The Atlantic‘s David A. Graham thinks there are three major ways in which the now-suspended Santorum campaign diminished Mitt Romney’s chances of besting the President:
1. He has pulled Romney to the right on key issues.…
2. He’s cost Romney vital time and money.…
3. He has exacerbated Romney’s weaknesses.
All true. But number one is the only one that really matters — and I’d phrase its impact differently.
Yes, Romney was pulled to the Right by Santorum; but there’s something about that framing that implies Romney, in a Santorum-less world, would not have had to make a similar journey in order to secure enough delegates. Barring a scenario in which Romney runs unopposed (or, just as unlikely, as the rightmost candidate) I see no reason to conclude there was something special about my former Senator. If it wasn’t Santorum, it would’ve been someone else.
Because, really, all Santorum did was stand as a simulacrum of conservatism for the wide swathe of the GOP base that never liked Romney and never believed he wasn’t, deep-down, a damned pragmatist. They never came to terms with the prospect of the Republican standard-bearer not being a “real” conservative — especially not after the ideological vindication they considered 2010 to have been. First, these people liked Michele; then that other Rick; then Herman; then Newt; then Santorum. He was simply the last stop.
Giving him credit for being Romney’s last true opponent is a bit like calling Doug Yule the longest-lasting member of the Velvet Underground.
Point is: no matter what, Romney was going to be “pulled” to the Right because that’s where the GOP is today. And, not incidentally, it happens to be a place that a clear majority of voters would rather not go. So, yes, Santorum hurt Romney. But it’s the GOP itself that’s done the most damage.