A lot of politics is inside baseball – in a few years no one will know what you’re talking about. Wendell Willkie? Harold Stassen? Thomas Eagleton? Who? And political junkies are like deadly serious baseball fans – they know the subtle intricacies of the game, and all the odder obscure rules, and every statistic about who is doing well and why. Yeah, in an election year, primary wins are like on-base percentages or a pitcher’s strikeout ratio in relation to his earned-run average, on Tuesdays, when it’s cloudy. It’s nerd stuff. The rest of the nation waits for things to settle down in late fall and votes for one of the two left standing, voting for some personal reason, or no particular reason at all. Like casual baseball fans, they’ll wait for the World Series. Someone will win. The details of politics, the inside baseball stuff, is tiresome.
But then a lot of baseball itself is inside baseball. Tuesday, April 10, 2012 – the home opener in Los Angeles, with the Dodgers facing the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates – and it’s the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of Dodger Stadium, with the Beach Boys singing the national anthem of all things. And of course in the pre-game they trot out a few of the past heroes, like Maury Wills, the man who broke all the base-stealing records.
Who? The Los Angeles Times had to run an appreciation of the guy – because that was a long time ago and he’s become quite obscure – although “unappreciated” is the word they use. You have your moment in the sun and then no one remembers you – only the inside baseball folks remember.
And now it’s Rick Santorum, whose moment in the sun ended the same day:
Rick Santorum, with an abrupt decision to end his campaign Tuesday, cleared the way for Mitt Romney to claim the Republican nomination while dashing the hopes of social conservatives who had propelled Mr. Santorum’s surprisingly successful challenge to the Republican establishment.
Mr. Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, was trailing Mr. Romney in delegates and had little hope of catching up to him, but his strong performance in a brutal nominating contest established him as a force that the party will probably have to reckon with this presidential election year and beyond.
Well, maybe – but this just cleared the deck:
His departure from the race created an anticlimactic moment in the long presidential primary season for Mr. Romney, who has been actively seeking his party’s nomination for five years and found his conservative credentials constantly in question by the durability of Mr. Santorum’s candidacy. The move springs Mr. Romney from a political limbo in which he was acting like the nominee even though he faced the prospect of weeks of hard – and expensive – campaigning against Mr. Santorum.
Of course he said he’ll be back, and he’ll keep on fighting for whatever it was he was fighting for. But that’s what you’re supposed to say. By the end of the day no one cared. Folks immediately endorsed Romney – Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Rick Scott of Florida and Senator Toomey of Pennsylvania – and Romney’s folks cancelled their three million dollar advertising campaign in Pennsylvania. There was no one to destroy. Santorum had become a no one, not that it would be all that easy for Romney going forward:
Richard Viguerie, a veteran conservative activist who became a close supporter of Mr. Santorum, said Mr. Romney would have to work hard at winning many others over, especially after such a hard-fought campaign. “After having destroyed every conservative that came on the scene,” he said, “you can’t say ‘You have to line up behind me.’ No, no, no. Conservatives are not going to jump until they hear where Governor Romney wants to take everybody.”
Fine, but Santorum is not part of the equation now, although Slate’s John Dickerson argues that Santorum was a force to be reckoned with:
There have been a lot of presidential candidates who fell from great expectations: Rick Perry, Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, and Phil Gramm, to name a few. They turned themselves into political punch lines with disastrous campaigns. The much smaller class is those who came from nowhere and energized their party, not enough to win the nomination, but enough to cause a stir: Lamar Alexander, Howard Dean, and Mike Huckabee. Now Rick Santorum joins that group.
Santorum said the recent health scare of his long-ailing 3-year-old daughter Bella helped him make his decision to end the race. Though polls showed him slightly ahead in advance of the Pennsylvania primary on April 24, it wasn’t a certainty that he would win his home state. By ending his campaign now, he burnishes his reputation. He leaves as a champion of grass-roots conservatives. “It wasn’t my voice that I was out communicating,” he said Tuesday in Gettysburg, Pa. where he suspended his campaign, “It was your voice.”
Having made the right exit, Santorum can now trade in on his personal brand.
But maybe it’s an irrelevant brand. It seems that now the election will not be about what Jesus wants for America. Romney, the Mormon, simply won’t talk about his religion, and Obama tends to keep Church and State separate, in the Jack Kennedy tradition. And now the Catholic bishops are screwed – no one will fight with them in their effort to make everyone follow their rules. Santorum can ask for input in the party platform now, so that his particular issues get the attention he’d like – he has his fans. But that will fade. And Dickerson notes this:
Just before the surprise news, Romney’s aides were characterizing Santorum as a mildly crazed zealot on the verge of ruining his reputation and permanently damaging his chance to run again.
The message wasn’t subtle. (There may still be a warm horse head in the trunk of a Romney campaign car.) Last week the Romney campaign cut and planned to air a very tough ad attacking Santorum. They were reportedly going to spend millions of dollars making sure everyone saw it. The Romney ad, “Historic,” hit Santorum for losing his 2006 re-election campaign. “We fired him as senator. Why promote him to president?” asks the narrator. Santorum faced the prospect not only of losing standing in the national Republican Party but also of losing face at home.
