Santorum 2016?

Would Rick Santorum be the frontrunner for the 2016 GOP nomination? Not necessarily.

The delegate math makes it next-to-impossible for Rick Santorum to win the Republican nomination this year, but Alex Pareene thinks he’d be the frontrunner in 2016 should Mitt Romney end up losing in November:

The real scary news: Now Rick Santorum is the 2016 GOP nomination front-runner. (It’s probably safe to say that the party will explore nomination rule changes between now and 2016.)

David Weigel agrees and explains why it’s likely to be true:

It’s true because the runner-up of the last Republican primary always starts off with an advantage. McCain 2008. Dole 1996. Bush 1988. Reagan 1976. Romney looked like the candidate most likely to break the trend, but no longer. It’s also true because of what would happen if Romney won the nomination and lost. A Romney defeat would come after countless evangelical leaders endorsed a credible candidate and watched him lose to someone the “elites” called electable. Again. It would be the second time they’d been blown off by the party, nominated a moderate, and gone down to defeat. No matter how and why Romney actually lost, the storyline — as it was in 2008 — would be that the party lost its way, and needed to nominate a real conservative next time. In 2009 and 2010, the main proponent of the argument was the less-than-totally-focused Sarah Palin. In 2013, wouldn’t it be Santorum?

In one sense, Weigel is correct in his assessment of how the GOP, and especially social conservatives and the GOP base are likely to react if the Mitt Romney is nominated and loses in November. Of course, whoever the nominee is there’s likely to be a civil war of sorts inside the GOP following a November loss anyway. However, it’s fairly obvious that a Romney loss would be seen by conservatives as further confirmation of their hypotheses that the GOP loses when it nominates moderates, and that the election would have turned out completely differently if the party had only nominated the “conservative” candidate. Ironically, in 20o8 that candidate was supposedly Mitt Romney. Now, despite the fact that his record in Congress and the Senate reveals him to be anything but the limited-government conservative that he now claims to be, it seems that Rick Santorum has been anointed with that title.

That’s one reason why I’ve suggested — here and here — that the GOP should just go ahead, call the conservatives bluff, and give them what they want by nominating Rick Santorum this year. It would give them a chance to prove their hypothesis that nominating a hard right conservative is the only way the GOP can win national elections. More importantly, when he loses (and lose he would) it would force them to explain why they were so very wrong. For those yearning for a return of sanity to the Republican Party, and an de-emphasis on divisive social issues, it would be an opportunity to take control of the ship and steer it away from the iceberg. It might work, it might not, but i would be worth a shot.

That’s unlikely to happen at this point, though. The delegate math makes a Santorum victory unlikely, and day after day reveals more evidence that Santorum’s campaign is not prepared to go the distance despite the candidate’s popularity. So, the GOP is going to roll its dice with Romney and risk what might happen if he loses in November.

That said, I’m not quite sure that Santorum  is as much of an inevitable frontrunner in 2016 as Pareene and Weigel seem to think. First of all, there’s the question of whether he’d even decide to run again. Four years is a long time in politics and in life and, much like Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum may wake up in 2015 and decide there are better things to do in life than run For President. Second, the potential GOP bench in 2016 is far more formidable than anything Santorum faced this time around. From current and former Governors to Senators, there are several potential members of the 2016 field that have a far better resume, and far deeper ties to the evangelicals that have been his life blood this time around. Third, the one flaw in putting Santorum in the “next in line” category as Weigel does is that, unlike Romney and other “next in line” candidates, it’s highly unlikely that the former Pennsylvania Senator’s 2016 bid would get the backing of many major GOP donors. Their money is likely to go to other potential candidates like Chris Christie or Jeb Bush. Finally, as this election cycle is showing us, the advantages of being the “next in line” may not be what they used to be for Republican candidates. Thanks to the impact on traditional campaigning by new technologies and new players like the SuperPACs, it is likely going to take Mitt Romney longer to wrap up the nomination than any Republican candidate since Gerald Ford in 1976. That’s a pretty crappy deal for the so-called heir apparent.

Rick Santorum is likely to be a major force were he to decide to run in 2016, but I think whatever advantages he has will be far less than Pareene and Weigel are anticipating. More importantly, though, if it turns out that Romney wins, then this is likely Santorum’s one and only shot at the Presidency. Not that I’d miss him.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Campaign 2016, 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. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Tillman says:

    Daniel Larison makes a case against.
    If Romney loses the general election, the desperation to win the next presidential election will be so great that there will be no enthusiasm for risking another election on someone as provocative as Santorum.

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    How about Santorum for 1616?

  3. Bennett says:

    If Santorum was nominated and lost, it would not push the GOP towards the center. They would claim that he wasn’t actually conservative. Go read the comments on places like HotAir and Redstate, half the folks there call him a statist and a big government RINO. It’s quite incredible really. Remember the old adage, Conservatism can’t fail, it can only be failed.

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    @ Doug

    More importantly, when he loses (and lose he would) it would force them to explain why they were so very wrong.

    They weren’t wrong of course it was the evil liberal media and voter fraud – I can hear it already.

  5. That said, I’m not quite sure that Pareene is as much of an inevitable frontrunner in 2016 as Pareene and Weigel seem to think.

    Another late night?

  6. typo: “That said, I’m not quite sure that Pareene is as much of an inevitable frontrunner in 2016 as Pareene and Weigel seem to think.”

