The Humble Libertarian

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Friday, April 13, 2012

Santorum Postmortem



By: Carl Wicklander
Rick Santorum's exit from the Republican presidential primary virtually assures that Mitt Romney will walk the rest of the primaries.  So why couldn't he overtake Mitt? 
Over at the Daily Caller, Matt Lewis thinks Santorum might have had a chance if he had had a more consistent message. 
Santorum's inconsistency and bad record may have hurt him with some voters but it's a stretch to claim that inconsistency of any type had very much to do with how Republicans chose their nominee this year.  How much sense does it make for voters to reject Santorum because of his inconsistency in favor of . . . Mitt Romney?  If consistency, not pragmatism, was what Republican voters were interested in, Ron Paul would have swept the primaries. 
If anyone thinks this primary boiled down to anything other than pragmatism, just consider the way Santorum left the race. 
After spending Easter with his family, and a string of medium-to-large state losses, Santorum decided to "suspend" his campaign to be with his young, hospitalized daughter.  Of all the reasons and all the times to end his bid why was that not a reason before? 
The difference is that Santorum is now staring a humiliating home state loss in the face.  His daughter's health could have been a reason for Santorum to drop out at any time but losing momentum nationwide and in Pennsylvania he hid behind his daughter's disorder and to a lesser extent, his empty campaign coffers. 
If there was a time when Santorum could have balanced campaigning with family time it was during the Pennsylvania primary - when it wouldn't require cross-country jetting.  And if money was the issue and if there was a state where Santorum could make ends meet, how fortuitous was it that the next competitive contest was at home?  He lived off a scant budget in Iowa - why not in Pennsylvania?  Because it was easier to quit now - with an ailing daughter and no funds - than to endure embarrassment in his backyard while there was still time to warm himself to the nominee. 
But now that the campaign is over it is time to review what Santorum accomplished. 
A nearly ubiquitous comment about Santorum's campaign is that he had more staying power than expected despite few resources.  This is true in a general sense but it shouldn't be overestimated how Santorum's electoral success had less to do with the candidate himself and more to do with the party's reluctance to back Romney. 
Back in the paleolithic era when this primary began, Santorum was at the back of the pack.  It wasn't until Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich fizzled that Santorum got his chance to be the main challenger to Romney. 
Santorum came on strong in Iowa, belatedly winning, but only after he'd literally spent months living there.  His campaign adopted the fable of the tortoise and the hare - that slowly but surely Santorum made gains while visiting all 99 counties.  It's undeniable he worked hard but is it more likely that it took months for Santorum to catch on or that Iowa Republicans simply put off the terrible decision of supporting a Bush-era relic until the only remaining untried option was Romney? 
As convenient as it might be to blame Santorum's failures on his social conservatism or Romney's money, Santorum's biggest problem was Santorum. 
There's little evidence that Santorum's social conservatism had much to do with his losses in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin or that he was "too conservative."  It was his own missteps and foolish statements, such as when he downplayed the importance of the economy or stated that he didn't care about the particular unemployment rate while campaigning in Illinois, a state where the unemployment rate is higher than the national average.  For a candidate that was presenting himself as the blue collar economic nationalist, these were unconscionable blunders. 
Santorum's exit from this race is indeed merciful for Republicans.  For a party still trying to recover from the Bush administration, Santorum was the clearest link to a regime that wedded domestic micromanagement to aggressive internationalism.  Although Romney represents Bushism as well, Santorum is such a Bush clone that the Obama ads would have written themselves. 





Carl Wicklander,
Regular Columnist, THL
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