When it comes to Rick Santorum, funny isn't the word that usually comes to mind. The former senator has always made folks laugh, sometimes intentionally. Still, a laugh's a laugh. Even elite snobs can't take that away from him.
This week, the Santorum campaign released a very funny commercial featuring a gun-toting Mitt Romney look-alike stalking a cardboard cut-out of Mr. Santorum around an empty warehouse.
The narrator describes Mr. Romney as the candidate who unleashes a "negative attack machine" at full throttle on his Republican opponents. On screen, "Rombo" takes aim at the Santorum cardboard figure with a Super Soaker that shoots a brown, mud-like substance.
Every shot misses, creating a mud halo that surrounds -- but never touches -- the candidate's stand-in. The commercial has a jaunty, surreal quality to it, like a Road Runner cartoon. Mr. Santorum's cardboard figure smiles defiantly at his stalker, compelling the viewer to join in laughing at the futility of Rombo's attacks.
When the Romney look-alike's mud gun jams, he whacks the barrel a couple of times until his white shirt is covered in a brown, viscous substance. The narrator sets it up perfectly: "In the end, Mitt Romney's ugly attacks are going to backfire."
It is the cleverest and most ingratiating commercial of a strange political season.
The new Santorum ad says a lot about the candidate. Though Mr. Santorum's prickly side is usually on display, the Rombo commercial proves that he can be just as sophomoric as anyone in politics today. Mr. Santorum's campaign has constructed an attack ad disguised as an expose of Mr. Romney's attack ads. It's surprisingly meta for such a humorless and literal-minded fellow.
When the narrator tells the viewer that Mr. Romney's ugly attacks will backfire in the end, it begs the question: Does the moral of this tale apply to Rick Santorum, too?
This has been Mr. Santorum's week, so far. He's leading Mr. Romney in polling among Republicans in every district in Michigan except one. He's also beating Mr. Romney among presumed Republican primary voters nationally.
There's no doubt that Mr. Romney hurt himself during his war of attrition with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. The former Massachusetts governor may have effectively destroyed Mr. Gingrich's campaign, but now he faces a national backlash, as a "hater" with a big war chest, for sliming his rivals but lacking convictions of his own.
Mr. Romney has to figure out a way to attack Mr. Santorum without feeding the narrative that he has nothing positive to say about his own candidacy. It's true that Mr. Romney has yet to give any conservative Republican a reason to vote for him.
His spiel that his experience in the private sector gives him an advantage over the field is spurious at best. There's nothing about his track record as a businessman that indicates he's been anything but a calculating bean counter and moderately pragmatic Massachusetts technocrat.
Inevitably, the dumbest question of the political season still awaits voters: Which candidate would you prefer to sit down and have a beer with?
This goofy question worked to George W. Bush's advantage when he ran against two Democrats who were both smarter and more competent. Still, former Vice President Al Gore was perceived as "too stiff" to drink with, while Sen. John Kerry was derided as "too French."
Alas, Mr. Romney's Mormon faith precludes him from imbibing iced tea, coffee, beer, the fruit of the vine or anything stronger than Coke. In fact, soda is also prohibited. He can knock back all of the apple cider he wants, though. Hot chocolate can only be consumed on special occasions, but not to the point it produces a buzz. You'll have to settle for bottled water to drink with Rombo.
Drinking with Rick Santorum is probably just as problematic. Sure, he can guzzle anything put in front of him, but he'll probably lecture you about the evils of alcohol and how Prohibition never should have been repealed, given all of the social problems drinking has caused.
Have you ever noticed the way Pennsylvania's former senator shrugs and jerks his head when he talks? As one pundit suggested, it's as if he's constantly saying through body language: "No, I don't agree with you about this. You're wrong. When I'm president, I'm going to put a stop to this nonsense. You're going to jail."
President Barack Obama has learned that he's always better off simply being casually charismatic over a beer. Why blow it by saying anything substantive?
Tony Norman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1631.