Is Rick Santorum the front-runner next time?

In a recent column, Peggy Noonan makes an interesting observation about Mitt Romney and Republicans. I think we might consider how it applies to Rick Santorum.

Writing about the 2012 Republican presidential race, and its culmination in Romney as the clear winner, Noonan reflects:

So what have we learned? The GOP presidential contest of 2012 is over. Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee. What do we know now that we didn’t know in 2011, when the campaign began? Or what do we know that we already knew, but now we’ve been reminded?

We learned that primogeniture is still a force in the GOP. The next king is the firstborn son of the current king. In political terms, the guy who came in second in the last presidential cycle stands most likely to be crowned and anointed in the current one. Republicans, for all their drama, still tend toward the orderly and still credit experience.

Sure, this makes sense—oftentimes. When I first read Noonan’s claim, my mind worked backward, to previous GOP presidential races. It made sense for Romney this time, as it did for John McCain the last time, for Bob Dole before him, for George H. W. Bush prior to Dole, for Reagan—who nearly unseated the incumbent Gerald Ford in 1976—and so on.

But then my mind started moving forward, which brings me to this thought: If the pattern holds, isn’t Rick Santorum the front-runner for the next Republican presidential race, whether in four years or eight years? He finished second, after all. Besides, Santorum is young. By no stretch should we expect him to be finished. And he is a fighter, tenacious, principled. You can never count out Rick Santorum. The man lost his Pennsylvania Senate race by 18 percent six years ago, and yet somehow rebounded to the point where he just finished second in the GOP presidential pursuit. That’s pretty darn remarkable.

Is he the next GOP front-runner? Alas, inspiring as the thought may be to Santorum supporters, I wouldn’t take much stock in the likelihood of Rick being the nominee next time. Consider:

The Republican field in 2012 was weak. I believe that Santorum went as far as he did because he was the most appealing Anyone-But-Romney candidate remaining after the exit of Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, and the others. He was the most viable conservative alternative, preferable to Newt Gingrich, who is forever saddled by the personal baggage. That’s not to take anything away from Santorum, who was terrific, and earned everything he got—but I think it’s largely accurate.

To the contrary, the next Republican line-up for the next election cycle should be one of the strongest in decades: Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Nikki Haley, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Michelle Bachmann, maybe even Sarah Palin, just to name a few. The current election cycle was depressingly poor for the Republican field. In 2016, or 2020, it should be much stronger. That strength will work against Santorum as the likely nominee. Yes, he was the second-place finisher in 2012, but I can’t imagine him as a lock for the front-runner position in 2016 or 2020. He would need to do something notably distinctive in the interim, perhaps like Nixon in his “Wilderness Years” (1962-68), writing books, travelling, speaking, adding weight and credibility to his name and his cause.

Of course, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Rick Santorum over the years—and I first met him over 20 years ago—he never ceases to impress and defy all expectations. If anyone can surprise us yet again, it’s Santorum.

Good luck, Rick. And good job. It was quite a run.

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9 thoughts on “Is Rick Santorum the front-runner next time?

  1. David says:

    No, Ron Paul is the nominee next time, because he’ll be the incumbent. In the wake of attacks on our religious freedom, the biggest defender of the Constitution is continuing to grow ever more popular.

    He has effectively won Iowa and Minnesota, securing more delegates than anyone else. That’s what determines the nominee, not popular opinion or popular vote; it’s all about delegates. He’ll have more than enough to prevent Romney from cinching the nomination, and those delegates will put a whole lot of effort into getting him nominated at the convention.

    And his delegate count is still growing:
    http://reason.com/blog/2012/04/30/louisiana-also-looking-good-for-ron-paul

  2. PaulineBelviso says:

    DEAR MR SANTORUM,dON’T GIVE UP.catholics around the world admire and
    need you to stand up for the” light the truth and the way.
    God be with you and your family.
    Pauline Belviso.

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