Rick Santorum: The Conservative's Last Stand

In Tuesday’s Michigan primary Mitt Romney, much to his surprise, is not facing a guaranteed victory.  Despite being regarded as the only GOP presidential candidate with holding a chance at defeating President Barack Obama in the general election, and widely regarded as an expert on economics during a time where the economy has been the central issue, Romney finds himself in a dead heat with conservative Rick Santorum in his own home state. Santorum has been gaining momentum over the last few weeks because he embodies the conservative viewpoint, even if he does lack electability, and many on the far-right would rather make a last stand with Santorum and lose, than compromise their views by choosing Romney.

The economy has stabilized and is beginning to fade as an issue. Whether Obama's programs have worked to end the recession is unclear. Regardless, this is bad news for Romney in a general election. Romney comes from a different class of people, and with every appearance, his personal appeal declines. As the economy wanes as a central issue, his electability does as well. The GOP now has a choice between four candidates, all of whom are facing an uphill battle in the general election against Obama, and suddenly a victory in 2012 is beginning to feel like a lost cause to some.

No candidate is less likely to defeat Obama than Santorum. Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) have long careers and some viewpoints that appeal to moderates. Santorum, however, caters exclusively to the Christian right-wing, a group that the typical moderate American associates with imposing their archaisms on everyone else. Choosing Santorum as a nominee, even if one agrees with his viewpoint, makes no sense when trying to win an election.

But it makes perfect sense when winning the general election is no longer the main objective. If one admits that Obama is likely to win in 2012 regardless of the candidate, suddenly the choice for a nominee is about 2016. If Romney goes up against Obama and loses, what is gained for the GOP? Outside of the economy, he offers relatively few positions that differentiate himself from Obama. His nomination and loss will ensure that America sees four more years of the liberal agenda, with no one speaking out on the right.

However, putting Santorum up against Obama means that while the GOP will most assuredly lose the general election, the conservative viewpoint, undoubtedly tempered by advisors to be consumed by a moderate audience, will get a national stage like it has never enjoyed before.

For a few months, the conservatives' social-oriented talking points will be pumped to billboards and televisions across the nation, and even if American's reject the less pleasant aspects of the conservative platform, their message on the importance of family, optimism regarding American exceptionalism, and the merits of hard work and self-reliance will resonate with the people. A Santorum candidacy is destined to fail, but will prime the population for a better attempt, both in the 2014 midterms, and in 2016.

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