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22 September 2014 16:03 (South Africa)
World

Santorum does Gettysburg because, well, he's broke

  • J Brooks Spector
  • World
Brooks Santorum

A thoroughly chastened Rick Santorum threw in the towel, heard that fat lady and her swan song, gave up the ghost, ran up the white flag, but went out with a bit of class in his unlikely quest to become the Republican Party’s standard-bearer in the 2012 presidential race. By J BROOKS SPECTOR.

Although Santorum officially only suspended his campaign rather than quit the race outright (more on that later), Mitt Romney’s only remaining roadblocks for the nomination are libertarian-Republican congressman Ron Paul and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Paul’s chances are virtually zilch, given the acrid, right-wing climate that virtually envelopes Republican activists among many primary election voters, while Newt Gingrich has pretty much cemented his caption as least-liked politician in America. His campaign barely has a pulse, but it’s probably been a great try-out for a Fox News TV commentator spot or for when he writes his next bombastic, self-aggrandising book.

After returning to his home state of Pennsylvania to prep for the upcoming primary there on 24 April, Santorum suddenly had to break off active campaigning to deal with a health crisis confronting one of his children. At that point, he clearly had time in those quiet, small hours of the morning to ask himself whether it was really worth continuing his quest for the nomination, or (really piling on those metaphors now) to fold when his hand of cards was only getting weaker, not stronger as the days wore on.

Now, according to the Associated Press’ most current tabulation, the delegate count stands at 661 for Romney, 285 for Santorum, 136 for Gingrich, 51 for Paul and one still apportioned to Jon Huntsman. A candidate needs 1,144 delegates to win nomination on the first ballot in the party convention that comes up in late August and 1,152 still remain to be selected. So what happens to Santorum’s delegates, now that he is effectively out of the race?

The Washington Post explained that 84 of Santorum’s total delegates were won in five states that awarded their delegates in non-binding contests. As such, Santorum’s delegates from his wins in Iowa, Colorado, Minnesota, Washington state and North Dakota, technically, have always been free to vote for any candidate of their choice at the August convention. Now, of course, they are definitely free to do so.

His remaining delegates are bound to him – unless he specifically and explicitly says he is releasing them from their pledged positions. Therefore, those delegates are required to vote for Santorum at the Tampa convention, at least in a first ballot. So far, at least, Santorum has not said he would release his delegates to cast their votes for former Massachusetts governor Romney. In fact, in his standing-down remarks he never mentioned Romney by name at all.

Looking back over the campaign as it has unfolded, Santorum’s rise to become the chief tormentor of and challenger to the early prohibitive favourite, Romney, was unconventional, unexpected – and improbable. After his initial rise as a congressman from the western part of Pennsylvania, Santorum ended up being a former senator who, in a bid for re-election after two terms as a senator, was decisively thumped by his Democratic opponent in a humiliating, double-digit loss.

But Santorum’s strategy – at first at least – seemed to be a kind of boots-on-the-ground, up-close-and-personal, once-you-get-to-know-me-you’ll-respect me-more campaign since he couldn’t hope to compete with Romney’s experienced, well-funded and professionally staffed campaign machine. To entice participants to embrace him in the Iowa caucus, he criss-crossed the state endlessly in a borrowed SUV, meeting potential voters in small gatherings for months on end, often accompanied by no more than an aide or two. By the time of the caucus voting, he had apparently lost to Romney by just a handful or two of the votes cast.

In the end, after a recount of some disputed votes, Santorum was declared the winner by an almost equally razor-sharp margin. In the early televised debates, when the Republican field of candidates had eight or nine declared candidates, Santorum frequently complained about the lack of questions posed to him and the lack of airtime he was getting to respond to others’ claims. Eventually, as Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman, Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann dropped out, Santorum’s social conservative, upstart, crusader-zealot style began to find the spotlight, and his remarks sometimes even pushed Romney off-stride and off-message.

For a while, Santorum managed to harness – in tandem – responses to voters’ economic fears and concerns, as well as the social attitudes of less-well-off, more-conservative, religiously inclined voters in the South and Midwest states, voters who made up a considerable portion of the Republican Party’s activists in those states and who overlapped with the so-called Tea Party voters. Santorum became Romney’s implacable pursuer in primary contests, winning races in Southern, Border and Midwestern states.

Eventually, a less tolerant, socially conservative side, rooted in his extremist convictions on the place of religion in public life, became the public face of the Santorum campaign, rather than an easy, natural appeal to voters worried about economic uncertainties. This led to  complaints – then an uproar – that Santorum had embarked on a “war against women”, was bent on rolling back legal and social changes that provided for contraception and abortion rights, that he was opposed to opportunities for college educations for upwardly mobile young people as somehow being an elitist gesture, and that John Kennedy’s division between the roles of church and state made himwant to “throw up.” Collectively these distractions from the more prosaic need to speak on how he would fix the economy threw his message and appeal into a great muddle.
While he scored popular successes in the deep South, overall, he never recovered in contests in Illinois, Wisconsin and Ohio – and his chances in his home state of Pennsylvania for the 24 April primary were sinking rapidly as well. With a continuing deficit in funds versus what the Romney campaign could bring to bear for advertising, polling, on-the-ground campaigning, travel funding, staffing and IT support, as well as the constant drip-drip-drip from top-tier endorsements by party stars, the writing was clearly on the wall.

