Barbara VanSyckel is the chairwoman of the Republican Party in Macomb County, Mich., a key county in a key state with a crucial GOP primary coming next Tuesday. She was looking forward to the Republican debate from Arizona this week, eager to see the candidates outline their positions before heading to Michigan. But after watching for a while, VanSyckel actually turned the debate off, disgusted by the negativity and bad-mouthing between the candidates.
“I just got really tired,” she says. “Didn’t Ron Paul call Rick Santorum a fake? Are you kidding me? And what bothered me was when Romney went after Santorum about the Arlen Specter thing. … It was at that moment that I said, you know what? I really don’t want to listen anymore.”
If you’re a party trying to build enough enthusiasm to take back the White House, it’s never a good idea to alienate your own county chairmen so much that they won’t even watch your debates. But that is the situation as the increasingly sour Republican race moves to Michigan.
It’s not a surprise. The days leading up to Wednesday night’s debate were filled with bad feelings, and the debate itself was filled with bad feelings. Santorum found himself the target of a media pile-on after reports of old statements about — astonishingly enough — contraception and Satan. Santorum’s advisers grew angry and frustrated, feeling he was being singled out for questions about religious views that were not also directed at Romney, Paul, and Newt Gingrich. Santorum lost precious campaign time explaining himself.