The GOP may not deserve to win in 2012

Rick Santorum’s victories this week in Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota laid bare Mitt Romney’s weaknesses and the GOP’s fading prospects for defeating Barack Obama.

Romney’s advantages are money and organization. His well financed machine overwhelmed opponents in Florida, but he chose not to devote many resources to those beauty contests, and without the advantages of money—and massive attack ads—Mr. Santorum bested him by an average margin of 20 percent.

Mr. Santorum’s principal appeal is social issues and adherence to Republican economic fundamentalism. That plays well among Republican primary voters, who are dominated by rock-jawed conservatives, even in ideologically diverse states like Colorado, Missouri, and Minnesota.

If Santorum had Romney’s money, he could win the nomination but would still get trounced by Barack Obama.

Nationally, Mr. Santorum’s hard-right positions on social issues would not serve him with more moderate voters—even those who might privately lean toward his agenda.

Consider Catholics, who are a quarter of registered voters and went with the winner in 9 of the last 10 presidential elections, including President Obama. They are accustomed to weighing church edicts on abortion, contraception and gay marriage against more practical concerns.

For example in New York, they have typically supported moderate Republicans like Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg who pitch making the transit system work and New York attractive to businesses.

Moderate voters generally don’t expect rigid adherence in public policy to their private views. Instead, they like tolerance. That’s why, although most Americans want women to have choices about contraception and abortion, Mr. Obama is in hot water for requiring hospitals and other social service organizations, sponsored by churches, to pay for those through health care insurance.

However, voters want politicians to deliver on the things all Americans want—safe streets, decent schools and the like.

In 2012, that will be all about fixing an economy that is simply not delivering enough high quality jobs, and on that issue Mr. Santorum is lacking.

Mr. Santorum chants the hard right dogma--less taxes and deregulation—quite well, but after that, gets pretty thin.

With the federal deficit exceeding $1 trillion, hardly anyone believes the federal government can afford to deliver any substantial tax relief to most Americans. And with Wall Street banks gobbling up their regional brethren, and taking Main Street deposits to Manhattan’s gambling casinos, instead of lending to would be home buyers and small businesses, hardly anyone believes banks need to be deregulated.

Dodd-Frank was a cruel ruse—it permitted President Obama to further slant the playing field in favor of the Democratic Party’s big Gotham City financiers and contributors—but the Republican field, Mr. Santorum included, is clueless on what should replace that failed law.

Republicans and President Obama do agree on much of what else needs fixing—trade with China, energy and health care—but differ on methods. And on those, Mr. Romney is the only candidate with a sensible diagnosis and detailed prescription for putting things right.

After a broad victory in Florida, Mr. Romney had the opportunity to take the campaign away from attack ads with simple and compelling statements to the nation about what’s broken and how he intends to fix it, but instead he keeps emphasizing he’s got the experience Mr. Obama lacks to create jobs.

Bragging about experience at Bain Capital is self defeating.

Private equity companies buy under-performing companies, downsize payrolls and replace ossified management, then sell the revamped entities to new investors.

Simply put, Mr. Romney was in the business of firing people.

Though some of Bain Capital’s progeny did go on to create thousands of jobs—Domino's Pizza, Steel Dynamics and Epoch Senior Living are notable—but it is hard to argue across all his investments that Mr. Romney was a jobs creator.

And then there's this: Massachusetts, during Mr. Romney’s tenure as governor, ranked 47th in jobs creation.

If Mr. Romney does become the Republican nominee Mr. Obama will be able to hammer him on his “sins” as a financier and failed record as governor—and it’s Mr. Romney’s fault for making his experience, not what’s broken in the national economy and his solutions, the focus.

Coupled with Mr. Romney’s occasional well-publicized gaffes—like not caring about the poor because the social safety net takes of them—he simply doesn’t appear to have the wits to be president.

Republicans could still rally around Mr. Santorum, nominate him and relive the Goldwater defeat. But if they ultimately pick Mr. Romney, his campaign may end like that of another Bay State Champion—John Kerry.

Peter Morici is a professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland School, and former Chief Economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission. Follow him on Twitter @pmorici1.