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Right Turn
Posted at 10:15 AM ET, 03/29/2012

Santorum can’t bring himself to hang it up

Baseball players linger past their prime. Singers are loath to admit their voice quality has deteriorated. Aside from the money, the roar of crowds and the nonstop attention of the media are addictive and alluring. To leave all that is asking to swap high-def color and surround sound for a grainy black-and-white set with rabbit ears. Under such circumstances self-delusion becomes essential. (I really do have it still! My fans couldn’t survive without me!)

And that explains to a large degree why Rick Santorum stays in the race. Logic, political strategy and long-term career ambitions are irrelevant, I would suggest.

His career was nowhere at the start of the primary season. Many (most?) voters barely knew who he was. In the Senate, he was a run-of- the-mill conservative senator, undistinguished except for jarring condemnations of colleagues and cringe-inducing crusades like Teri Schiavo. And then, by virtue of small clusters of conservative activists in Iowa and then Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota, he was launched onto the front pages of every newspaper and welcomed on every Sunday talk show, for the first time in his career.

It’s dizzying and enticing. The crowds (be they 500 or 50) cheer him, and it’s so easy to imagine they are representative of the entire party.

If you’ve felt ignored and shunned and developed a substantive chip on your shoulder ( I did welfare reform, darn it! I authored the first sanctions bill, and don’t you forget it!), this is pure delicious vindication. If you think the Almighty himself wanted you to run, it’s that much harder to pull away. What — go back to scrambling for speaking gigs with Jews for Jesus? Hope Fox News gives you back a commentating spot?

You can understand why, then, Santorum trudges on. If he had grown-up advisers rather than a handful of yes-men, perhaps someone would level with him. If he had more self-awareness he might understand he is harming his own brand by revealing a peevish, delusional quality. But if those were true he might have been doing better in the race.

Time and events haven’t been kind to Santorum. Given time, his lack of religious tolerance has come to the fore. His inability to spare us from every fleeting thought has handicapped him, just as he was gaining momentum (before New Hampshire and before Michigan). Even his signature argument against Mitt Romney (“uniquely disqualified” on health care) has been vividly disproved in the wake of the Supreme Court arguments that could well result in invalidating the federal individual mandate (just as Romney predicted) and leaving Romney with the (unique) ability to argue that his notion of state-led health-care reform was right all along.

And, ironically, the seething resentment toward Romney and the GOP more generally and bursts of anger (toward the media and anyone who fails to grasp his swellness), which have bubbled to the surface with increased frequency, have aided Romney.

Romney should thank his rival. In comparison to Santorum, Romney’s lack of fiery rhetoric now comes as a bit of a relief. He’s not yelling at his fellow citizens, not chiding them for failing to take their faith “seriously.” At least, the nominee won’t have a snarl on his face and a voice dripping with contempt for those who don’t meet his test of ideological purity.

Eventually Santorum will leave the race. And many will muse, “Why didn’t he hang it up earlier?”

By  |  10:15 AM ET, 03/29/2012

Categories:  2012 campaign

 
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