To really explain the full impact of former Sen. Rick Santorum’s (R-PA) presidential campaign suspension yesterday I have to take you to the following Twitter exchange between myself and one of my most highly knowledgeable political friends inside the Beltway:
Me: Well Santorum is out (Sent: April 10, 2:47 PM)
Well Connected Friend: Yawn (Sent: April 10, 2:48 PM)
That more or less sums it up. Everyone knew that Santorum was eventually going to drop out of the race, the only question was would he do it on his own terms or wait until the embarrassing loss of his own state to Romney during the April 24th GOP primary. Now that Santorum has saved the nation the trouble of watching him crash and burn it’s important to take a look at the most important questions going forward.
1) How much does a good endorsement cost? An important distinction that is often overlooked in campaign analysis is that there is a huge difference between ending your campaign and suspending your campaign. If you suspend your campaign you can still raise money politically; once you end a campaign all the debts need to be paid. So, for example, amidst all the hubub of Santorum dropping out yesterday few people noticed that Tim Pawlenty OFFICIALLY ended his campaign on Tuesday, meaning he had paid off his debts with help from Romney and other GOP activists. Santorum has major campaign debt, and depending on how much or how intensely Romney comes out and helps him retire that debt, will influence how strongly Santorum comes forth with his endorsement. Obama paid off half of Hillary Clinton’s 22 million in campaign debt, and that got him an awesome Secretary of State. What will Romney pay for?
2) Does Romney Have Enough Time? Does Mitt Romney have enough time over the next few months to change the public image he got slapped with during the primary? Romney took a beating from Santorum for about two months, losing ground to Obama amongst women, independents and keeping him off his economic message. That’s why primaries suck. He does NOT have enough time to change how people look at him, that image is crystalized in voter’s minds, and more importantly it’s a real image. Romney is a stiff, emotionally detached rich guy, so he can’t magically change into the second coming of Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan in 7 months. That does not mean he can’t win, only that it will require continued economic stagnation to take down Obama.
3) Will Santorum Play in the Veepstakes? After the primaries are over there is no real direct interaction between the incumbent president and the challenger for months. Romney isn’t going to challenge Obama to a ton of debates, and honestly he’s too busy trying to shore up his own support to bother with going after Obama directly. However, in the meantime, Santorum made it clear that he would be happy to work with Romney in a new administration, and wouldn’t turn down the VP nod if it came along. Considering that some of the hottest names out there have already told Romney “No means No” he might have to settle on Rick just to satisfy the home crowd with a known name.
4) Can we can Finally have A Race … Without Race? Rick Santorum is credited, or blamed (depending on your perspective), with pulling Mitt Romney to the right. I disagree with this assessment: Mitt Romney was never right enough for the GOP base, that’s why he had so much trouble in the south and amongst evangelicals. However what Santorum did do is highlight the kind of annoying cultural bugaboos that the GOP tries to hide from the public until after they’re in office. It was Santorum who called Black people lazy in Iowa (yep all 2% of them); it was Santorum who didn’t correct supporters who called Obama a Muslim; it was Santorum who probably called Obama a “Government Nigger,” and on and on. Basically: he was honest. And that just painted the whole GOP field with the bigot-brush that they only like to take out when the cameras aren’t running. Now that Santorum is gone, Romney won’t have to worry about racial snafus or crazy contraception talk. Of course, he can’t make people forget it either.
5) Ron and Newt ride off into the Sunset Right? Ron Paul is the biggest flop of 2012 (and that includes John Carter of Mars). All that talent, all that money, all that marketing and nothing to show for it. I know many Ron Paul supporters will claim conspiracy, but honestly at some point you have to just point to the scoreboard and stop talking about how the other team had a better chartered jet. He will not drop out of the race, but he hasn’t been polling in double digits for months and will get the obligatory 2:30pm in the afternoon speech at the convention in Tampa.
Newt Gingrich is another story. I will miss his “Old Man Angry” act when it finally comes to an end, which likely won’t be until sometime in June. Why? Because Gingrich knows this is the end of the road for him, the 90’s are over, Hillary Clinton’s loss to Obama showed that 4 years ago. Unlike Santorum, Gingrich burned a lot of bridges in the party during this campaign and once he’s not running, he will become persona-non-grata. If Ron Paul gets the dismal 2:30pm on Tuesday afternoon spot I can only imagine that Gingrich will get to talk sometime after Tim Pawlenty and Gary Johnson on Saturday (Yes, the convention ends on Friday). Of course, neither of these men matter anymore because Romney has the job.
DR. JASON JOHNSON, Politic365 Chief Political Correspondent, is a professor of Political Science at Hiram College in Ohio and author of the book Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell. You can read more at www.drjasonjohnson.com or follow him on Twitter @Drjasonjohnson