The Samtorum camp has issued a statement: “The Santorum for President campaign will be taking a brief break from the campaign trail so that the team has an opportunity to return to their homes and spend time with family and friends over the holiday weekend. Sen. Santorum will continue to campaign throughout Pennsylvania with a full calendar of events beginning on Monday, April 9. The Santorum family wishes everyone a safe and blessed holiday weekend.”
Time to reflect is in short supply in a presidential campaign, so it’s probably a good idea for Santorum to consider where he is and what he wants to do. He might ponder some critical questions.
Is he aiding President Obama and hindering his party’s chances in an election he has deemed the most important ever? Karl Rove put it succinctly: “ [W]hat possible incentive is there for unpledged delegates to support a fading candidate like Mr. Santorum? He says it would be ‘energizing’ for the GOP to have a floor-fight at its August 27-30 convention. That’s the argument of a desperate candidate. More and more Republicans think such a bloodletting would severely set back the cause of defeating Barack Obama.” It’s hard to see how continuing attacks on the soon-to-be official nominee, delaying the consolidation of the party and the general election ramp-up, and aiming for an insiders’ convention that might overthrow the decisions of millions of GOP voters can be anything but destructive.
What does he want to do after 2012? If he had his eye on the VP slot or a Romney cabinet post, he probably blew that with round after round of invectives. If he wants to be the leader of a shadow government, bird-dogging the White House and leading the anti-establishment, anti-deal making right, that is one thing. If he wants to be at the top of the list for a future president run, that is quite another. If he continues on, there’s a serious question whether he’d be remembered as a true patriot or a skunk at a garden party.
Is he willing to roll the dice on Pennsylvania? The RealClearPolitics average shows him with lead of less than 2 percent, well within the margin of error. The Public Policy Polling outfit is the first to show Mitt Romney ahead (by 5 percent). Santorum may feel he’s locked himself into competing, but if the poll trends continue he’ll have a choice: suffer accusations that he was chicken to compete in his home state or risk losing in his home state. The Hill had this thought-provoking (for Santorum, maybe) report:
“If he loses Pennsylvania twice, that’s going to really hobble him in the future. That’d be very hard to live down,” said Kirsten Fedewa, Mike Huckabee’s 2008 communications director.
Fedewa speculated that Santorum may be encountering what Huckabee faced near the end of his campaign.
“There’s a point on the campaign trail where you start seeing diminishing returns, thinner crowds, you’re not getting the big boost on your website fundraising, the enthusiasm factor is dying down,” she said. “He’s going to be feeling it on the stump and seeing the impact on his campaign. He’s an anti-establishment candidate, so what the establishment does or doesn’t do isn’t going to persuade him — but when he sees the intensity factor waning, that’s going to weigh heavily.”
What is he campaigning on? His message (repeal ObamaCare, pursue pro-growth tax reform, cut domestic spending) has largely been co-opted (minus the bad parts like his special break for manufacturing firms) by Romney. The Washington Examiner editorial board suggested Santorum’s insistence that there is not much difference between Romney and Obama is counterproductive: “Unfortunately, the Santorum campaign is trying to muddy these waters. Its only television commercial in Wisconsin this past week was dedicated to blurring the distinction between Obama and Romney. This line of attack can only help Obama win in the fall. Is that what Santorum, or the conservatives supporting him, really want?” So if his message has largely been adopted by the would-be nominee and negative campaigning is becoming an anathema to conservatives, what does he have left to say?
Is he helping or hurting the social conservatives’ cause? By diverting from his economic message and plunging into a brand of extreme social conservatism not even embraced by most Republicans Santorum may have done damage to the causes he cares about. If he continues losing, the take-away may be that boisterous social conservatism is a losing proposition.
Santorum has worked hard and no one begrudges him a much-needed rest. It’s understandably hard for a man who prayed for guidance and concluded God wanted him to run for president to end his campaign. But the Almighty is not in the business of guaranteeing success or handicapping the Pennsylvania primary. Santorum and his wife will have to navigate his course from here on out.