Talk has turned to Rick Santorum’s exodus. Over at The Atlantic, Molly Ball writes that GOP insiders and Mitt Romney backers are “encouraging [Rick Santorum] to be the better guy and they’ll help him do whatever he wants to do.” And RCP’s Scott Conroy wonders if Santorum might be putting his future at risk.
Clearly, there is an effort to encourage Rick Santorum to do the right thing. The problem for Mitt Romney is that — as it was once (wrongly) observed about Winston Churchill — Santorum seems to be “a man with a brilliant future behind him.” This makes him harder to intimidate.
To be sure, at just 53, Santorum is still relatively young. This means that there is plenty of time for Republican insiders to punish him. And there are certainly ways to reward him for acquiescing. But if Santorum’s goal is to actually become president, it seems Romney’s supporters have more sticks than carrots. They can’t promise to help him become president.
For Rick Santorum, there is likely no “next time.” Should the GOP nominee lose in 2012, Santorum would face a strong 2016 field, possibly including the likes of Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, and Bobby Jindal – just to name a few. Santorum would not fare well in that environment.
If his goal is to make it to the White House, his best bet might just be to hold out until the convention, and try to negotiate to become Romney’s running mate (this may sound laughable to some, but it’s not uncommon for bitter foes to team up “for the good of the party”.) Given his druthers, Romney would obviously prefer a different running mate, which is precisely why Santorum’s odds increase by staying in the race and forcing the situation.
This is not to say Santorum’s hardball strategy is likely to succeed. But he is probably more likely to make it to the White House by playing tough than by playing nice and waiting his turn. In 1976, Ronald Reagan challenged a sitting president from his own party. He took it all the way to the convention. Reagan was not doomed for this apostasy, but instead, became the nominee in 1980.
The voters might just reward this sort of moxie. Churchill famously observed that “nations that go down fighting, rise up again; those that surrender tamely are finished.” Sometimes, I think the same is true of candidates.