus was that the "real conservative" in the race was finished.
Time to coalesce around the lackluster frontrunner, Etch-a-Sketch or no, GOP party leaders have declared.
Santorum gave the much better funded Romney a run for his money in Wisconsin, finishing with 37.7% of the vote to Romney's 42.5%.
He energized the conservative base, and delivered some hard blows to Romney, getting a big laugh at an Americans for Prosperity event as he shook an Etch-a-Sketch at the crowd with a knowing smile on his face.
The race took an ugly turn in the final days, when a homemade bomb blew up at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Appleton.
For weeks, the Republican candidates had been making Planned Parenthood a target in their stump speeches. Romney talked about "getting rid of" Planned Parenthood. Santorum, long a favorite of the hardcore anti-abortion and anti-birth-control crowd, made much of his pro-life bona fides to voters in Wisconsin.
But it was Santorum who issued a statement immediately after the bomb went off in the Appleton clinic last Sunday night, denouncing it and declaring, "Violence against our fellow citizens has no place in a freedom-loving America."
Romney, in contrast, had no comment.
Neither did Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who won in 2010 with the endorsement of the most extreme of Wisconsin's two statewide anti-abortion groups, Pro-life Wisconsin, which only supports candidates who favor a no-exceptions ban on abortion and positions that treat common forms of birth control as "abortifacients" .
Walker pleased the pro-life base by cutting $1.9 million in funds to Planned Parenthood for routine cancer screenings and other preventive health care--specifically targeting clinics in the area where the bomb blew up. Working with pro-life Republican legislators, he also passed with a raft of anti-birth control, anti-sex ed, and anti-choice legislation in the recently concluded legislative session in Wisconsin.
Yet even Wisconsin Right To Life issued a statement condemning the Planned Parenthood clinic bombing.
Somehow, neither Walker nor Romney found the time to say anything at all about this instance of domestic terrorism.
The Fox Valley, where the bomb exploded, is a key district for Republicans--the birthplace of Joe McCarthy, an area full of anti-abortion billboards and routine clinic protests, but also the home of a divided electorate that twice sent a Democrat to Congress.
The silence from the GOP frontrunner and the governor on the bombing sounds eerily like complicity.
So much for the idea that the "war on women's health" is just so much liberal hyperbole.
The rancor in Wisconsin, the bombing of the clinic in Appleton, and the non-response by Romney and Walker shows a disturbing willingness by Republican leaders to tacitly nod to some of the darkest forces in the American electorate.
If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Wisconsinites Start Turning Back School Privatization."
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