Is Santorum ready for the fire to come his way?

Rick Santorum is about to see the kitchen sink up-close. So far he hasn’t been a threat, so he hasn’t faced much harsh scrutiny, much less the attacks that are about to come his way. His candidacy is for real, and Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney both know it.

While Gingrich thought he could isolate Romney and become his lone real competitor, yesterday’s results, combined with a deflating Gingrich campaign, have allowed Santorum to leapfrog Gingrich as the more viable Romney alternative today.

It’s not in Gingrich’s nature to give up. Attacking Romney hasn’t gotten him to where he thought he would be, but at least he was still in the race. Now he must remove Santorum if he has any viable chance at the nomination. I assume his campaign still has some money, and he still has the power of his own lacerating speech.

Romney has developed a tried-and-true formula for the 2012 primaries: Whenever someone presents themselves as a threat, he blasts them with television rating points. It’s the cynical political equivalent of Colin Powell’s “overwhelming force” battle plan. There is no reason to believe Romney won’t use his well-established attack methods on Santorum.

Unfortunately for Santorum, much of what we will learn in the next couple of weeks will appear new — contracts with clients in Washington, his routine dialogue with K Street while he was in the Senate, his particularly vocal anti-gay positions and the reasons for his 17-point reelection defeat in 2006 that amounted to being summarily fired by the voters in his home state. 

But Santorum is not naive. He’s been around the big leagues for a long time. So he will do the best he can to be ready. He won’t be defenseless, and he won’t be shy about delivering a counterpunch. The only 2012 participant who’s going to enjoy the coming exchange of fire will be Obama.

Ed Rogers is a contributor to the PostPartisan blog, a political consultant and a veteran of the White House and several national campaigns. He is the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in 1991.

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