Former Senator Rick Santorum was always an unlikely presidential candidate.
Although once a member of the Republican leadership in the US Senate, he was nobody’s idea of a top-tier contender. Known mainly for his embarrassing role in the disgraceful Terry Schiavo affair, he lost badly to Democrat Bob Casey in his efforts to win a third term representing Pennsylvania.
Then, as ex-senators often do, he put in his time as a “consultant” in Washington, earning a seven-figure salary. But clearly he was miserable, and missed the political arena. So, why not get back in by going for the top job?
He announced his candidacy for the presidency last June and virtually camped out in Iowa, where he visited all 99 counties and emerged victorious by a slim margin in the meaningless Iowa caucuses.
On Tuesday he “suspended” his campaign, meaning he’s out of the race. Santorum won a few southern primaries but couldn’t break through in the industrial Midwest, where former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney ran the table. He could not overcome Romney’s overwhelming advantage in money and organization. With the Pennsylvania primary looming, Santorum had to know a defeat there would have doomed his chances to make a stronger run in 2016 or beyond.
To me, it’s amazing he got this far. Give him his props for tenacity, and when I saw him in New Hampshire, he was an effective speaker who clearly struck a chord in his audience. He’s also a lot more authentic than Romney is, although that’s a low bar to clear.
But he’s a one-trick pony who appeals strongly to evangelical Christians who have a disproportionate role in the GOP. Santorum’s passion for issues such as abortion, gay marriage and birth control may play well in the Bible Belt, but they are a complete turn-off for independents and swing voters who rightly feel we have bigger fish to fry.
Santorum’s role in this race was to push Romney, a shameless opportunist, even further to the right on wedge issues such as immigration and contraception. Result: Romney is associated with extreme positions that are driving away Hispanics and suburban women, two key constituencies needed to win in November.
Maybe Santorum hopes Romney loses, so he’ll have a clear shot in 2016. But by then he’ll have much tougher competition. So, his candidacy has been almost entirely destructive to a party that has a pretty good chance to win this year.
So, so long, Rick, it’s been good to know you, and don’t let the door hit you on your way out.