What’s Next For Rick Santorum, And The Republican Party?

We may have Rick Santorum to deal with in 2016.

It’s been barely twenty-four hours since he suspended his campaign, but people are already starting to speculate about where Rick Santorum goes from here:

The curtain had barely fallen on his 2012 presidential campaign before Rick Santorum asked his top supporters: what’s next?

With his insurgent White House bid, Santorum cut himself a path back to national prominence. Starting on the night of the Iowa caucuses and proceeding through a series of conservative Southern and Midwestern primary contests, Santorum gradually regained much of the standing he lost when the voters of Pennsylvania ran him out of office six years ago.

It’s very much an open question where Santorum’s political aspirations will lead. But on a Tuesday afternoon conference call, Santorum was already asking some of his strongest backers for advice on where he should next set his sights.

“He conveyed his genuine sense of calling to public service — and public service means more than just elective office,” said Colin Hanna, the Pennsylvania conservative activist who heads the group Let Freedom Ring. “He solicited suggestions from his supporters on how he could and should continue to give voice to the themes that touched so many, so positively, during his campaign.”

In terms of running for elective office, the options for Santorum are really somewhat limited to being Mitt Romney’s running make, running for President again in 2016 if Romney loses this year, or running for statewide office in Pennsylvania again. The running mate option seems to me to be the least likely thing that will happen. Some will argue that  Santorum would be the perfect candidate for Romney to pick to make peace with the conservative base of the GOP and the Tea Party. Perhaps that’s true, although Santorum’s Tea Party credentials are questionable at best given his long record in Washington. More important for Romney, though is the fact that Santorum seems to be a huge turnoff for independent voters, which would be crucial to any Romney plan for victory. That leaves running in 2016, or running in Pennsylvania.

As Nate Silver points out, though, he faces obstacles in both of those areas that may make it difficult for him to capitalize on his 2012 success:

It is questionable, however, whether Mr. Santorum can expect the competition in 2016 or 2020 to be as soft as it was this year, with big names like Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and perhaps others looming on the horizon, and as the Republicans who were elected to office in the 2010 wave begin to mature as politicians. Whomever Mr. Romney selects as his vice presidential candidate will also have a good shot at future Republican nominations. Finishing second in a strong field of candidates, as John McCain did in the Republican race of 2000, may be an indication of future success, but it is less of a credential when the competition is middling and some of Mr. Santorum’s support came by virtue of being an “anti-Romney” candidate.

Mr. Santorum could also look to statewide office in Pennsylvania, but that might require a reasonably long wait. The incumbent governor there, Tom Corbett, is a Republican and is eligible for another term in 2014, so Mr. Santorum would either need to mount a primary challenge or hope that Mr. Corbett retires.

Of Pennsylvania’s two incumbent senators, one is a Democrat, Bob Casey, who resoundingly defeated Mr. Santorum in 2006 and who remains fairly popular. Because Mr. Casey is on the ballot again this year and it is too late for Mr. Santorum to challenge him, he would need to wait until 2018 for a rematch. Pennsylvania’s other incumbent senator, Pat Toomey, will be up for election in 2016. But Mr. Toomey is a Republican who is relatively young and who is too conservative to be vulnerable to a primary challenge.

Since the Santorum’s live in Virginia now, one supposes that he could try to build a political career in the Old Dominion. We’ve seen other out of staters come in here and make a mark. George Allen and Jim Webb come to mind most immediately, although Allen had ties to Virginia prior to moving back to the state to go to law school and run for office. At the same time, though, I doubt that Santorum’s brand of social conservatism would sell very well on a the statewide level in Virginia.

That leaves Presidential politics.

If Romney does lose in November, then the future course for the Republican Party seems fairly certain.I’ve written about it here at OTB several times already (see here  and here). Conservatives will argue that, once again, the Republican Party lost because it nominated the moderate instead of the conservative candidate, and because it didn’t “take the fight” to President Obama, whatever that means. In reality, that will be untrue but it really won’t matter. The GOP Establishment will cower in the corner and the right will go on the war path. By 2016, the odds of a moderate candidate being about to pass muster with the base of the party will be somewhere between slim and none, and Rick Santorum will be one of the people best able to take advantage of all of this. That’s why I argued earlier this year that maybe the GOP would have been better off nominating Santorum and letting the conservatives have their candidate for once. He’d lose spectacularly in November and then, just maybe, the GOP would become just a little more like Jon Huntsman and a lot less like Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann. That won’t happen this year, but it could happen in 2016 if Romney loses, and Santorum may end up being the guy who leads his troops into a battle that they cannot win.

