Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Santorum's Delayed Defeat


Rick Santorum suspended his campaign today. In the hunt to produce something along the lines of an obituary I reread my own impressions of the candidate after spending two days with him in Iowa before the Caucus this January:
The sea of assembled supporters frequently nodded along with Santorum's talking points and responses to audience questions. "Amens" could be heard regularly in both private whispers and proud public agreement with the candidate's statements. Just when it seemed like the mid-December Iowa field would avoid resembling the 2008 contest, the parallels between Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum are emerging.

In the words of Ms. LaFrancis, having treated Iowans with respect and dedication throughout the year, Rick Santorum has a reason to be proud of his efforts.
Indeed, the Rick Santorum supporters I met in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and across the Deep South all echoed that precise pride that would distinguish Santorum's campaign from the more subdued and cautious effort of his rival, Mitt Romney. The same was characteristic of Mike Huckabee's campaign, which was similarly popular among the conservative television-watching audience until its suspension.

As in 2008, the Republican Party and influential figures within it did acknowledge the impassioned sentiments of staunch conservatives supporting Santorum, but they stopped short of making Santorum's job of overthrowing Romney any easier. In the interest of presenting a more 'mainstream' candidate capable of carrying a carefully-branded political message, the political capital lined up behind Mitt Romney was always hesitant to defect to Santorum, and with Santorum's withdrawal today that unlikely door has finally closed.


At the end of the day, Romney's capacity to change his political tune (despite the downsides of this "skill") made him a more viable candidate than Santorum ever showed himself capable of being. When faced with uncertain results in close primary contests in Ohio, Michigan, and further South around Super Tuesday, Santorum doubled down on the language of social conservatism. This strategy had fallen short of derailing Romney, and in the process, Santorum harmed his national appeal by  harping on issues of birth control and faith-based prescriptions for family values that would never catch on among swing voters in November.

By the middle of last month, Santorum's weaknesses as a general election candidate had become as glaring to the Republicans with the ability to influence the course of the nominating contest as they had been to many outside observers for some time.

Santorum stuck around for longer than expected, but to quote from my observations of the race in November:
Rick Santorum is the most solidly social-conservative candidate in a year when even the most disheartened Obama-supporter couldn't see themselves voting for him.
With today's news, that final word on Santorum is as true ever.