SALT LAKE CITY, January 4, 2012 — Somebody had to come in second place. Whether it was Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum, neither had a clear idea when he gave his well-deserved victory speech last night. And so, as it happened, Santorum was second, with 30,007 votes to Romney’s 30,015.
The most exciting story of the night, and perhaps of the cycle so far, was Santorum’s heroic rise in the polls at just the right moment.
Santorum has been officially crowned, “the conservative alternative.” The crown is a heavy one, though, weighing down its wearer and attracting unprecedented scrutiny. The former Pennsylvania senator hopes he can support it for the next six days.
Conservative voters have apparently needed an alternative to the on-again, off-again frontrunner, Mitt Romney, whose rap is that he is insufficiently committed to smaller government and limited spending.
So the media, who loves an underdog and photo finishes, will write the obligatory Santorum story. It is fresh, surprising, and unpredicted. Yet a more important story—one in which the Romney campaign can take encouragement—is that of Romney’s dominance. After five alternatives have given their best efforts—he is still in a commanding position, no more battered than he was last April.
The sixth hopes to alter that position. Commentators of all stripes have proudly declared that this is a two-man race…again.
While Santorum is relishing his hard-earned victory as he heads to the next fight, what’s to say that he won’t fade like all the others? His Iowa supporters were inebriated on the euphoria of victory last night, deservedly so.
Oddly, a Rasmussen poll in mid-December had Santorum at a measly 6%, with Gingrich taking in 20%. The former speaker, who inherited Herman Cain’s support, was thought to be the genuine, viable alternative to Romney very recently. Gingrich’s devotees, and their candidate, were confident and undeterred by the many concerns expressed by the 80% of voters who weren’t sold. Three weeks later, a day after Santorum’s historic upset, many of those same voters are just as confident in the latest alternative, a man who was in plain view, and just as available an alternative as he is now, since June.
At his post caucus speech in Des Moines, Santorum recalled, “People ask me how I’ve done this, sitting in back of the polls and not getting a whole lot of attention paid to us…”
Like Gingrich before him (and too early, as it turned out) Santorum sat in the back of the polls and let the other candidates get their turn. He worked tremendously hard, of course, but he avoided the scrutiny that has toppled the other candidates.
The other candidates except for Mitt Romney.
This despite thorough media examination for the past year, and during the 2008 election. This despite near-constant attacks from all his GOP rivals.
In fact, contrary to taking down the frontrunner, Gov. Romney increased his performance over the same December Rasmussen poll by about two percentage points. Remarkably, he is the only candidate who doesn’t know what it’s like to lose support. For all the spin about how Romney can’t win over more than 25% of Republican voters, it is more noteworthy that nobody, and no combined effort of candidates, can dissuade those 25% from supporting him. And he continues to get endorsements from solid Republicans and conservatives across the country.
Sen. Santorum is clearly a hard worker. His strategy is admirable. His faith is often inspiring.
As was the case with Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich, and Paul, Santorum’s vulnerabilities as a national candidate will be explored and exposed by a curious media in the coming days.
He pulled out an impressive victory, by any measure, in Iowa last night.
And Mitt Romney continues on his path to the nomination like it never even happened.
Learn more about the author at Rich-Stowell.com
Rich is a teacher and a soldier. He is the author of Nine Weeks: A Teacher’s Education in Army Basic Training; Tunnel Club; and Not Another Boring Textbook: A High School Students’ Guide to their Inner Conservative, which you can follow on Facebook.
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