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Posted at 09:00 AM ET, 03/26/2012

Obama and Santorum have campaign decisions to make

President Obama and Rick Santorum have to make important decisions about their campaigns very soon.

Time is running out for Obama to have much to claim as affirmative, clear accomplishments.  The assertion that things could be worse seems to be his best argument on most issues.

The president does have two items to point to where he can claim victory on his watch. One is the killing of Osama bin Laden and the second is the remarkable recovery of the stock market. However, both are muted by the real politics of these "successes." Bin Laden is dead and Americans are safer as a result, but it doesn't offer a contrast with Obama's eventual opponent. No Republican believes the president shouldn't have killed Osama when our intelligence agencies and military capabilities gave him the chance. Plus, foreign military success of almost any type has a short political half-life.

Next, it is ironic that Obama could benefit from a rising stock market. But since his 2009 inauguration, the stock market has gone up at an annual rate of 16.4 percent. Yet no president in recent memory has been as anti-market as this president. Every Republican and independent believes that Obama's heart is with the withered Occupy Wall Street movement. He won't be credible if he tries to capitalize on the benefits of the rising stock market. Plus, the markets are fickle, and they could go down more quickly than they have gone up. Obama can't count on stock portfolios to make a substantial number of voters feel economically secure or connect the consequences of a nascent wealth effect to anything he has done.

Meanwhile, Santorum has to determine how the end will come for his 2012 campaign. What is the impression he wants to leave with the Republican Party and the public who have gotten to know him?  Is he an angry spoiler who will wage a gratuitous fight, or does he want to try and be a graceful, useful resource for the GOP in 2012?  He doesn't have to get out of the race to give his campaign a purpose. He could continue all the way to Tampa and do himself some good if he were a happy warrior and recognized the inevitable Romney nomination.

But now it appears he is personally aggrieved by Romney and wants to spread his bitterness. Does he really have a reason for running beyond doing whatever he can to wound Romney?  If he has a positive agenda, it is unclear. As I've said before, Republicans have a history of treating second-place finishers pretty well. It would not be hard for Santorum to turn the impressive results of his underdog campaign into a real following within the party that could give him more influence and options in the future.

By  |  09:00 AM ET, 03/26/2012

 
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