Rick Santorum has ended — for now — one of the most improbable presidential campaigns in modern American history. From bouncing through the cornfields of Iowa in a pick-up truck owned by a guy named Chuck, to his emergence as the main competitor to GOP front-runner Mitt Romney, the former Pennsylvania senator revived a political career once given up for dead.
Perhaps the most important decision Mr. Santorum made was the one to quit. The delegate math made it clear he could not win the nomination outright, forcing him to pin his hopes on the unlikely scenario of a contested convention in Tampa Bay. The main impact of his continued presence in the race would have been to force Governor Romney to spend resources better deployed against President Obama in the upcoming General Election.
Some will say he quit now fearing another career-ending loss in Pennsylvania's April 24th primary. Polls were mixed, and it is quite possible Santorum could have pulled off a slim victory. But again delegate math comes into play. There is absolutely no relationship between the presidential vote and the awarding of delegates. In Pennsylvania, delegates are elected three per congressional district completely independent of the presidential vote. While Santorum might have prevailed in the popular vote, it is clear Romney's superior organization would ultimately carry the day by winning more delegates.
Thus with Pennsylvania shaping up as a Pyrrhic victory at best, Santorum wisely chose to preserve his well-earned status as a national voice for social conservatism — and his prospects for 2016 should Mitt Romney lose to Barack Obama — by bowing out now. Having done so, Mr. Santorum is now free to roam the country in support of U.S. Senate and congressional candidates helping to build a governing Republican majority. Going forward he has ensured that he will be an influential and important voice in the policy debate.
Not to be underestimated in Rick Santorum's decision to suspend his presidential campaign is his family situation. Many politicians trot out their families as props to burnish their "real guy" credentials. Nobody doubts Rick Santorum's sincerity when it comes to his commitment to family. With young daughter Bella's second hospitalization of the campaign it became clear over Easter weekend that his family needs him more than his nation.
That he chose his family speaks volumes about Rick Santorum. It should also be noted that Mitt Romney pulled his attack ads off the air when Bella entered the hospital last weekend. That was a rare note of personal grace in the cut-throat world of presidential politics. It should also signal to skeptical conservatives that while there may be questions about Mitt Romney's principals, his character is above reproach.
The end of Senator Santorum's active presidential campaign also effectively ends the contest for the Republican Presidential nomination. Newt Gingrich soldiers on, but his goal is to impact the party's platform and the issue debate. Clearly the smartest man in the field, it is a role to which Mr. Gingrich is ideally suited. As for Ron Paul, the Texas congressman never seriously competed for the nomination, but will continue his quest to build a movement based on solid economic policy and questionably foreign policy.
There was a time during the presidential contest where Rick Santorum might have snatched the nomination away from Mitt Romney. A series of verbal gaffs and an unfortunate emphasis on social issues at a time when the economy is the top priority of voters scuttled his momentum. But, Mr. Santorum's timely and graceful exit from the race shows he has matured as a politician knowing, as former President George H.W. Bush pointed out, when to "fold 'em."
The big question now is can the Republican Party unite behind Mitt Romney as its standard-bearer. It is clear that a majority of primary voters preferred someone — anyone — to Mitt Romney throughout the process. But the presumptive nominee proved himself to be an able competitor. He will need the skills honed throughout the tough primary process to take on a president who has failed at governing, but who excels at campaigning. It will also take a united Republican Party to prevail in November. My bet is the GOP will come together behind Mitt Romney; if for no other reason than all factions of the party agree on one thing: Barack Obama must not get four more years in the White House.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org)
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