Could Tonight Be The End For Santorum?

When will Santorum bow to the inevitable?

Even before we know the results of tonight’s primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland, and the District of Columbia it’s already apparent that Rick Santorum is not going to be the Republican nominee apparent. In order for him to even catch up to Mitt Romney in the delegate count between now and the last primary at the end of the primary, the former Pennsylvania Senator would need to win 75% of the remaining delegates, and that simply is not going to happen. Newt Gingrich, who is behind Santorum in the delegate count is already subtly bowing to reality, saying that he is now focusing his campaign on the President and on influencing the platform at the Republican convention, and Ron Paul, well, he’s doing whatever it is Ron Paul does. But Rick Santorum is still acting as if he’s a viable candidate for the Republican nomination, even though he clearly isn’t, and he continues to level attacks at the man who will be the party’s nominee for reasons that only he can understand.

Tonight, we’ll see primaries in three states that Mitt Romney is likely to win. Maryland and the District aren’t even a contest, and even is Wisconsin ends up being closer than the polls are indicating, Romney is likely to walk away with a substantial delegate haul from the Badger State. By any logical standard, a losing trifecta tonight should be the end for Santorum. If it happens, Santorum will have lost every single primary outside the Deep South since his “big win” in three caucus states that resulted in the awarding of no delegates at all and the sparsely atteneded North Dakota Caucuses. However, as Chris Cillizza points out, there’s little evidence that Santorum will drop out no matter what happens tonight:

The death rattle is clearly audible in the race these days, as former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney spars with the White House while former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum tries, in vain, to convince an ever-shrinking piece of the Republican electorate that this race is still a race.

Santorum has avoided calling Wisconsin, which is set to hold its presidential primary today, a must-win for his continued existence in the race (as opposed to the Pennsylvania primary later this month, which he acknowledges he has to win). On Monday, he told reporters that “I think in this primary, the longer it goes the better it is for the party.”

(…)

Combine Santorum’s dogged refusal to talk endgame and the strong desire among his supporters for him to stay in the race and it’s tough to imagine a scenario by which Wisconsin brings a formal end to the contest.

“It would take a crushing defeat … 12 to 15 points, and even then he might hang on,” said Paul Wilson, a consultant to Romney-supporting Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.. “He holds out improbable hope that there will be a delegate miracle at the convention.”

The current RealClearPolitics polling average shows a 7.5 point advantage for Romney, outside the range that Willson mentions. Combine this with the comments that Santorum has made for weeks now about Pennsylvania, which votes on April 24th, being “must win” for him, and it looks less and less like Santorum is dropping out any time soon. However, Pennsylvania is no longer a lock in his home state. Where he once led by double digits, Santorum now has just a 6.7 point advantage in the state, including a just-released Quinnipiac poll showing Romney within six points of Santorum there.

All of this raises a potential dilemma for Santorum, assuming that he cares about his political future:

Less than a month before the Republican presidential primary in Pennsylvania, some experts warn that Rick Santorum faces a second humiliating defeat in a state he represented for sixteen years in Washington D.C.

The campaign should end before the April 24 primary here if the former senator continues to slide in opinion polls and lose other primaries, said Ed Morrissey, editor of the widely-read conservative blog, Hot Air.

“Losing in Pennsylvania not only finishes him in the race, but it may finish him for good,” said Morrissey, who caucused for Santorum last week in Minnesota.

(…)

Santorum’s delegate gap with Romney is essentially insurmountable, said Josh Putnam, an expert at Davidson College in North Carolina.

“They could make the argument that better days are ahead in May in Arkansas, Texas and North Carolina,” but that becomes decreasingly likely when and if he gets swept during the April contests,” Putnam said.

“Which makes me wonder if the contest really ever gets to Pennsylvania,” said Morrissey.

Starting with his loss in 2006, it’s clear that Santorum has plenty of reasons to be worried about Pennsylvania despite his bravado:

Santorum’s home-state connection notwithstanding, the makeup of the Pennsylvania GOP gives Romney a chance to win the state. Exit polls from the 2008 Republican presidential primary aren’t available for Pennsylvania, but its demographics are similar to other Midwest states like Ohio and Michigan. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, scored narrow wins in both.

