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Posted at 04:04 PM ET, 04/10/2012

Santorum drops out


Goodbye, Rick. (Mark Makela - REUTERS)
On the bright side, that headline isn’t as funny any more.

Well, it happened. Rick Santorum has left the GOP race.

My most cherished memory of Rick Santorum’s campaign dates from Iowa, when he was nursing an improbable lead over Mitt Romney. He was speaking in Perry, a town of just over 7000 people, at the Hotel Pattee. He stood awkwardly on the carpeted steps leading up from the lobby, speaking in his usual impassioned manner about his underdog campaign. Someone was vacuuming in the background. As the reporters thronged and the crowds asked their questions, the vacuum kept going. Noisily. Without stopping.

Finally Santorum acknowledged it. “I guess we’re interrupting the vacuuming,” he said.

That was the Santorum campaign in a nutshell. He was a man defined by being overlooked. At debates, he stood at the Outer Rim podium, occasionally interrupted mid-sentence by a passing tumbleweed.

When you Googled his last name to see who on earth he was, the first thing that came up was an obscene substance best not referenced in a family newspaper. The only person who seemed riveted by his progress was sex columnist Dan Savage, the one who’d coined that neologism in response to remarks Santorum had made about gay marriage. As if to cement his insignificance, he wore sweater vests. Compared to him, my middle school biology teacher was a style innovator.

In order to win Iowa, he came as close as humanly possible to sitting down with every resident of the state for a cup of coffee.

“Attention must be paid,” says one character in Death of a Salesman. By the end, Santorum got it.

He began as a man only known for the Google Problem. Every headline made the cognoscenti snicker. Santorum creeps out from behind! It was a self-fulfilling prophecy — you Googled him to see what the problem was and it became a bigger problem.

But he can be proud to note that on the day of his suspension of his campaign, his actual Wikipedia page had surpassed the crude redefinition of his name.

Maybe that was the whole point — to take back Santorum. To redefine Santorum, Dan Savage simply had to set up a website. To re-redefine it, Rick Santorum had to run a nationwide campaign for president, spending millions of dollars and crisscrossing vast swaths of Real America in a sweater vest.

Miracles are possible. Santorum would be the first to tell us this. Like Ezekiel, he made no bones about his faith. When he spoke about his devotion, you kept expecting lions to show up. The terms were always that strong.

Santorum, in debates and speeches, always had the manner of a man leaning into a strong headwind. He delivered his talking points as though someone had just said something he strongly disagreed with, and it was time he set them straight. There was a chip on his shoulder under the sweater vest — the chip of a man ignored.

And yet. He crept in past Herman Cain and even Newt Gingrich to tussle with Mitt Romney for the crown. In his speech in Gettysburg (I guess Waterloo was unavailable), he noted that even when he wasn’t winning, “We were winning. We were winning in a very different way.”

That’s one way to describe, well, losing. In the end, the well-oiled Romney machine prevailed. But Santorum got something out of it. “It really wasn’t my voice that I was out communicating. It was your voice,” he told the assembled crowd in Gettysburg. “Your voice can be heard and miracles can happen. This race was as improbable as any race that you can ever see for president.”

Still, it was a qualified miracle. The oil lasted three days, which was pretty good. He managed to walk halfway across the water. He turned a few loaves and fish into a decent family-sized meal. He turned water into unfermented grape juice. And he got rid of the Google problem.

Attention must be paid.

He’ll never have to talk over a vacuum again.

By  |  04:04 PM ET, 04/10/2012

Tags:  Santorum

 
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