Santorum’s near-win: timing is everything

Ezra captured my thinking on Rick Santorum’s success pretty much as I was thinking it.  In short, timing was everything:

Before Santorum took the lead in the Tea Party primary, Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul topped the polls. But for various reasons, each of them proved ultimately unacceptable…

That left Santorum and Jon Huntsman. And Huntsman wasn’t competing in Iowa. So it really left Santorum. And it left him at the exact right moment — with enough time for his surge to build momentum, but not so much time that he came under real scrutiny or had to deliver high-stakes debate performances or withstand attacks from Romney’s super-PACs. Santorum might just have been the next not-Romney, but he was the not-Romney at the moment that being the not-Romney actually mattered.  [emphasis mine]

Viewed that way, however, Santorum’s finish doesn’t say much about his ideology, or his campaign skills, or his endorsements. Quite the opposite, in fact. In a race where a large number of anti-Romney voters were desperate to find a candidate, Santorum was unable to attract significant support until the very end, when the anti-Romney vote literally had nowhere else to go. If he had been a better candidate, he would have crested earlier.

I got to admit to being somewhat surprised by the Santorum Surge– he really is a very weak candidate.  But, the logic of the situation certainly seems to have simply worked in his behalf.  The far right needed somebody to vote for and everybody else had been rejected.  I honestly thought Perry would get a harder second look and am somewhat surprised that he didn’t.  Or, maybe I just did not appreciate how badly he played in Iowa.  Either way, Santorum has had his moment. Maybe it will last a little longer, but my guess is that when I teach Campaigns & Elections four years from now, most students will have little if any idea who he is.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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