The Power and the Glory of Rick Santorum

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 6 2012 11:26 AM

The Power and the Glory of Rick Santorum

Walter Shapiro, who consistently filed old-school, reported, shiny-object-avoiding stories on the Republican primary, pays tribute to Rick Santorum.

More than any presidential candidate since maybe Gary Hart in 1984, Santorum vindicated the quixotic dreamers who struggle on despite invisible poll ratings, tin-cup financing, and the dismissive wisecracks from political insiders. Santorum was a throw-back candidate—not only with his 1950s social values, but also in his forged-by-necessity embrace of the most old-fashioned way of running for president.
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More of a 1968 throwback, no? The Santorum campaign's closest antecendent was the Gene McCarthy campaign, which ran on big checks from donors like Max Palevsky. In Iowa, Santorum was aided at just the right moment by the Red, White and Blue Fund's portfolio of positive ads, paid for (largely) by Foster Friess. Without that money, could he have taken advantage of the Gingrich collapse and nosed into first place? Good question. Maybe not. A close second, after a year of laughingstock status, might have given him enough of a boost. A close third behind Ron Paul?

Back to Shapiro's point. Here, it's an unalloyed good thing that Santorum was able to pass by other candidates by outhustling them in one state. A few months ago, weren't we having a debate about whether caucuses were actually fair? Santorum effectively edged Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann out of the race by getting 29,839 votes in a non-binding contest. It just so happens that Santorum is one of the most accomplished right-wing politicians of his generation, and his return to prominance feels natural. Caucuses empower the activist base of the party and lead either to more ideologically rigid nominees or to moderate nominees who had to make a lot of activist concessions. We're heading to the latter scenario. Fun to cover, but if you're one of those centrist types, this is still a Rube Goldberg nominating process that moves politics to the extremes.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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