A Word of Caution on Santorum
Quin is effusive below about Rick Santorum’s win last night in Iowa (yes, technically he lost by by eight votes, but that’s a win given the context). There’s good reason to celebrate. Santorum’s late surge in Iowa was truly remarkable and his speech last night was probably the best given by any candidate in the last year. This is Santorum operating at the peak of his powers. Unfortunately for him, the peak of his powers won’t be enough to carry him to the nomination. Here’s why:
– Iowa is a unique electoral atmosphere and one that is particularly well-suited to a candidate like Santorum. It has a surplus of social conservatives (particularly evangelicals) for whom Santorum’s emphasis on faith and family was dispositive — as it was for Mike Huckabee in 2008. The demographic makeup of the next few key primary states won’t be nearly as kind to him.
– Santorum’s timing in Iowa was impeccable. He surged in the closing days of the race, when there were no debates left and when media coverage (and, more importantly, media consumption) was at something of a standstill because of the holidays. Thus, Santorum has undergone far less vetting than anyone else in the race. When that process begins — which was probably about twelve hours ago — it will expose some of his intrinsic difficulties, such as his history with the K Street Project and his long history of big government conservatism.
– Santorum was able to campaign in Iowa like he was running for governor, visiting all 99 counties and hosting nearly 400 town halls over the course of the last year. He did it on a shoestring budget, too, traveling in a pickup truck with one staffer and shopping at Target. While one of Iowa’s great virtues is that it allows for exactly this kind of retail politicking, that window has now closed. Santorum did a year’s worth of work in Iowa. He’ll only have a week or two for each of the upcoming races.
No doubt, Santorum will be a far bigger figure than many pundits (myself included) imagined in coming weeks. His Iowa win, however, has all the hallmarks of an anomaly rather than the beginning of a trend. And that fact — combined with the inability of conservatives to rally around any one candidate — will have Mitt Romney smiling all the way to the GOP Convention in Tampa.