“Clearly Pennsylvania is similar to Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin,” said Jake Corman, a state senator and one of Santorum’s most prominent supporters in the state. “It’s the Rust Belt area, where there’s a lot of manufacturing.”

Yet Pennsylvania’s most populous region – Philadelphia and the suburbs tucked into its southeast corner – is chock full of the upscale, college-educated Republicans who have formed Romney’s base throughout the primary. It’s the region most critical to Romney’s efforts in the state, and it accounts for 35 percent of the Republican vote statewide, according to Brian Nutt, a longtime GOP strategist in the state and Santorum’s Pennsylvania director.

Because of the size of the Philadelphia media market – it includes Delaware and southern New Jersey – it’s hyper-expensive, a potential challenge for the cash-strapped Santorum operation.

“If Rick Santorum doesn’t commit substantial resources to the state, he’ll lose,” said Phil English, a former congressman from the state’s northwest region and a Romney supporter. “And he may lose anyway.”

Santorum’s favorite-son status in Pennsylvania could give him an advantage he didn’t have in either Michigan or Ohio. But on this front, the former statewide official might not reap the expected benefits.

There’s visible ambivalence about Santorum’s candidacy among both conservative activists and the state’s GOP establishment. Romney has the support of many prominent Pennsylvania Republicans, including several members of Congress, former Gov. Tom Ridge and Republican National Committee member Bob Asher. Sen. Pat Toomey, a favorite of many fiscal conservatives, hasn’t endorsed in the race, but praised Romney effusively on Friday.

Additionally, there’s plenty of signs that Santorum has yet to mend fences with Republican and conservative activists in they Keystone State over his decision to endorse Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey in the 2004 Republican Senate Primary.

All of this adds up to an interesting question. Given that he’s likely to lose big tonight, Santorum will limp into a three week battle in his home state damaged, and with Romney already gaining on him in the polls even before he’s started spending big money in places like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, would Santorum really be willing to risk a humiliating loss in his home state that would bring his campaign to a screeching halt? Or, would he consider it smarter to drop out before Pennsylvania and concede the inevitability of Romney’s victory? The decision is up to him, really.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Tsar Nicholas II says:

    [W]ould Santorum really be willing to risk a humiliating loss in his home state that would bring his campaign to a screeching halt? Or, would he consider it smarter to drop out before Pennsylvania and concede the inevitability of Romney’s victory?

    Ah, but that presupposes that Santorum is a rational and cogent actor, for which at this point there is little to no evidence.

    This contest is over. It’s been over for a while. It was over after Florida. Even for the diehards living in the fever swamps on the right it ended after Rubio and then Ryan endorsed Romney. Hell, even Gingrich — verging on a EEG flatline only a week ago — apparently has woken up from his reality coma and is starting to sniff the political tea leaves.

    Something happened to Santorum. Look, I know for a long time he’s been persona non grata on the Internet, but in the early to mid-1990’s he was a completely different animal. This version of Santorum is off the rails. It’s as if he’s morphed into some sort of bizzaro land liberal. There’s a force field surrounding him preventing reality from entering. In a lot of ways it’s sad.

    If Santorum does not drop out after what will be a fiasco for him this evening, there needs to be an intervention. At that point further primary contests between Romney and Santorum will be akin to watching a guy get beaten up for no reason other than to get beaten up.

  2. Additionally, there’s plenty of signs that Santorum has yet to mend fences with Republican and conservative activists in they Keystone State over his decision to endorse Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey in the 2004 Republican Senate Primary.

    It’s even worse than that. As recently as last year, he was in PA arguing that supporting Specter was the right thing to do and that he’d do it again given the chance.

  3. And at this point, Santorum isn’t running for the 2012 nomination, he’s running for the 2016 nomination.

  4. CSK says:

    Perhaps, like the Blues Brothers, Santorum really does think he’s on a mission from God.

  5. John D'Geek says:

    A nit to pick with a quoted article — Pennsylvania is not a mid-western state. We’re on the east coast, for crying out loud!

    You would think that “the Atlantic” would know that.

  6. PJ says:

    Romney and his SuperPAC is outspending Santorum 55-1. No wonder he’s leading.

    Now, is Romney’s SuperPAC going to spend $50+ billion in the general election? 😉

  7. Fiona says:

    I’m kind of hoping that Santorum will hold on to meet with defeat in Pennsylvania. It would be some kind of poetic justice if the state that launched his political career puts the last nail in his coffin.