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. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Good blog.

    VA governor is one other potential option. It’s risky, however. If Santorum runs to replace McDonnell but then loses that non-incumbent contest his political career pretty much will be over and done.

    I think he’ll run again for Prez in 2016. In 2016, however, there won’t be a Mormon frontrunner against whom the evangelical right can vote in lock step. It’s also difficult to imagine the GOP field in 2016 being weaker overall than this year’s field. There are a whole slew of governors and one former big state governor — Jeb Bush, McDonnell, Christie, Jindal, Kasich, Daniels, Sandoval, etc. — who are potential 2016 candidates. Romney’s Veep will in any event be a major player, assuming he’s not already listed above. These folks won’t all decline to run.

    Granted, the standard procedure is for the “dues-paying” candidate in the prior contest to become the nominee in the next contest. The difference, however, is that Santorum this time around didn’t really have any true support. In large part, as alluded to above, the people voting for Santorum were evangelicals voting against Romney, the Mormon.

    In the end I believe Santorum will be the GOP’s version of Howard Dean. He ran for president. He made a lot of noise. He received a lot of media coverage. He received a lot of coverage on the Internet. Then only to disappear and quickly to be forgotten.

  2. Hoyticus says:

    How would one even start to strategize about reforming the GOP? Where would you personally start Doug? I mean this as a serious question, I’m not trying to needlessly bash the GOP.

  3. PJ says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    In the end I believe Santorum will be the GOP’s version of Howard Dean. He ran for president. He made a lot of noise. He received a lot of media coverage. He received a lot of coverage on the Internet. Then only to disappear and quickly to be forgotten.

    Howard Dean was the chairman of the DNC for four years, he created the 50 State Strategy that made it possible for the Democrats to retake the House in 2006.

    Santorum will never be the GOP’s version of Howard Dean.

  4. J-Dub says:

    I can’t decide if I want him to go on to be a leading force in the GOP or get caught with a bag of meth and a gay prostitute. Either one would amuse me to no end (and neither would surprise me).

  5. David M says:

    I think the weakness of the 2012 field on the GOP side means he won’t have much of a chance in 2016. Any be weakness, I mean the following:

    Ron Paul: won’t break 15% nationally. ever.
    Cain: talk show host
    Perry: can we change the debates to the Miss America format?
    Gingrich: baggage. way, way too much baggage
    Santorum: can’t even get on all the primary ballots. (and that google problem too)

    So it’s not really a surprise the other candidate that actually takes getting on the ballot seriously and has a massive fundraising edge ended up winning. It doesn’t mean the others will be viable options in 2016 though.

  6. Speaking as a liberal and a Democrat, so therefore not completely grokking the internal dynamics of the Republican party — why should he be a front runner in 2016 if Romney gets beat in 2012?

    He’ll be a two time loser and facing significantly better competition in 2016 as there should be more than one quasi-plausible and quasi-competent campaign and candidate in the field as well as other single note culture warriors. Santorum’s run this year was quasi-flukish in that any of the other 3rd tier competitors of which he was one, had even less infrastructure and attractiveness to significant segments of the GOP base (I’m excluding Paul here on the “significant” qualifier) while in most normal years, there would have been a clear second rank of plausible nominees running behind the first tier. Instead this year had a very weak first tier of one, a possible second tier in Perry until the painkillers killed him, and the peanut gallery.

  7. Maybe he should become a Catholic school teacher and leave the rest of us alone.

  8. John D'Geek says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Romney’s Veep will in any event be a major player, assuming he’s not already listed above.

    (emphasis mine). Major assumption there. No, it won’t be Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachman; but there are other alternatives.

  9. Blue Shark says:

    Whats Next?

    …Ignominious Defeat!

  10. Tsar Nicholas says:

    @PJ: A fair point. Touche. Then again, Santorum was one of the leading lights of the 1994 GOP takeover of Congress and that majority lasted over a decade, in the House, and for the better part of a decade, in the Senate. I’ll call it a tie.

