woody_zimmerman_118_2007On February 15, 1898, at around 7:00 in the evening, a tremendous explosion blew up the Battleship Maine as it sat anchored in Havana Harbor. 260 men of the crew were killed. The concussion broke thousands of windows in the city and injured unknown numbers of people.

Suspicion for the blast immediately fell on the Spanish, who were suspected of having planted an underwater mine on the ship’s hull. The Spanish Ambassador to Cuba claimed the explosion was an accident – not the work of either his countrymen or government. But there was no way to verify or refute his claim. Tensions between Spain and the USA were thus escalated, leading to war a few months later.

The cause of the explosion has never been resolved. In 1976 an investigation conducted by Admiral Hyman Rickover concluded that the explosion mostly likely had an internal cause – possibly a fire in the coal bunker, leading to ignition of the powder magazine next to it. But a 1998 study conducted by National Geographic found that the hull plates were bent inward, lending support to the argument that an external mine had blown up the ship.

It is possible that March 22, 2012, will be remembered as the day that the Santorum Campaign blew up. Unlike the Maine, the cause of the Santorum explosion was clearly known: it was words of the candidate himself, who memorably (if unwisely) said we might as well re-elect Barack Obama than put Governor Mitt Romney in the presidency: i.e.,

You win by giving people the opportunity to see a different vision for our country, not someone who's just going to be a little different than the person in there. If you're going to be a little different, we might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk with what may be the Etch-A-Sketch candidate of the future.”

Some Santorum partisans cheered those intemperate remarks, but more thoughtful Republicans were not amused. It is an article of Republican Faith that no matter how fierce a primary struggle might be, a GOP politician never (EVER!) says out loud that voters should vote for the Democrat candidate rather than for his Republican rival. Indeed, the very thought should never cross any true Republican’s mind. It is anathema. Thus, with a few ill-chosen words Mr. Santorum wrecked his own candidacy. He tried to walk the remarks back, but no-go. The words have already gone viral; they cannot be retrieved.

A true Party member – as distinguished from politicians who use the Party only for self-aggrandizement – is required to do more than contend for nomination to candidacy for a particular office. He must also be prepared to support the eventual nominee, in case he does not win the nomination himself – however improbable that outcome might seem. It hardly needs saying that a candidate loses credibility for giving that important support if his campaign for the nomination has featured severe attacks that have left his opponent damaged and less capable of defeating the other party’s candidate.

Mr. Santorum has come close to that point, but many of the Party faithful have been inclined to grant him amnesty on grounds that these are extreme times when a candidate might become overexcited. I have appreciated Mr. Santorum’s candidacy. He shows the mettle for taking the fight to Mr. Obama. He speaks strongly and articulately. And he is a likeable guy. But his statement about preferring Mr. Obama to Mr. Romney was far over the line. I think he’ll find that this was a fatal error. He blew up “the Maine.”

Perhaps Mr. Santorum really believes that Mr. Romney is only a little bit different from Mr. Obama. If he does, he should never say so. But clearly he is wrong to think so. Mr. Romney has a grasp of financial matters and business realities that Mr. Obama never dreamed of having. As a man of self-made wealth, Mr. Romney understands how wealth is created. He knows – as Mr. Obama never can – what motivates business, and where the limits are on government spending and taxing.

Only on the imposition of government-administered health care does Mr. Romney seem to faintly resemble the sitting president. Yet the governor has repudiated his former support for the Massachusetts health care system on which Mr. Obama’s national system is modeled. Perhaps some people (including Mr. Santorum) don’t think his change of mind on this is genuine, but to openly doubt it amounts to saying Mr. Romney is lying. I’m not the only Republican in the country to find that campaign attack extremely distasteful and unwise. In my opinion, there is no way Mr. Santorum can be the nominee now.

Not to be outdone, President Obama – now in permanent campaign mode – did a little “blowing up” of his own this past week, when he was heard on an open mike asking Russian President Medvedev for a little space on the missile talks until after the November elections.

“This is my last election,” said Mr. Obama, sotto voce, addressing the Russian leader in what he thought was a private remark. “After my election I have more flexibility. On these issues – but particularly missile defense – this can be solved…"

“I understand,” said Mr. Medvedev, in his best Boris Badinoff accent. “I transmit this information to Vladimir [Putin]…”

This depressingly revealing statement, uttered by Mr. Obama in the “hope and change” voice trusted by millions of his countrymen, was the rough equivalent of a family overhearing their husband and father arrange an assignation with a paramour. Dumbfounded Big Media commentators fumbled and stumbled around the explosive comment, while trying to convince their audiences that this was just a “technical glitch.” (“Nothing to see here, folks. Just move along…”)

It was a glitch, all right – a 5-second verbal bomb that might well have destroyed Mr. Obama’s chance to win a second term. The Washington Post said this was like George W. Bush describing a certain reporter with a crude name when he thought the microphone was off. It is nothing of the kind. This was a shocking slip of the “mask” Mr. Obama has carefully kept in place to conceal his true intentions about our country’s defense. It revealed to the whole world what many of Mr. Obama’s political opponents – and even some of his allies – have always suspected: namely, that under the skin he is not truly committed to defending America against “all enemies, foreign and domestic.” It was the sum of their worst fears.

Big Media have done their best to bury the gaffe, but the Internet and conservative outlets like Fox News have had a field day trumpeting it and analyzing it to death. Mr. Obama has tried to joke his way out of it, by asking if the mike was on at a subsequent speaking event. But millions of American voters now have another reason to doubt if they can trust the Man from Nowhere who sits in the Oval Office and makes decisions that will affect the future security of their children. What other duplicitous deals has he made that we shall learn of after the election?

The president might look back on this event as the moment when he lost his bid for re-election. With a five-second remark, when he thought no one could hear, he blew up The Maine.