An Epitaph For the Candidacy of Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum, according to various sources, will announce today that he is "suspending" his presidential campaign. Santorum managed to last longer than many initially expected in the race, and was able to win many primaries in the South and Midwest, where his intense social conservatism won over voters. Nevertheless, with his finances running low and his support beyond the Bible Belt wavering, Santorum’s exit is merely a formality at this point. The reality is, and always was, that he never had a chance at securing the nomination or becoming president.

Santorum was originally predicted to be a fringe candidate in the primary process, lost in shuffle among more appealing candidates, like Texas Governor Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and Newt Gingrich. That seems absurd now, though frankly, the entire Republican primary has been somewhat absurd. It has trotted out one extraordinarily flawed candidate after another, devoured them and moved on, all the while pretending that any one of them would have a chance at dethroning Mitt Romney. This was facetious: while Santorum and his ilk held strong appeal with social conservatives and the religious right, the Republican Party would have forfeited the presidency in the event of his nomination. The very qualities that made Santorum so appealing to social conservatives were the same qualities that alienated him from the general public.

Santorum’s antagonism towards LGBTs is notorious even among conservatives; just last year, he was presented with a question from a gay soldier asking if he would repeal the controversial Don't Ask Don't Tell. His response – after some audience members booed the question – was a flippant “Yeah, uh, I would say any type of sexual activity has no place in the military,” instead of thanking the soldier for his service as virtually any other official seeking elected office would. After arguing that homosexuality undermined “the fabric of our society” in 2003 and comparing it with bestiality, an internet campaign led to his last name being synonymous with “frothy lube and fecal matter.” He was an advocate of teaching intelligent design in schools, and was critical of the theory of evolution. Despite his socially conservative positions, he was a proponent of earmarks and government spending, at least until these became unpopular with his targeted electorate. He railed against liberalism, pornography, drug use, the separation of church and state and even higher education, as he recently criticized Barack Obama for suggesting all Americans should aspire to possess a college-level education. What he was most of all was unelectable.

And yet he finished, for all intents and purposes, second in a major party’s nomination process for the candidacy of the highest office in the country. In this case, second place might as well be last place: no one was truly close to toppling Mitt Romney this time, and though Santorum won 11 states, his victories were marginalized by the fact that they were the only victories he could possibly win. And they were simply not enough. It would be nice to imagine that this loss signifies a shift in Republican discourse away from the more reactionary rhetoric of the far right. Only time will tell if this is true or not. If this piece seems somewhat vitriolic, it is because it reflects the tenacity, the energy and the spitefulness of the candidate it concerns. Santorum was a divisive figure in this race, who energized the people who loved him, and reaped the scorn of those he himself scorned. He was a bigot and a bully. Thankfully, the one thing he will not be is president.