So Santorum got out just in time. But the message remains. Santorum was a marginal candidate.
But Steve Benen reluctantly admits that Santorum’s run was “one of the most impressive things I’ve seen in presidential politics in quite a while.” Just consider this:
For months, Santorum failed to raise money, failed to hire a campaign staff, failed to create a campaign structure, failed to create a base of supporters, and failed to impress in the endless stream of candidate debates. A couple of weeks before the Iowa caucuses, Santorum was in the low single-digits in national GOP polls – he was neck and neck with Huntsman – and was generally considered an afterthought, when he was considered at all. And yet, despite having very little money, no staff, no organization, few endorsements, an unimpressive legislative record, and a weak message, Rick Santorum managed to beat Mitt Romney 10 times during the Republican nominating race (Iowa, Colorado, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana).
And Philip Klein calls Santorum’s unexpected campaign a professional success:
Nobody gave him a chance to do much of anything, given that rival candidates had more money and more sophisticated organizations. But he ran a tough, grassroots campaign, building off of a surprise victory surge in Iowa to drag out the race a lot longer than anybody thought he could, eventually winning in 11 states. Now he’ll come out of the race with a much higher profile when he started and with an image as a tenacious campaigner.
Well, that’s something, but Doug Mataconis argues that this was a strange year:
What nobody accounted for, I think, is the impact that SuperPACs were going to have on the race and the manner in which they let a shoestring candidate like Santorum go much further than he otherwise would have. That, combined with the fact that the conservative base in the GOP spent much of January and February still wanting a way to voice their uneasiness with Mitt Romney, is what ended up helping Santorum get as far as he did.
But will Santorum be the 2016 candidate? Jonathan Chait doubts that:
Santorum’s success was entirely the function of his being a Republican not named Romney who happened to be there when every other alternative had either been destroyed by Romney’s money or collapsed on its own. It is truly rare for a campaign to feature both a wildly vulnerable front-runner and a long list of candidates who could probably have the nomination but chose not to run. In 2016 (or 2020, if Romney wins) one of them - Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, or someone else with political talent - will be on the ballot. The notion that Santorum might position himself as next in line is comical.
And Ed Kilgore adds this:
There will be some what-ifs expressed about Santorum – particularly from those who think he self-destructed by getting a little too theocratic. I’m personally already on record as disagreeing. He danced with the ones that brung him: the people who think legalized abortion is a Holocaust, that same-sex relationships are a sign of moral collapse, that “traditionalist” Catholics and evangelical conservatives represent the only line of resistance against a Satanic takeover of the West, that a Middle Eastern Holy War is America’s destiny.
Santorum will always have that vote, and no more than that. And David Weigel argues that Santorum wasn’t all that special:
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.
But Zack Beauchamp has a somewhat different view:
So, Santorum up and left, taking with him the last vestiges of interest in the GOP primary. But the fundamental problem Santorum exposed inside the GOP hasn’t been resolved – the party is still primed for a savior, not a candidate.
Despite Santorum’s very “Washington” background, he somehow became the hope for Republicans fed up with Romney’s perceived moderation. The reason is Santorum’s perfect dogmatism: he has a consistent record (with only minor heresies) of taking the most hardline conservative position both in speech and in deed. No one, as often stated during the campaign, doubted the sincerity of his positions. And unlike the other competitors for the “most conservative” belt over the course of the cycle – Bachmann, Cain, and Perry – he managed to sustain his surge by failing to implode as spectacularly either of these people. He was, in short, the only consistent, solid hard-right champion in the race.
But he was “no more than solid” here:
Santorum was uninspiring and perpetually underfunded, unable to persuade almost anyone that he was a serious candidate until the structural barriers to victory were nearly insurmountable. And yet, he still managed to get a bunch of Republicans – particularly evangelicals, judging by election returns – to join Team Rick.
And this was only partially a function of what Chiat said, of Santorum being a Republican not named Romney:
Otherwise, why Santorum and not Gingrich? Understanding Santorum’s success as a consequence of ideological appeal beyond the “warm body” factor best explains his consistently high favorability ratings among Republicans.
This interpretation suggests that a conservative fire-breather need not flame out a la Bachmann. His campaign is proof of concept for the theory that one can both be a demonstrably committed rightist and make a serious bid for the GOP nomination for the White House.
So someone like him is in our future:
The obvious conclusion is that, assuming Romney loses in 2012, the candidate best positioned to win the GOP nod next time around will be someone with Santorum-esque views with an extra dollop of political talent. There’s no necessary reason that someone with hard-right views has to have weak electoral skills, and Santorum’s shifted the Overton Window enough that someone like him can’t be disregarded out of course in 2016. That’s when we’ll see how this ends.
But Jamelle Bouie would say Santorum was still a jerk:
Indeed, there’s a reason why every pundit, myself included, dismissed Santorum as a long shot in the race for the Republican nomination. As a candidate, Santorum combined doctrinaire conservative beliefs with a hostile, combative persona.
And Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog runs with that:
But why should that have been a problem for him? If you’ve been watching the right in recent years, it would seem that that’s precisely what they’d want in a presidential candidate. In the end, that is what the crazy base wanted; Romney just eked out wins by building a fragile coalition out of not-fully-crazy Republicans and Republicans who are unusually susceptible to what they see on TV (or at least in millions of dollars’ worth of attack ads).
Here’s the full assessment:
Santorum was bellicose, doctrinaire, and pretty much humorless – that’s precisely why he was the last not-Romney standing. Look at his predecessors: Trump, Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich. Every one of them had moments of light-heartedness – and every one of them was (consequently) easily turned into a laughingstock, in a way that got to even the folks in the crazy base. Santorum, by contrast, though he was mercilessly mocked by liberals, never loosened up, never stopped seeming dour and humorless and angry and dead in earnest about what he was doing. That – on the right – made him seem more serious, and more formidable, than the other not-Romneys. Even the sentimental center of his campaign, a daughter with multiple birth defects who suffered repeated hospitalizations, made his campaign seem (to the base, at least) grave and tragic.
So Steve M argues that all comes down to the Republican base wanting heroes and victims:
They want someone who seems to have bled for the cause, and who seems to be bleeding even now, preferably from a wound inflicted by liberals. They found that in Santorum. I don’t know if they’ll turn to him in four years, but I bet they’ll want someone who portrays his own life, and theirs, as a tragedy.
But BooMan sums it up best:
The sad thing about the news that Rick Santorum is ending his campaign is that there really isn’t anything to write about it. I mean, who cares? No one ever took him seriously. Even when he (kind of) won Iowa, no one gave a crap. About the only thrill Santorum gave us were a few brief moments when it looked like he might humiliate Romney in his birth state of Michigan. And that didn’t pan out. The thing about Santorum is that he isn’t funny. He’s not even unintentionally funny. I mean Herman Cain was funny. Newt Gingrich is a laugh-riot (student janitors and moon colonies, anyone?). Ron Paul can actually crack a few good jokes. Michele Bachmann is a joke. And what can we say about Rick Perry that isn’t funny?
Santorum is just a grim tight-ass with a dark and delusional worldview. He doesn’t restrict himself to the usual Republican practice of punching down and sucking up (which, incidentally, is one definition of unfunny). Santorum punches in all directions, like a man beset by venomous gnats. He could be the least optimistic man America has produced. He’s like a hate-filled pustule that tries to pass itself off as concerned about the children.
But Santorum had his moments:
I’m sorry to see him go, though, because he’s right about Romney. Romney really is a phony. He really is pulling the wool over conservatives’ eyes. He doesn’t stand for anything. And Santorum was pointing it out every day. The truest things Santorum said during the whole campaign were targeted at Mitt Romney. He was doing real damage to Mitt and I was loving every moment of it.
But BooMan says that Santorum doesn’t have any future in the Republican Party:
He didn’t earn anything during this campaign but the admiration of a bunch of end-times home-schoolers. In 2016, we’ll see the GOP’s A-Team, and Santorum won’t be in the top echelon.
If it wasn’t for the poor health of his suffering daughter, I would pile even more abuse on Santorum’s head as he walks out the door. My one final parting shot – and I think Fox News already knows this – is to point out that people can give Santorum a TV show if they want, but no one will watch it.
Rick Santorum has become Maury Wills. But then the folks at Talking Points Memo do point out that Santorum has changed things:
As Santorum swept up the votes of evangelicals and social conservatives across the country – dramatically exposing Romney’s trouble rallying a big chunk of the GOP base – he pushed the entire GOP campaign further to the right. Nothing was sacred when it came to make-or-break issues for independent voters. Contraception? Santorum was morally opposed. The death of Osama bin Laden? Santorum believed announcing it was a bad idea. College? Santorum thought it was for snobs.
None of this was on message for the GOP. And Romney – desperate to make the election about the economy – clearly wasn’t happy about it.
“We’ve seen throughout the campaign if you’re willing to say really outrageous things that are accusative, attacking of President Obama, that you’re going to jump up in the polls,” a frustrated Romney said in the midst of his toughest fight with Santorum, over Romney’s home state of Michigan. “I’m not willing to light my hair on fire to try and get support. I am who I am.”
But Santorum was who he was, too – and because of that, Romney was forced to fight Santorum on his territory, most notably on contraception. Romney publicly endorsed the Blunt amendment, one of several moves that left him with a big deficit among the female electorate.
So Santorum won – sort of. And in a career of fourteen seasons Maury Wills batted .281 with 20 home runs, 458 runs batted in, 2,134 hits, 1,067 runs, 177 doubles, 71 triples, and 586 stolen bases in 1,942 games. Wills stole 104 bases in 1962 to set a new Major League record, breaking the old modern era mark of 96, set by Ty Cobb in 1915. And then he was forgotten. Only baseball junkies remember him. And Rick Santorum has joined him.