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Exiting Race, Santorum Sets Stage for His Future

Exiting Race, Santorum Sets Stage for His Future

By Erin McPike - April 11, 2012


Rick Santorum did exactly what he set out to do two years ago when he began floating the idea of a presidential run. Even though he ended his bid Tuesday and won't be the Republican nominee against President Obama in November, Santorum succeeded in moving his party's presidential field to the right.

In his first full interview on the topic in April 2010, the former Pennsylvania senator admitted to this reporter: "I have no great, burning desire to be president of the United States."

Instead, he was considering a bid because, in addition to being disappointed in President Obama’s performance, Santorum fretted that no one on the list of potential GOP candidates circulating at the time would champion the social issues that many conservatives support. Consequently, he said, "if I felt truly excited about any one of them, I wouldn't be sitting here with you.”

And so in that New Orleans Starbucks, Santorum asserted: "We need to have somebody out there who's not ashamed or embarrassed or uncomfortable articulating this message, because when you are, then people see it and they don't believe you.”

In a subtle way, he was referring, of course, to Mitt Romney.

And sure enough, as the 2012 race has developed, that has been an ongoing problem for the now almost-certain Republican nominee: Conservatives just don’t believe he is one of them.

But in Santorum, they have a voice. The former senator became a vehicle for their displeasure with Romney, and now many of them want him to be part of a potential Romney administration.

Dave Funk, a Republican Party official and activist in Iowa, said upon learning that Santorum had suspended his campaign: "If Governor Romney wants to win in November, he needs to offer a major position in his administration to Senator Santorum and he needs to do it now. It's time to bring the party together, and Governor Romney can ensure that happens by reaching out to Senator Santorum and his supporters."

Earlier in the day, perhaps sensing Santorum’s departure from the race, longtime conservative activist Richard Viguerie e-mailed this to his followers: “Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Bob McDonnell, Nikki Haley, Susana Martinez and the rest of the names floated by the inside-the-Beltway pundits all have their good qualities -- but none has established their conservative bona fides by being tested on the national scene and none brings a strong base in the conservative movement to add real grassroots conservative credibility to a Romney led ticket.”

He went on: “If Romney is indeed the nominee, an outcome we are not yet ready to say is inevitable, then one thing is certain -- conservatives must be unified in demanding that he choose a Vice President who is a movement conservative and who will have some real influence in the administration.”

For his part, Santorum did not mention Romney in his withdrawal announcement Tuesday afternoon in Gettysburg, Pa., and did not offer to endorse him -- although he had called the likely nominee before he took the stage. Santorum spokesman Hogan Gidley said on MSNBC that Romney has reached out to his rival’s campaign and is interested in holding a meeting to secure Santorum’s endorsement.

A pair of former staffers for Santorum said in interviews with RCP that their old boss is a team player and will help Romney in the fall.

One of them, who was involved in Santorum’s failed Senate re-election effort in 2006 against Bob Casey, said that once it became clear that Santorum couldn’t win that race, he volunteered his phone-banking operation to be used for other competitive Senate races around the country.

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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