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On why Rick Santorum isn’t a 2016 frontrunner

Much has been written in recent days on Rick Santorum and why he isn’t the presumptive frontrunner for the GOP’s presidential nod come 2016.

As the runner-up in last year’s bout for the nomination, rolling up 11 primary wins and defying the odds with a shoestring campaign operation, the former Pennsylvania senator easily meets the criteria for recent-history GOP nominees.

Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Dole, McCain, and Romney had all sought the White House prior to at least winning their party’s nomination. George W. Bush was the son of a president, rendered frontrunner by default.

Nixon had actually been the nominee once before, Reagan came just short of beating incumbent President Gerald Ford, Dole stunned presumptive frontrunner George H.W. Bush in Iowa, McCain stunned Bush 43 in New Hampshire, and Romney emerged with Ron Paul as the only 2008 candidates to seek the presidency again.

Santorum’s success ranks along the same lines.

Yet neither polls nor insiders consider him a frontrunner for the party’s nomination come 2016. He often polls in the middle of the pack, sometimes bottom, and most seem to think that if he runs again he’ll face the same financial disadvantage that mired the last effort.

None of this is new ground, per se, still leaving onlookers to offer thoughts on why this is the case.

On one end of the spectrum, concerns about Santorum’s electoral viability abound, with many convinced he would’ve lost an election against Obama by a greater margin than Romney. Impressive as the 2012 effort was all things considered, erasing the memory of his 18 point defeat in a 2006 re-election bid to the Senate isn’t easily forgotten.

At the same time, I’m inclined to question how many primary voters were actually voting for Santorum as opposed to voting against Mitt Romney.

In some ways, there were two Republican primaries in the last cycle: winning the nomination and being the consensus alternative to the former Massachusetts governor. Seen through such a lens, it’s a lot easier to see why Santorum is no one’s consensus frontrunner if he opts to run again.

Bachmann, Perry, Cain, and Gingrich all surged to the front of the Romney alternatives before Santorum, though he was an announced candidate longer than any of the four.

Part of the explanation behind each of their falls, at least for Perry and Gingrich, is that many primary voters found some of their more mainstream opinions, particularly on immigration, less than desirable.

He was last in line, and it happened to be at the right time.

Of course it’s not that cut and dry, but it does call into question how competitive Santorum, who had to wait on the others to flare out, would be in a 2016 field that is undoubtedly stronger than 2012.

The populist element of his 2012 campaign is something for future hopefuls to learn from, and many of them have already espoused fiscal rhetoric akin to the runner-up’s Iowa effort.

In a field that could plausibly include the names Rubio, Paul, Cruz, Christie, Bush, Jindal, Walker, Perry 2.0, and others, it’s hard to see enough of a Santorum niche to provide a path to the nomination, much less frontrunner status.

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