Rick Santorum Suspends His Campaign

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 10 2012 2:59 PM

Rick Santorum Suspends His Campaign

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GETTYSBURG, PA - APRIL 10: Surrounded by members of his family, Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum announces he will be suspending his campaign during a press conference at the Gettysburg Hotel on April 10, 2012 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Santorum's three-year-old daughter, Bella, became ill over the Easter holiday and poll numbers showed he was losing to Mitt Romney in his home state of Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Rick Santorum has flipped the kill switch on his remarkably successful presidential campaign, making the announcement in Gettysburg, Penn. without ever mentioning the name "Mitt Romney," and with an odd mention of how Texas should hold a winner-take-all primary.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.

I asked Dan Savage for a reaction. Savage, you'll recall, started a (temporarily?) successful campaign to googlebomb Santorum's name and re-define it as a grody term for a byproduct of intercourse.

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"Can't wait to read all the unintentionally hilarious headlines," said Savage. "I never thought Rick was running for president. He was running for Roger Ailes. That race was successful—more successful than anyone expected. Santorum will get his cable news program, avoid having his ass handed to him in PA, and run again in four years."

My colleague John Dickerson will have much more on this later, but the funeral addresses can start right now.

How did Santorum do? Well, he didn't win the Republican nomination, but nobody expected him to do that. When he explored his candidacy in 2010, it made the hah-hah columns of the blogs, and the "eh, slow news day" section of the politics sections of newspapers. (Santorum would mine the happy quotes from these early profiles for the rest of his campaign.) "Santorum, 53, has been out of elective office since 2007," noted the Associated Press, "and lacks the robust fund-raising or personal wealth of his likely rivals." Losing his last Senate bid by 18 points ruled him out as a serious candidate in the minds of pundits and donors.

But not in the minds of Iowans! Santorum realized what Mike Huckabee realized: A social conservative running against a weak field can win over enough Iowans, personally, to nail down the caucuses. He won 29,839 votes, narrowly beating Mitt Romney. It was 10,000 fewer votes than Huckabee won four years earlier, but it came as Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry were dropping out of the race. He was, all of a sudden, a serious candidate. As Mitt Romney pulverized Newt Gingrich into atoms in Florida, Santorum skeddadled to Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri, two non-binding caucuses and a non-binding primary. The bet was that voters and reporters would anoint him Not-Romney if he won those races. He did, and they followed. He won 3,079,793 votes in the primaries and 130,450 votes in the caucuses, and 10 states -- 11 if you count Missouri.

What did he win? Quite a lot, actually. I would say that few presidential primary losers came away with their reputations spackled up so nicely, but that would leave out Joe Biden, whose 2008 campaign (as poorly as it did, in vote terms) probably pushed him to the top of Barack Obama's veep list last time. Before this race, my last memory of Santorum was of a sad ex-pol wearing glasses sitting at a booth at the 2009 Values Voter Summit in D.C., schlepping for a neo-V-chip product that went no where. Now, if he wants it (and why wouldn't he?) Santorum has gained back much of his old status as a leading evangelical speaker and pundit. We're guaranteed a prime time Santorum speech at the Republican National Convention.

But was it a little overrated? Santorum won every caucus in the Midwest, but Romney won every caucus outside of those states. He won only five binding primaries, all of them in the Deep South; Romney won 13 primaries. The race might have felt like a back-and-forth battle, and sure, had Romney blown it in Ohio, Santorum might have picked up momentum somewhere else. But surely Santorum's decision to quit now was related to polls that showed him losing Pennsylvania. In the end, he was a candidate who could win caucuses and Southern primaries, but nothing else. Mind you, Michele Bachmann would have sold off four or five foster children to get victories like those.

Enough about him. What did the campaign do for the GOP and the rest of us? It didn't do much for Mitt Romney. The first credible Mormon presidential candidate, a former pro-choicer who passed a mandate-based health care reform in his state, was never going to waltz to the nomination. If it wasn't Santorum taking Deep South states, it would have been someone else -- a Rick Perry with the ability to make his synapses crackle from time to time, maybe. Romney didn't particularly thrive when attacked, and there were only three debates where Santorum was presented as a serious rival. But in months of state-to-state attacks, Santorum's main attack on Romney was that a Republican whose health care gurus had been consulted on "Obamacare" was a weak candidate. I don't think it left too much long-term damage.

Did Santorum move the race to the right? Yes, but I don't know how much credit you can give him. The Tea Party forced Republicans into new kinds of orthodoxies before Santorum even ran -- health care, taxes, etc -- and Santorum was often the one forced to adopt some position he'd been squishy on when he served in Pennsylvania. (Right to work, etc.) The whole "war on women" discussion was sparked not by Santorum, but by the contraception mandate implemented as part of "Obamacare." Santorum was just one of countless Republicans who saw this and spotted a "war on religion."

One more thing: Santorum's youngest daughter, Bella, was born with Trisomy 18. I'd bet he hadn't heard of the birth defect until he heard about it at the obstetrician's office. I certainly hadn't heard about it until I saw Santorum on the stump 11 months ago, talking about all the good Bella had brought to his family. In his farewell speech, Santorum made an oblique reference to the "uncomfortable truths" forced into the discussion his campaign. The reference was to Bella, the subject of a Joe Klein column that Santorum adored. Initially, when Santorum looked like a no-hoper, I had some callow doubts about whether Santorum was wasting time better spent with his family. This was wrong. Santorum made more people aware of an obscure medical issue, and made them think about the value of children who are born with disabilities and pessimistic diagnoses.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.