His second-place showing in Illinois represented another squandered opportunity for Santorum, who is running out of chances to stop Romney and can’t afford to spend more time backtracking on things he’s said. As in Michigan and Ohio, Santorum had come within striking distance only to fall short.
Santorum prides himself on the fact that he is an unscripted candidate who will answer whatever he is asked. He has even gone so far as to declare that “when you run for president of the United States, it should be illegal to read off a teleprompter, because all you’re doing is reading someone else’s words to people.”
In Santorum’s case, however, even his admirers think that might not be such a bad thing to try, at least every now and then.
“What he says is undistilled Rick Santorum, and sometimes he says things inartfully,” said Richard Land, the political leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, who has not endorsed a candidate. “I hope that in the near future Rick will get some really good wordsmiths and give some better speeches.”
Speaking off the cuff has proven treacherous for Santorum, undercutting his efforts to expand his base of support beyond social conservatives to economically stressed voters who might be able to relate to the former senator’s blue-collar roots.
“He is going to answer the question, which is a good thing,” said his spokesman Hogan Gidley. “But it’s something we lament sometimes.”
In fact, it can sometimes seem that Santorum swings at every ball that’s pitched. On Tuesday, for instance, he criticized President Obama for allowing his 13-year-old daughter, Malia, to take a spring break trip to Mexico, parts of which the State Department has deemed unsafe.
“If the administration is saying that it’s not safe to have people down there, then just because you can send 25 Secret Service agents doesn’t mean you should do it,” Santorum said on a conservative talk radio show. “And when the government is saying this is not safe, then you don’t set the example by sending your kids down there.”
However, there is no State Department warning for Oaxaca, where she reportedly is.
One prominent Republican who is close to Santorum and who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the candidate also suffers from having honed his reflexes in the U.S. Capitol: “The problem is, he’s a former senator, and he wants to litigate every point.”