Sometimes the most important thing in politics is the dog that didn’t bark. Ten nonbarking dogs — events that didn’t pan out — come to mind with regard to the 2012 Republican presidential nominating process:
1. Sarah Palin. Enough said.
2. Isolationism sweeps the GOP. The final top three are all committed to a Reagan-style foreign policy.
3. A “social truce.” The reemergence of hot-button issues, at the expense of his economic agenda, was certainly a factor in the decline of Rick Santorum’s prospects.
4. Romneycare becomes the defining issue in the primary. No matter how hard Mitt Romney’s rivals tried, voters didn’t buy that this was a disqualifier. Their decision-making process turned out to be more sophisticated than the pundits: Who’s the most conservative candidate who can beat President Obama? The spirit of William F. Buckley Jr. lives on.
5. Social-conservative unanimity. When 150 pastors met in Texas, the possibility of a unified religious right appeared. But the pastors did not follow up and support remained divided at a critical time in the race. Santorum was never able to consolidate the entire social conservative movement.
6. Santorum wears well. His inherent flaws — a lack of conservative economic credibility, focus and restraint — got worse over time. Now the best advice to him is: Chill.
7. A Tea Party nominee. Those contenders elevated by or closely identified with Tea Partyers washed out of the race, due largely to a lack of gravitas. Voters were in no mood for amateur hour.
8. A white knight. No matter how hard conservatives cheered for and cajoled a list of rock stars, they refused to get off the bench. The first requirement of a strong candidate is an insatiable thirst for victory, so perhaps it was better that they didn’t enter the fray.
9. New-media kingmakers. Ironically, the vibrant conservative blogosphere was entirely unsuccessful in boosting a string of candidates. They couldn’t convince voters that Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Herman Cain or Newt Gingrich was the one to lead the party. Perhaps this will provoke some reflection on the degree to which they actually represent the broad swath of GOP voters.
10. Candidates who were better spokesmen for their cause than their wives were. Most would agree that Karen Santorum and Ann Romney are the best assets of their respective campaigns.