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Post Partisan
Posted at 10:59 AM ET, 03/14/2012

Santorum wins a future

Last night’s primary results — in which, don’t forget, Mitt Romney wound up extending his delegate lead over Rick Santorum — don’t really harm Romney’s hold on the nomination. But that doesn’t mean nothing happened yesterday. In fact, Rick Santorum certainly did achieve something significant: He’s going to be the guy who came in second. And that may matter quite a bit going forward. It could even make him president some day.

That wasn’t guaranteed going in. Had Newt Gingrich won in Alabama and Mississippi, the eventual story might well have been that Romney beat a fractured field to become the nominee. Had, instead, Romney swept the day, it’s likely that he would have been seen as defeating a fractured and very weak set of candidates, the way Bob Dole did in 1996.

Not now. Rick Santorum isn’t just going to mathematically finish second in votes and delegates; he’s going to be perceived as having been the clear runner-up. He’s going to be 2012’s John McCain 2000, Bob Dole 1988, George H.W. Bush 1980.

That’s worth something. It may well be worth the VP nomination, as it was for Bush (and for John Edwards in 2004). We’ve always known that Mitt Romney, like John McCain, would need to pick a running mate who would please social conservatives and others who were unenthusiastic about him. It now appears that Santorum will, if he survives the vetting he’ll be getting over the next weeks, become the front-runner for that slot. If he gets it, then win or lose, he’ll have an excellent chance of winning a future presidential nomination.

By the way, if for whatever reason Santorum doesn’t make the VP cut, the logical substitute is the proto-Santorum, Mike Huckabee. My view has been from the start that the Huck makes sense, given that he’s survived a national campaign. But now, it’s likely that Santorum will match him on that score, and Santorum comes from a better Electoral College state, too.

So ignore the hype about deadlocked conventions and close nomination fights; Romney is still very comfortably in the driver’s seat. That doesn’t mean, however, that last night was meaningless. It may well have picked a future Republican president.

By  |  10:59 AM ET, 03/14/2012

 
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