    I doubt Santorum will run in 2016. I suspect that the reason he’s sticking it out on the vague hope of some kind of miracle is that he knows that, should Obama win re-election, there will actually be a few Republican heavy-hitters running in 2016 and he’d be relegated back to marginal status.

  8. @John D’Geek:

    Yea I am not sure where the author of that piece got the idea that PA is a Midwestern state.

  9. @Fiona:

    If Romney loses to Obama, Santorum would be the front runner for the 2016 nominee.

  10. J-Dub says:

    Ann Romney claims that her husband Mitt is not stiff and is willing to “unzip” him to prove it, leading me to believe that he has nothing better to do than run for President.

  11. Ron Beasley says:

    Since Santorum is so good at just making stuff up maybe he thinks he can make up delegates as well.

  12. Curtis says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    Maybe, but he’d be a very soft front-runner for the nomination. There are a whole lot of people who I would consider still more likely to be the Republican nominee in 2016. I’d put Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, Bobby Jindal, Mike Huckabee, and Paul Ryan in that top tier.

    Republicans have the reputation of selecting the next guy in line, but I tend to think of that as being a fluke of sample size much more than anything else. Frankly, I think Santorum’s shot at the nomination is probably still greater for 2012 than it is for 2016, even assuming Romney would lose if he does get the nomination. I don’t think the culture warrior schtick will age very well. But that could be wishful thinking.

    Anyway, the nomination has been settled for weeks, but at the same time, a win in Wisconsin tonight gives the media the excuse to call the race, which will happen unless we are all surprised tonight.

  13. merl says:

    @Stormy Dragon: when he loses, you mean. and he will try again in 2016

  14. Fiona says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    Normally, it would work that way in the GOP but I just don’t think Santorum is taken all that seriously by the political establishment. Being the last non-Romney standing won’t exactly buy him a lot of credibility, especially if some folks with both conservative and establishment cred decide to enter the 2016 race.

  15. legion says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    If Romney loses to Obama, Santorum would be the front runner for the 2016 nominee.

    Only for a day or two after the election. Actually, he may not even have that long. You remember all the “White Knights” the GOP tried to woo into running in the primaries this year? Because the insiders knew – even last September – that not one member of the crop of loonies competing for this year’s nomination stood a chance against Obama in the General? Not just Christie, but Jeb, Jindal, that guy from Indiana, etc? Every one of those guys, including Donald Freaking Trump, had the sense to either say “no” up front or get the hell out ASAP. And every one of them started thinking about how they’d brand themselves for the 2016 run as soon as they hung up the phone.

    Santorum’s oblivious enough that he probably has no idea what sort of crap pile is going to drop on him as soon as the polls close, but he’s never going to win another election. And if the Inside Players in the GOP have their way, he’ll likely never even run in an election again either.

  16. The reason I think Santorum is the 2016 front runner if Romney goes under is two fold. First is simple historical precedent. Romney came in Second to McCain in 08. McCain came in second to Bush 43 in 00. Dole came in second to Bush 41 in 1988. Bush 41 came in second to Reagan in 80. Reagan came in second for Ford in 76 and Nixon in 72. The only exception in the last 40 years is Buchanan coming in second to Dole in 96, and in that case Buchanan had left the party by 2000.

    The second is that if (when?) Romney loses, the story among the base for the next for years is that the GOP would have won if only they’d had the guts to nominate Santorum. That’s going to give him a lot of momentum going into 2016.

  17. legion says:

    @Stormy Dragon: True, but I think all of those examples you gave were all much stronger candidates than Santorum. In previous years, the strong positions those “also-rans” had gave them a leg up in the next cycle; I don’t see any of the major players in the current run-up (esp. guys like Gingrich or Bachmann) looking at him & saying “I don’t have more support than he does” & staying out next time. That said,

    the story among the base for the next for years is that the GOP would have won if only they’d had the guts to nominate Santorum.

    This is very true, and is the main thing Ricky has to hang his hat on for the next few years…

  18. Racehorse says:

    Soon it will be Rick Santorum, Republican candidate for vice president.

  19. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Doug Mataconis: From the fact that Western Pennsylvania is considered in the ‘Rust Belt?”