Rick the righteous Republican

Last week I made the classic error of ruling Rick Santorum out of the race for the Republican nomination for President. The very night I wrote that piece he went and won not just the Colorado and Minnesota caucuses but also the Missouri primary…making me look like a bit of an idiot and giving everyone a good reason to bang on about Rick Santorum being the dark horse conservative who could jump ahead of Mitt Romney on the road to (probably) losing to Barack Obama.

Since these wins, which coupled with Santorum’s earlier Iowa caucus win at the beginning of this mammoth contest made him look rather more of a potential threat to ‘moderate Mitt’, I’ve been asked a couple of questions about Santorum. The first question has generally tended to be along the lines of “Who the hell is Rick Santorum?” and the second has been of the “So is Rick Santorum going to win?” variety. Well, with this week’s column I’m going to answer both of these questions to my best ability. This is partly because Rick Santorum is a bit of an unknown in comparison to the other runners in the race and partly because the last week has been a bit boring, with only the near defeat of Mitt Romney in the Maine caucus at the elderly hands of Ron Paul to waken GOP-watchers from their slumbers.

Rick Santorum is 53, and full of surprises ©Creative Commons; Image credit: Gage Skidmore

So, just who is Rick Santorum? Well the short answer, that just about anyone could conjure up from a cursory glance at his Wikipedia page, is that he is a fifty-three (and looking pretty good for it to it has to be said) former Senator and Congressman from the state of Pennsylvania whom, in 2011, announced his intention to seek the Republican Party nomination for Presidency of the United States in 2012. He also has eight children (yes, eight, because he is a strict Roman Catholic).

Under the surface however Santorum is a more intriguing, and somewhat elusive, figure. His career in Congress was largely uneventful. He has often been cited as ambitious but was prevented from launching a campaign to become Senate Republican Whip after losing in the 2006 Senatorial election to Democratic candidate Bob Casey, Jnr. Oh, and that defeat was the worst defeat for an incumbent Senator since 1980 and the worst for an incumbent Republican ever. Yet, just half a decade after leaving office, Santorum is being touted by some as the most likely candidate to wrestle the Republican nomination away from the front-runner Mitt Romney.

Interestingly, after leaving office, Santorum kept fairly quiet on future political plans. He did not run, despite being widely tipped, for the position of Pennsylvania governor in 2010 and, aside from writing for The Philadelphia Inquirer and occasionally contributing to Fox News, he was almost in the political wilderness aside from some largely ignored speeches; speeches that hinted at his interest in running for the nomination as he has done this year.

Politically, Santorum appears driven by his religious beliefs and his family. No stranger to personal tragedy, in 1996 his son Gabriel was born prematurely and died two hours after birth, Santorum has made a name for himself in this campaign on the back of his strong social conservatism and folksy, familial tone. He also has a strong anti-radical Islam rhetoric and, out of all the candidates, has probably spoken the least about the economy. It would be easy to go into great depth on Santorum’s sometimes controversial political positions but, for the purposes of brevity it is best to sum up as saying that Santorum is, in many ways a poster boy for traditional conservatism in the United States.

However, that does not translate into giving him a reasonable chance of victory in this race. Last week I effectively dismissed Santorum and he has been dismissed many times by many commentators. His wins last week were largely immaterial aside from giving him increased press coverage, momentum and increasing donations to his candidacy. None of the contests he was victorious in were binding results, meaning that he has still not definitively won any more delegates towards the amount needed to win the nomination. Furthermore he will surely find the going more difficult the longer the campaign continues. He does not have the spending power of Mitt Romney or, most probably, Newt Gingrich. He faces a front-runner who seems to be getting more and more conservative by the day. Most important of all, he has practically no chance of defeating Barack Obama in November. Republicans will realise this soon, if they do not already, and that, more than anything, is what is likely to leave Rick lagging well behind.

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