Rick Santorum says stay in school, work hard, wait to have kids, and you’ll avoid poverty. It’s not that simple.
Last night’s convention speeches weren’t especially wonky, but one paragraph from Rick Santorum’s speech stuck out:
Graduate from high school, work hard, and get married before you have children and the chance you will ever be in poverty is just two percent. Yet if you don’t do these three things you’re 38 times more likely to end up in poverty!
Much of the punditry on Rick Santorum’s strong finish in Iowa is attributing his late success to his social conservatism, or the endorsements of major evangelical leaders, or his dogged commitment to retail politics. In other words: Santorum finished in the top three because he did something important right. But there’s a simpler explanation, too: Santorum finished in the top three because he was lucky.
Santorum’s surge followed a pattern we’ve seen over and again in the Republican primary. The difference is that Santorum’s surge translated into votes. But that was the result of good timing. By the time Iowa’s Republicans turned their attention to Santorum, they were out of viable not-Romneys. Viewed that way, however, Santorum’s surge doesn’t prove he was an unusually effective campaigner, or that his ideas were appealing. If anything, it proves the opposite.
The hallmark of a great work of history is that even though you know what’s going to happen, the narrative almost has you believing that things will turn out a different way — that the German people will reject Hitler, or that Abraham Lincoln won’t go to the play that night. That’s because great works of history show that things could have turned out differently, that the way things went is not the only way they could have gone.
The Republican presidential primary increasingly feels like a bad work of history. It feels like the author is straining to inject drama and uncertainty into a story that’s barreling toward an obvious and inexorable conclusion. And that conclusion is, of course, Mitt Romney.
Right now, all eyes are on Iowa, where the contest is between Romney, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum. Let’s say fortune smiles on those of us who need to sell papers and Santorum edges out Romney. That would be front-page news all across the country. Santorum would be on the cover of every magazine. He would be booked for every political talk show. He would be the subject of every op-ed page. And yet, not a person out there — perhaps not even Santorum himself — would think for a moment that a Santorum victory in Iowa means that Rick Santorum will be the Republican nominee for president in 2012. Indeed, for all Santorum’s sudden strength, the InTrade betting markets give him a 4.5 percent chance of capturing the nomination. Some surge.