Analysis

Rick Santorum is 'open' to a 2016 run: Disastrous idea?

The social conservative may not be the best choice to lead the GOP out of the political wilderness

The GOP has a long tradition of embracing, and eventually rewarding, its runners-up in the party's presidential primary. Ronald Reagan bounced back from his 1976 defeat to become the nominee in 1980. George H.W. Bush lost to Reagan, but was tapped as vice president, and eight years later took over the White House. John McCain withdrew from the 2000 primary bitterly railing against his party's "agents of intolerance," but made peace with said agents when he emerged as the GOP's standard-bearer in 2008. Mitt Romney, ruthlessly mocked by McCain and others during the 2008 primary, went on to run against President Obama in 2012. Given this history, Rick Santorum, who won 11 primary contests in 2012, might rightly assume that his turn to ascend to the pinnacle of Republican politics will come in 2016. Indeed, Santorum tells The Weekly Standard's Michael Warren that he is "open" to another run:

“I’m open to it, yeah,” Santorum [said]. “I think there’s a fight right now as to what the soul of the Republican party’s going to be and the conservative movement, and we have something to say about that. I think from our battle, we’re not going to leave the field.” 

Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, was clearly Romney's strongest opponent. But that's not saying much: He was just the last of many unlikely upstarts — including pizza magnate Herman Cain — who surged against Romney in the polls, only to see their candidacies hobbled by Romney's superior ad-buying fire power and the inescapable impression that they were junior varsity players. And Santorum, a rigid social conservative, could be the wrong choice for a party seeking to appeal to younger voters and socially moderate women.

However, says Warren, Santorum, who hails from a blue-collar background, could have gone on to deliver a "populist economic" message that would have resonated more deeply with voters than Romney's. And whether Santorum runs or not in 2016, he clearly intends to be a part of the debate over the direction of the GOP. The last election "should have been a referendum election on what it means to be an American," Santorum says, "what it means for us as a country to head down the road toward European socialism."

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