In the end, once the decision was made, the Santorum campaign posted on his website to supporters: “Thank you. We still need your help. DONATE… Over 160,000 of you contributed to the campaign... Our average donation has been only $73.10... We have been outspent in most states 5-1 or even 10-1. And we still won, or we've come incredibly close. Iowa and the three-state sweep. An over- 20-point win in Louisiana. Only a few votes short of victory in Michigan and Ohio... There has been no other Presidential comeback race like ours. I am asking you to consider one more contribution of $25, $50 or even $73.10.”
Santorum, of course, has so far just suspended his campaign rather than ended it so that he can continue to raise funds to pay off still-to-come bills and debts.

In the end, hechose to make his acceptance of the truth all around him in the town of Gettysburg, a deeply symbolic location that was both the high-water mark of the South’s effort in the Civil War and, in losing the battle there, sacred ground for their lost cause in that Civil War. But is it all over, forever?

In making his announcement, Santorum said: “We made a decision over the weekend that while this presidential race for us is over, for me, and we will suspend our campaign today, we are not done fighting… This game is a long, long, long way from over.”

The thing of it is, he may be right; this may well not be Santorum’s final charge. For an American politician with presidential ambitions, he is still a young man at 53. The next election, in 2016, beckons (and perhaps even 2020 if four years from now isn’t possible).

For some analysts, the model is that of Ronald Reagan’s trajectory. Reagan challenged Gerald Ford unsuccessfully in 1976, but then came roaring back in 1980 to trounce GHW Bush for the nomination and then Jimmy Carter for the presidency. For conservative dreamers – the point is that Reagan was the archetype of the modern American conservative (and heir to the unsuccessful cause of Barry Goldwater in 1964) who then went on to win two terms in 1980 and 1984: well past the usual age of a president in office.

As the Santorum camp’s scenario must already be under construction, assuming Romney loses to Obama in 2012, Santorum now has four long years to campaign tirelessly on behalf of other Republican candidates for local and state races, to raise funds for them, to fulminate against the policies of an Obama second term in speech after speech after speech.

It gives him time, lots of time, both to broaden and then  soften his message to make it more inclusive, less frightening on the religious side of things and in his approach to women - and a whole lot more appealing and palatable. And then the Santorum forces will capture the Republican nomination as the obvious and logical heir apparent in 2016 and head off to face Hillary Clinton in a full-on, full-throated battle of veteran political Titans and comeback magicians.

Or not. As the Economist mused after his announcement, “What made Mr Santorum a popular choice in the primaries also leaves his future in doubt. His self-proclaimed ‘positive’ campaign alienated many. Large numbers of immigrants, gays and women found fault with his views. His statements on science and the separation of church and state made moderates cringe. Though there is often talk of the Republican Party moving ever more rightward – ever more in Mr Santorum's direction – presidential primary voters have a history of selecting more reasonable pols. And though Republicans have a tendency to choose "next in line" candidates– Bush Sr, McCain, Romney – there is a deep bench of potential presidential aspirants on the right – Ryan, Rubio, McDonnell, Daniels, Christie, etc – who already have strong support.”

Meanwhile, back in this world, the Romney and Obama camps are already lobbing verbal mortar shells at each other. The Romney people are trying to refine their criticism of Obama as a dangerous Eurocentric, Americo-scepticpessimist, vacillating leader-from-behind, socialist and apologist to dangerous regimes everywhere.

As Romney has just said about Obama in a Pennsylvania speech, “The right course for America is not to divide America… That's what he's doing. His campaign is all about finding Americans to blame and attack, and find someone to tax more, someone who isn't giving, isn't paying their fair share.”

Meanwhile, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in a statement after Santorum's withdrawal: “It's no surprise that Mitt Romney finally was able to grind down his opponents under an avalanche of negative ads. But neither he nor his special-interest allies will be able to buy the presidency with their negative attacks. The more the American people see of Mitt Romney, the less they like him.”

In essence, they will be working to ensure that all of those increasingly extremist positions Romney felt constrained to embrace in order to win primaries will remain stuck to him, even as he has to pivot towards the centre to capture the sympathies of independent, non-party-aligned voters and Democrats who may still distrust some or all of Obama’s economic policy prescriptions – or who feel Obama’s foreign policy is too trusting of the agents of international instability.

Game on.

DM



Read more:

  • What happens to Rick Santorum’s Delegates? In the Washington Post.
  • Obama-Romney showdown starts with a harsh tone in the AP.
  • Rick Santorum Suspends Campaign in Slate.
  • Santorum drops out, clearing the way for Romney in the AP.
  • Santorum Quits Race, Clearing a Path for Romney in The New York Times.
  • With Rick Santorum out of GOP presidential race, Mitt Romney shifts focus to Obama in the Washington Post.
  • How Rick Santorum wins by dropping out of presidential race in the Christian Science Monitor.
  • Santorum exit clears way for Romney at the Financial Times.
  • In Gettysburg, Rick Santorum surrenders, Dana Millbank’s column in the Washington Post.
  • Farewell To Rick, Who Was Not Mitt in the New Republic.
  • Rick Santorum bows out, Jonathan Capehart’s column in the Washington Post.
  • Santorum quits the race, Jennifer Rubin’s column in the Washington Post.
  • Rick Santorum quits presidential race with emotional address to supporters in the Washington Times.
  • The Republican nomination – Rick Santorum exits in the Economist.

Photo: U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum signs autographs for supporters following a campaign appearance at the Jelly Belly Candy Co in Fairfield, California on 29 March 2012. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith.

  • J Brooks Spector
  • World


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