In February 2008, Rush Limbaugh announced “Operation Chaos“, where he encouraged Republicans to vote in Democratic primaries for Hillary Clinton, in order to prolong the primary fight between Clinton and Barack Obama. In some states, notably Ohio and Indiana, this might even have been a felony. Nevertheless, there is strong evidence that Operation Chaos significantly prolonged the Democratic primary fight.
So a few weeks ago, Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos launched “Operation Hilarity“, urging Democrats to vote for Rick Santorum in the Republican primaries in open primary states, including Michigan, which is voting today. Some people have said that a loss for Romney in Michigan, where Mitt’s father George was a popular governor, would be disastrous for his campaign.
In many ways, Operation Hilarity could be much more damaging to the Republicans than Operation Chaos was for the Democrats. The lengthened fight in 2008 increased Democratic voter turnout and helped Obama establish a strong national organization going into the election. In contrast, the prolonged fight of Romney versus the flavor-of-the-month is not getting anyone excited, with Republican turnout plummeting.
It isn’t just Progressives that are promoting “Operation Hilarity”. Rick Santorum has even been running a robocall in Michigan that says:
Michigan Democrats can vote in the Republican primary on Tuesday. Why is it so important? Romney supported the bailout for his Wall Street billionaire buddies, but opposed the auto bailout. That was a slap in the face to every Michigan worker. And we’re not going to let Romney get away with it. On Tuesday, join Democrats who are going to send a loud message to Massachusetts Mitt Romney by voting for Rick Santorum for president. This call is supported by hard working Democratic men and women, and paid for by Rick Santorum for president.
Hypocritically, Santorum doesn’t mention that he also opposed the auto bailout.
It is outrageous that Rick Santorum is inviting Democrats into the Republican primary to vote against Mitt Romney. Rick Santorum has moved beyond just ‘taking one for the team,’ he is now willing to wear the other team’s jersey if he thinks it will get him more votes.
Romney himself called it “deceptive and a dirty trick” and a “new low in this campaign”.
But that just makes Romney hypocritical. In 1992, Romney personally voted in a Democratic presidential primary for Paul Tsongas. When Romney was running for president in 2008, Romney claimed that his vote was a tactical maneuver aimed at finding the weakest opponent to face incumbent George H W Bush. Romney registered as an independent in Massachusetts so that “When there was no real contest in the Republican primary, I’d vote in the Democrat primary, vote for the person who I thought would be the weakest opponent for the Republican.” He subsequently admitted to voting in Democratic primaries against Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, and Tip O’Neill.
So Santorum is just encouraging voters to do the same thing that Romney has already done. For added hilarity, read the National Review Online try to claim that encouraging crossover voting is far worse when Democrats do it.
Admittedly, Santorum seems to have taken this to the next level by actively encouraging crossover voting for himself. It would have been like Hillary Clinton telling Republicans to vote for her to damage Obama’s chances in the presidential election.
I also can’t help but wonder if this might backfire for Santorum. Certainly it is going to piss off establishment Republicans who believe in Reagan’s 11th commandment (although almost all the Republican candidates including Romney, broke that commandment a long time ago). It also gives Romney an excuse to explain away a loss in Michigan, where polling has been neck-and-neck.
UPDATE: Well, I don’t know if it backfired, but it didn’t work. Romney won in Michigan.