Posted on April 10, 2012
Rick Santorum may not have won the Republican nomination for President, but that shouldn’t diminish his remarkable achievement.
For a former Senator who lost his re-election bid by the largest margin in the history of the Senate, Santorum lasted far longer in the GOP primary than anybody in his right mind could have predicted.
He didn’t have any money, to start. His name identification was next to zero at the beginning of the campaign. He didn’t have a large network of funders that he could rely on.
He was also a tweener. As a Catholic, he didn’t necessarily have the support of the evangelical movement. But because he was so conservative in his religious beliefs, he wasn’t necessarily in the Catholic mainstream either.
Santorum also was a Washington insider. He had a long history as an ear-marker, and an even longer history of recorded votes that could be used against him in a barrage of 30-second ads. As a Senator from union-leaning state, he also had a track-record of being a little squishy on union issues.
But Santorum overcame all of those liabilities with some real assets.
First, because he actually had a long record, he knew what he was talking about. He shined in the debates, because he knew the substance cold. And he also knew the ideological land-mines. And more important, he had a point of view, formed in years of floor debates, committee hearings and outreach to his constituents. He knew what he believed and that proved to be very attractive to the voters.
Second, he had an attractive life story. He was coal miner’s grandson. His blue collar background made a nice contrast to the blue-blooded Mitt Romney and the elitist Barack Obama. He could talk about his ethnic roots, how his family immigrated to America, how his family scraped and saved so that he could get to college and become a Presidential candidate. His was the quintessential American rags to riches story.
Third, the Republican field proved to be incredibly weak, given the former Senator a real opportunity. Once Tim Pawlenty dropped out, Santorum basically had the anti-Romney vote to himself. Michele Bachmann? Hermann Cain? Newt Gingrich? Once Rich Perry flamed out, Santorum proved to be the only real threat to the Massachusetts moderate.
And Santorum could have pulled it off too, except for his own big mouth.
He waded into the contraception battle, coming out against birth control in a way that made him seem too extreme, even for a political party that has been trending very conservative as of late.
He said that the Jack Kennedy speech on the separation of Church and state made him vomit, which further caused him difficulties with not only the mainstream media, but also major fundraisers that might have been interested in a real challenger to Romney.
And that was it. Santorum jumped the shark and pretty soon, Mitt Romney’s machine ground him down. He couldn’t compete financially, and while he was able to win the solid south, because they don’t care much for Mormons in Old Dixie, he couldn’t win the big states, like Florida and the industrial Midwest.
I thought Santorum would stick it out through his home state of Pennsylvania, but apparently he is going to fold up his tent before then.
He ran a remarkable race, though, and we shouldn’t forget that fact.