Exit Santorum

Rick Santorum
Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
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 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
By |

Anticipating an embarassing loss in his home state primary and needing to attend to his young daughter's ill health, Rick Santorum ended his implausibly long-lived bid for the presidency today.

The conclusion of Rick's wild ride all but assures Mitt Romney's nomination. But it does nothing to resolve Mitt's troubles with the GOP's restive evangelical base.

Give Santorum his due: He outhustled his opponents to win Iowa the old-fashioned way, with handshakes and retail politics. But Santorum's success in the GOP primary – racking up 11 wins in all – always had less to do with his own political gifts than with a broad evangelical revolt against Romney's candidacy.

Santorum was never anyone's first-, second-, or third- choice anti-Romney; he has all of the charisma of a bottle of Windex. But after the failed candidacies and non-candidacies of everyone from Sarah Palin and Chris Christie to Tim Palwenty and Herman Cain, Santorum was the last man standing. And so desperate were the GOP's hardcore, religious conservatives for a frontman that Santorum sufficed.

Living off the land, without any of the trappings of a modern political campaign, tapping into the grassroots networks of the religious right, Santorum waged a brutal war of attrition against Mitt, one that Romney fended off only by outspending the insurgent by a margin of 5-1 and joining him in the GOP's war on women.

Exiting today, Santorum didn't play nice. There was no endorsement of his former rival. No clarion call to rally around the inevitable nominee. Santorum never even mentioned Romney by name.

It likely won't matter in the delegate math at the GOP convention in Tampa, but do not be shocked if the lazarus-like Newt Gingrich gets a fifth look this cycle, this time as the eager standard bearer of the GOP's PUMA – Party Unity My Ass! – faction. And don't be surprised if Romney's path to the nomination hits a couple of embarassing potholes yet. West Virginia. Arkansas. Kentucky. Hell even Texas is no sure thing.

As for you Rick Santorum? The Obama campaign has a bouquet of roses for you. And a card that says, Thanks for that 19 point lead with the ladies.

x