Views: Santorum is out, but party is fractured

April 26, 2012 | 11 a.m.

If Rick Santorum supports Mitt Romney, he could help unify the Republican party

Views | Jessica Benham

Santorum is out, but party is fractured

Rick Santorum officially is out of the race, with Mitt Romney moving forward as the Republican presidential nominee. | MCT

Rick Santorum has officially suspended his presidential campaign, virtually assuring that Mitt Romney will become the Republican nominee. In the minds of many people, Santorum’s impossible dream had merely delayed the inevitable; more surprising was the ability of his campaign to bring issues to the forefront of Republican dialogue. Santorum’s potential to bring unity to the Republican Party if he chooses to endorse Romney could be key in the campaign against President Obama.

Santorum did not give an explicit reason for his campaign suspension, but he hinted at his daughter’s poor health. It would have been perhaps more accurate for him to reference Romney’s advantage in the battle for delegates, the negative campaigning by Romney’s Super PAC and his own fundraising difficulties.

Santorum’s decision to withdraw from the campaign comes before the primary in Pennsylvania, his home state. Formerly expected to perform well, recent polls showed that he could have potentially lost the state to Romney. Since such a loss would threaten any future political goals of Santorum, this most likely factored into his decision as well.

Santorum had not been expected to contribute to the race for the Republican nomination. He was not a well-known political figure, since he lost his last race for Senate in 2006 and was thus out of office for the past several years. As a result, he was virtually ignored by the media in the initial stages of the campaign.

His surprising success in Iowa in January catapulted him to national recognition, while later successes in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri were key in helping him maintain his appeal. While this did not, ultimately, earn him the nomination, it did give him the ability to introduce issues that are important to his deeply conservative supporters.

Santorum’s focus on economic and social concerns appealed to evangelical voters as well as those who desire to bring the party back to its conservative roots. Romney, in his written statement following the announcement of Santorum’s campaign suspension, drew attention to the importance of Santorum’s voice within the party. These same conservative values, however, had brought Santorum under fire from the party’s more moderate members, especially his stance on contraception.

The length of the campaign for the Republican nomination drew attention to clear divisions within the party. Mainstream Republicans have largely supported Romney, while Libertarians have coalesced around Ron Paul. Evangelicals and the tea partiers have hailed Santorum as the true conservative. Newt Gingrich, gaining little support from elsewhere in the party, seems unlikely to support any candidate other than himself. The suspension of Santorum’s campaign leaves room for a restoration of unity, but as of yet, his lack of endorsement of Romney allows campaign wounds to remain fresh.

Romney still needs to accumulate the rest of the 1,144 delegates before he is assured the nomination. With Santorum out of the picture, this task is much easier.

However, Republican leaders have not expressed unconditional support for the Romney campaign, which means that Santorum could have a valuable role to play in creating a sense of unity around the Romney candidacy. His endorsement of Romney could encourage evangelical and tea party Republicans to support the candidate in the race for the White House.

Some have gone so far as to suggest that Romney choose Santorum as his running mate. While improbable considering the two candidates’ differences on social issues, it is not entirely impossible, especially as this would cater to the party’s more conservative members. For Santorum, selection as vice president would be the most he could hope for as a result of his impossible dream campaign. Regardless, he still has an important role to play in creating party unity and drawing attention to issues close to the hearts of conservatives. 

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