    @John D’Geek: True, although with Gov. Haley facing an ethics investigation (and possible ethics charges) that apparently would rule out that particular alternative. Mary Fallin would be an option. Susana Martinez (although she really would have a legitimate excuse to decline). Any others? I’m drawing a blank.

  11. Fiona says:

    I was assuming he’d get a gig on Fox News like all the other Republican presidential also-rans. But perhaps he’s a little too far out there even for them.

    Now that I live in PA, I’d prefer he not be inflicted on me in any kind of statewide election.

  12. anjin-san says:

    In the end I believe Santorum will be the GOP’s version of Howard Dean.

    You mean the Howard Dean who utterly crushed the GOP during his tenure at DNC?

  13. gVOR08 says:

    The question is really what happens to the GOP if Romney loses. Your take, Doug, is that the Tea Party takes over and Republicans go full wingnut for ’16. I don’t agree. You feel the GOP establishment will “cower in the corner”. They’ll still have all the money, so no, I don’t think so.

    The obvious options seem to be:
    1. The TP takes over the GOP, as Doug expects.
    2. The GOP splits into TP and Establishment parties.
    3. The Establishment jump or are pushed into the Democratic Party, where, having all the money, they’ll take over.
    4. The Establishment reasserts control, giving the TP enough lip service and crumbs to keep them grumbling, but on board.

    In the event of 1, 2, or 3; Santorum has a shot at being the nominee of the GOP in ‘16, or some remnant of the GOP. However, 4 seems far more likely, in which case Richard Cardinal Santorum has no chance.

  14. Tsar Nicholas says:

    @anjin-san: Well, let’s not go too far in crediting the DNC Chair with 2006 and 2008. Otherwise, to be consistent, you’d have to say that Michael Steele crushed the Democrats in 2010.

    @John D’Geek: I’m out of my partial coma and now I think I have a list of all the prospective female candidates for Romney’s veep:

    Gov. Haley – bad timing.
    Gov. Fallin – viable, but Oklahoma is not at issue.
    Gov. Martinez – viable, but she has a legitimate reason to say no.
    Gov. Brewer – nah.
    Sen. Hutchison – meh. If she hailed from Florida, Ohio, Virginia or North Carolina it would be a different story.
    Sen. Ayotte – nah.
    Sen. Collins – nah.
    Rep. Capito – meh.
    Rep. Miller (MI) – viable, but a statewide office holder somewhere else would be far better.

  15. JohnMcC says:

    Why does anyone doubt that Mr Santorum will resume his lobbying career and charge much higher fees?

  16. An Interested Party says:

    Maybe he should become a Catholic school teacher and leave the rest of us alone.

    Surely you would feel some pity for those students…

  17. superdestroyer says:

    The idea that there will be a Republican Party past 2016 is laughable. The most likely scenario is Romney loses by a bigger margin than McCain. Then the Republicans decide to nominate Jeb Bush (sticking their hand into the fire for the third time). Then Jeb Bush loses in 2016 by a bigger margin than Romney lost in 2012. At that time all of the conservative money people finally figure out that they are better off trying to affect the Democratic primaries instead of funding totally irrelevant Republicans.

    If Jon Huntsman is ever the face of the Republican Party, then Huntsman job will be to close down the Republican Party and leading the country club Republicans into the Democratic Party.

  18. Brummagem Joe says:

    @gVOR08:

    The obvious options seem to be:

    I think you may have left out the most likely. A prolonged period of low level internecine warfare between the hard right and the establishment as they battle for the future direction of the GOP. You’ve already seen a trailer in the Republican house caucus where the leadership have clearly lost control but the dissidents haven’t been able to take over completely. Basically the hard right is pretty much in control of the party organisationally and in terms of their elected caucuses at the federal and state level. Who do you think are the authors of all these crazy bills at the state level? However, the establishment has the money or access to it. If this happens it’s just going to delay the electoral catharsis that is going to cause the GOP to tack back to the center. As a sidebar to this Doug apparently wishes the GOP to return to center but he himself expresses economic opinions that are way out of the mainstream.

  19. Scott F. says:

    @anjin-san:

    I contend that the Howard Dean experience represents one of the greatest failings of our beauty contest approach to elections. So much lost to a single scream. He would have made a fine, progressive President.