  7. Bennett says:

    @Ron Beasley: I’m trying to think of some sort of carte blanche fallback position the Democrats have when a candidate loses. The GOP has the MSM (LSM if you want extra Hannity points) or coastal bias, or elitist RINO’ing or dead black people in Chicago voting, to blame things like Palin, O’Donnel, etc on. The left doesn’t really have such things to defer to. Maybe we need some, it seems to work wonders with deflecting self-criticism.

  8. @Eric Williams:

    I don’t know Pareene but he’d be a better candidate than Santorum most likely. Also, fixed. 🙂

  9. PD Shaw says:

    I think its fair to describe Romney as the next in line candidate, but its also true that Huckabee had more delegates, run up in places with a more rural demographic. Does Santorum outpeform or underperform Huckabee?

  10. Nikki says:

    Yea! A Democrat will be president in 2016! 12 more years!

  11. Jay Dubbs says:

    Short answer: No!

    Longer answer: Hell No!

  12. Hey Norm says:

    Meanwhile Obama hits 49.4% in the right-leaning RCP Poll of Polls.
    Maybe some quality GOP candidates will run in 2016?

  13. DRS says:

    Maybe Romney will run again in 2016 – for the Democratic nomination. He’s not getting any credit for his perpetual sucking up to the Right, why not revert to the stands that actually got him elected (once) and try again with a more sympathetic crowd?

  14. Fiona says:

    I’m not so sure Santorum would be the frontrunner. His position as last not-Romney standing (except Ron Paul) is what’s provided him with momentum in this race, given that large swaths of the Republican base would rather not vote for Romney until the absolutely have to.

    Also, as Doug noted, 2016 is likely to bring out Republican heavy hitters, people who might actually generate some enthusiasm among the base as opposed to the series of clowns we’ve seen this year. Santorum will likely be a memory by then unless he gets himself a post on Fox News.

  15. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Agreed that Santorum won’t be the front runner for 2016, but I’d phrase the reasons therefor a bit differently. Virtually nobody out there in GOP Primary Land is voting for Santorum. They’re voting against Romney. Santorum’s erstwhile support consists of Bible bots who quite simply are voting against the Mormon. That’s pretty much about it. You can’t be the heir apparent if you’re the not-somebody candidate. McCain, Dole, Bush, Reagan, etc., all had large blocs of people who supported them and their viewpoints and track records. Not the case for Santorum.

  16. anjin-san says:

    Rick Santorum is likely to be a major force were he to decide to run in 2016

    You would think that statement alone would be enough to make any rational person leave the GOP at warp speed…

  17. FeartheSame says:

    By far the most laughable comment is that Dems have no excuses when they lose. They’re excuse is almost always that the Republicans had a superior messaging and the Dems didn’t get their message out properly. I love how you can you can guarantee that Santorum would lose. People were on record as saying that Reagan would lose too. Saying that Santorum has no supporters is a little ridiculous. If it were a matter of “voting against the Mormon”, Michele Bachman or Rick Perry. The fact that Santoum has succeeded where better funded candidaes faltered shows there is more to his candidacy than Tsar Nicholas decidedly shalllow analysis.

    My greatest feat is not that Mitt Romney will lose. It’s that he will win and be a scapegoat for all the damage Obama has done the economy. I think it is a given that whichever party wins the white House in 2012 willl get creamed in the 2014 midterms. People say if Obama wins in 2012, it’s over. But it would be much worse for the GOP and conservatism, if Romney turns out to be another Herbert Hoover.

  18. J-Dub says:

    @FeartheSame: In what world can Santorum win with virtually no support from women, blacks, Hispanics, non-Christians, the educated “elite”. Who else am I missing?

  19. An Interested Party says:

    I love how you can you can guarantee that Santorum would lose. People were on record as saying that Reagan would lose too.

    This is a rather silly tired trope that is usually wheeled out whenever GOP Candidate X looks like a real loser…Reagan was Reagan, with his own set of unique circumstances in 1980…

    The fact that Santoum has succeeded where better funded candidaes faltered shows there is more to his candidacy than Tsar Nicholas decidedly shalllow analysis.

    To be fair, most of the “analysis” from Tsar Nicholas is shallow…

    It’s that he will win and be a scapegoat for all the damage Obama has done the economy.

    Oh, like the way the President has been scapegoated with so much of the mess left by Bush? Or how some tried to scapegoat Clinton for 9/11? Funny how that works…

  20. superdestroyer says:

    Who cares? Will the media even bother to cover the Republican primaries in 2016 when there will be a open Democratic primary whose winner will almost certainly be the next president.

    Soon the Republican Party will be so irrelevant that how ever runs for office and who ever the party nominate will be pointless to discuss.

    If everyone want to create a list of who could be president in January 2017, just make a list of all of the current Democratic Senator and governors and then eliminate those who have not attended any Ivy League for either undergraduate or graduate school.

  21. Franklin says:

    First off, anything can happen. Not a single person predicted Santorum would still be standing at this point, I certainly didn’t.

    Likewise, the economy might go anywhere; not even 2012 is safe for Obama. At this point in 1992, everybody laughed off William Clinton’s chances. To be making predictions about 2016 and not even knowing the candidates from the other side is well beyond hubris.

    Finally, I also wish the Republicans would nominate Santorum. Only then would Huntsman, my preferred candidate, be a conceivable frontrunner in 2016.