Rick Santorum (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)
Rick Santorum (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

The Republican Party has this tradition. The person who didn’t get the presidential nomination the last time gets it the next time. That happened to George H. W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney. Considering Rick Santorum was the last man standing against Romney in the 2012 contest, he could keep the tradition going in 2016. And that would be the death knell of the GOP if he were to succeed.

According to the Republican Party autopsy of its 2012 presidential defeat, the GOP has lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. To break that trend, the “Growth and Opportunity Project” was pretty adamant that the Republican Party had to change. Among the keys to doing that is appealing to young people.

For the GOP to appeal to younger voters, we do not have to agree on every issue, but we do need to make sure young people do not see the Party as totally intolerant of alternative points of view. Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays — and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway   into whether the Party is a place they want to be.

But don’t tell that to Santorum. The ultra-conservative former senator from Pennsylvania told the Des Moines Register on Monday that the party should not yield on a “foundational principle” like same-sex marriage. “The Republican Party’s not going to change on this issue,” he said. “In my opinion it would be suicidal if it did.”

No, it would be suicidal if it doesn’t.

Gay rights is just one of many areas where the Republican Party needs to have its tone, language and policies catch up with the rest of the nation if the party is to survive. The latest Post-ABC News poll found that 58 percent of all Americans support same-sex marriage, including 52 percent of Republicans age 18 – 49. A historic high. Even opposition among Republicans in all the other age groups is waning, albeit slowly.

Santorum dismisses the increasing support for marriage equality. “[I]t is not a well thought-out position by the American public,” he said. Oh, yes it is. Poll after poll makes that clear. He just doesn’t like what the position is and he can’t bear the thought that the country has moved far beyond his static and mythical view of it. Too bad for Santorum. And too bad for the Republican Party if he runs for and wins the GOP nomination in 2016.

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Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.