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Rick Santorum… Yesterday’s News

Some pundits believe that Rick Santorum can be a player in the 2016 Republican presidential sweepstakes.  This writer is not so sure.  Most of that punditry is based on his performance in 2012, but a little more on that in a bit.

No one doubts Santorum’s sincerity.  He has a compelling life story that voters can relate to.  No one doubts that when it comes to the social issues, Santorum is principled, steadfast, and sincere.  In fact, if a presidential race were completely about social issues, then Santorum would be your man.  But that is not the reality.  Having secured his bona fides in the area of the social issues, he now is travelling the country with a middle class populist message fiscally appealing to, as he describes it, “the blue collars, not the blue bloods.”  He has also attacked East Coast establishment Republican candidates and their attachment to Wall Street. Although clearly conservative, sometimes you’d think you are listening to Elizabeth (Warren) Santorum.

Furthermore, no one realistically believes in his chances in 2016.  He claims that as a badge of honor since America likes an underdog and he certainly enters the race with that status.  Although he was the last man standing behind Romney in 2012, that has to be put into perspective, particularly Iowa.

In 2012, Rick Santorum “surprisingly” surged to the lead in Iowa, or so the story goes.  Left out of that story is the fact that he spent weeks and weeks in that state currying favors and kissing babies.  Mitt Romney, on the other hand, spent little time in Iowa and only toured the state late in the process. The “surge” resulted in a recount that left Santorum with a 34 vote victory in the final tally.  Despite spending so much time and effort in Iowa, he had to hang on for the eventual win.  This is less a surge than it is a cliffhanger.  Yes, he went on to win 10 other primaries or caucuses- three of them non-binding in the important delegate count- but except for Colorado, none of them were outside his comfort zone.  Well, he did win the non-binding Minnesota caucuses, but the key word is “non-binding.”  Thus, his 2012 performance may have given the Santorum brain trust false hopes for 2016.  Add to that the GOP tendency to turn to the second-place guy next time around and one gets the impression his inner circle is misreading the 2016 tea leaves.  Finally, his 2012 Iowa performance was likely more due to the lackluster performance of other equally conservative candidates like Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and Michelle Bachmann.  In effect, Santorum benefited from a two-part dynamic: the fall from grace of the other conservative candidates and voters looking for the anti-Romney.  In the end, it was not a vote for Santorum as much as it was a vote against Mitt Romney.

Santorum’s team this time around largely mirrors his team in 2012 and dates back to his days in the Senate.  There is his chief strategist John Brabender, his chief of staff Mark Rodgers and finance director Nadine Maenza.  As early as January 2014 they had met to consider another run and all have kept in contact with “the boss” as he is called.  One needs to question whether a team that essentially lost in 2012 and some who even were there when he decidedly lost his Senate seat in 2006 can turn things around in 2016 against an even stronger pool of GOP candidates this time.  Perhaps this explains why Santorum has been taking early potshots at those to the left and right of him- Chris Christie and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) 100%.  In terms of either popularity or “electability” in the party, both far outpace Santorum.

His main vehicle for staying afloat is his political action committee- Patriot Voices.  According to Opensecrets.org, they claimed $904,000 in receipts in the 2012 election cycle which doubled to $1.8 million in the 2014 cycle.  More importantly is how that money fared electorally and the win percentage is not that great having backed only 5 eventual winners out of 17 contests where they were involved.  Brabender notes that there are plans to have 400 grassroots Patriot Voices chapters around the country while Santorum claims the organization is 150,000 strong and growing.

However, it must be noted that in 2012 his entire primary effort was kept afloat largely by one person- Foster Friess- who donated $2.1 million to the cause.  He has signaled that he would do the same and possibly more in 2016 and has issued a $1 million grant challenge to like-minded would-be donors.  Even still, it is estimated that it would take at least $50 million to make it through the primaries and his fundraising, under the best of circumstances, falls short.

Taken altogether, one has to question Santorum’s motivation for another run other than a false sense of being “the next in line” and the belief that by adjusting his message to a more populist tone this time will be different.  He claims that “he gets it” now when in reality, he doesn’t.

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