Advancing a Free Society

Exit, Stage Right

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: “High-water mark of the Confederacy” and low water mark of Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign, which came to a sudden halt on Tuesday (technically, his campaign was “suspended”, meaning the former Pennsylvania senator can still raise money and remain on the ballot at the national convention).

A few thoughts:

1)  A No-Brainer. This was the only sensible choice facing Santorum. He could have soldiered on, more than likely losing the primary in his native state on April 24. Had he then carried his campaign past that humiliation and into May, Santorum was looking at making a lot of enemies among Republican higher-ups – enemies with long memories. Which leads us to . . .

2)  2016. So what happens if Romney, now the nominee-in-waiting, fails to unseat President Obama this fall? Santorum will celebrate his 54th birthday next month. That makes him a pup in the dog’s life of Republican presidential hopefuls. George W. Bush was the same age – 54 – when he won the presidency in 2000. Otherwise, it’s an older man’s game – Romney turned 65 last month; John McCain turned 72 during the 2008 general election; Dole was 73 when he was the Republican nominee back in 1996; George H.W. Bush was 64 when he won the presidency in 1988, succeeding Ronald Reagan who was a few days shy of his 70th birthday when he took office in 1981. The point is: Santorum is still young enough to have a future (as some evangelical conservatives have reminded him), which probably factored into his decision to exit gracefully.

3)  Longshots Are Precisely That. Santorum won 11 states and 3.2 million votes – 11 more states and 3 million more votes than most anyone anticipated. Few took him seriously before his strong performance in the Iowa caucuses. That said, there’s rarely a fairy-tale ending for political Cinderella’s. Just ask Mike Huckabee, who won 8 states and 4.2 million votes before conceding the GOP race to McCain in March 2008. Republican nomination fights are muscular affairs. But they’re also about cardio and conditioning. Santorum’s campaign never was as well organized as Romney’s. In the end, the steadier marathoner, not the flashier sprinter, won the race.

4)  Elephant in the Room. One name noticeably absent during Santorum’s remarks: Mitt Romney. Santorum reportedly phoned his rival earlier in the day to give him a head’s-up. Otherwise, there was no public acknowledgement of the likely nominee, and no emphasis on party unity. Bad blood doesn’t go away that easily. Watch for a kiss-and-makeup event down the road – and the press to chew on the question on how active of a surrogate Romney will want Santorum to be, as the nominee walks the right/right-of-center tightrope).

5)  Let the Healing Begin. With Santorum now out of the way, Team Romney can begin the beguine of mending conservative fences. There’s already been progress on this front, including this USA Today op-ed by Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. As the national polls show, Romney has trouble with several voting blocs – women, Hispanics, independents, Gen-Xers and millennials. But Romney’s healing process begins with lining up his “frenemies” on the right.

6)  The Dream Shall Never Die. Two favorite media stories that bit the dust on Tuesday: California’s June 5 primary being important to the Republicans’ selection process; the prospects of an unsettled convention in Tampa (something that both parties have avoided since the Ford-Reagan showdown in 1976). Sorry folks. Better luck next time.