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A Rationale for Santorum Staying in the Race

Rick Santorum has three good reasons to continue his candidacy for the Republican nomination, and they were standing on the stage beside him Monday night.  Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul are all deeply flawed candidates who have their loyal defenders, but who also have a large segment of the Republican electorate that are equally opposed to their nomination.  Establishment Republicans fear Newt, and Conservative Republicans mistrust Mitt.  Only the far-right Libertarians support Ron Paul.  All this provides several opportunities for Santorum that continue to give him a path to the nomination, if he just hangs in there and refuses to buckle to the pressure from conservatives to end his campaign in favor of Gingrich.

One possibility is that Mitt Romney will collapse and eventually withdraw in the face of humiliating defeats to his arch-rival Gingrich.  We’ve seen this before in 2008, when Romney withdrew after losing badly in South Carolina.  Romney is already showing signs of going wobbly, and may not be able to recover.  Unable to field an alternative candidate, Establishment Republicans would be left with the unpleasant and (they think) disastrous prospect of a Gingrich nomination, which they believe will lead to certain defeat in November with possible consequences for the House and Senate.  In such a scenario, the Establishment could very well rally behind Santorum, after all he really is “one of them”, giving him the cash and resources need to take on Gingrich head-to-head.

Another possibility is that the second Gingrich bubble will burst with Gingrich himself sticking the pin in it.  Santorum worked with Gingrich in Congress and has already laid out in debates his first hand knowledge of Gingrich’s “unrealiability”.  Meanwhile, Romney is using his millions to take on Gingrich directly in an assault designed to take him down.  This worked effectively in Iowa, but the beneficiary was Santorum, not Romney.  A Gingrich implosion would surely send Conservative Republicans to the only safe harbor left–Santorum.

But a third possibility is a brokered convention, and here Ron Paul is Santorum’s greatest ally.  Paul will not be the nominee and he knows that.  Instead, Paul’s strategy is to use his money and resources competing in caucus states and primary states with proportional distribution in an effort to accumulate as many delegates to the convention as possible.  Paul himself probably cannot produce a brokered convention.  But if Santorum adopts the same strategy, the two may be able to collect enough delegates to prevent either Romney or Gingrich from reaching the magic number of 1144.  In such a scenario, you can be assured that neither Romney, nor Gingrich, and certainly not Ron Paul will be the nominee.  While some will want to rally to a candidate who has not been through the primary process, Santorum will be left standing as the only candidate who has been thoroughly vetted and survived the rigors of the campaign.  The Evangelical Republicans who provide Santorum with his core of supporters may ultimately win the day in such a convention.

As Yogi Berra famously said, “It ain’t over, till it’s over.  Or as Santorum himself has said, “How do we change the dynamic?   Wait a couple of days, the dynamic in this race is going to change,”

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