Requiem for a Warm Body

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Mitt Romney won't have Rick Santorum to wipe his feet on anymore. Photo: PAUL J. RICHARDS/2012 AFP

Rick Santorum, we hardly knew ye. And I mean that quite literally. Santorum had no organization, no coherent strategy, barely any money for advertising, little coherent message, and was frequently unable to even get his name on the ballot or file a delegate slate. Before the primary, his public image was largely defined by a sex columnist. During the primary, he was defined almost entirely as not Mitt Romney. Santorum was the Washington Generals — yet somehow managed to keep the game sort of close.

Santorum probably did more with less than any campaign in the history of the modern primary system. Other presidential campaigns have managed to come from out of nowhere and make a deep presidential run, as Santorum did. But those campaigns had some kind of populist spark, inspiring a movement. Santorum inspired nothing. He was a Beltway retread — eking out an uninspiring living as a lobbyist, and presumably looking to solve his Google problem — when he ran. His campaign resembled other uninspiring no-hopers, like Chris Dodd in 2008 or Orrin Hatch in 2000. The difference is that those previous figures were still in the Senate when they ran, rather than having suffered a crushing defeat. The “less” he did more with is not just establishment support or media buzz or money but oratorical skills, imagination — pretty much any positive attributes at all.

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.

Check out our video obituary for the campaign right here: