Rick Santorum has left the building.
And I’m bummed about it.
Because liberal progressives like me have good reason to shower Rick Santorum with our gratitude.
The best thing about having a truly reactionary ideologue and religious zealot like Santorum in the race for the GOP Presidential nomination has been the fact that the Republican Party’s very unattractive underbelly has been exposed.
Mr. Inevitable, Mitt Romney, has not been able to speak in sweet, uplifting platitudes about shining cities on the hill while devising plans to bleed the working class and further enrich the obscenely wealthy. Not with a sanctimonious culture warrior like Rick forcing him to take hard line “severely conservative” positions on hot button social issues like contraception, gay marriage and a woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions.
Despite the fact that the majority of Americans favor contraception, gay marriage and a woman’s right to choose, Santorum’s uber-conservative candidacy forced Mitt Romney to state his opposition to all three early and often — and usually in a stumbling, uncomfortable manner.
Without a true believer like Santorum in the race, Romney could have done what many Republican politicians have done: court the religious right in private, promise them school prayer, an anti-abortion amendment, and whatever else their intolerant hearts desire – while speaking in more inclusive terms to the wider voting populace. Then, when elected, he could feel free to ignore the bible bangers’ agenda (which GOP Presidents have been doing since the Nixon years).
But having to compete with Santorum for the fundamentalist base, Romney was forced to shed the middle-of-the-road image that got him elected in liberal Massachusetts – and steer his candidacy far to the religious right.
And yet, many of these conservative Christian voters will reject Romney anyway because he’s a Mormon.
The surprising surge in Rick Santorum’s candidacy after he won the Colorado, Missouri, and Minnesota primaries on the same day in early February meant that Mitt Romney and his millionaires had to spend a lot more money than he would have liked to bombard the airwaves with negative commercials – not targeting Barak Obama, but that pesky upstart, Rick Santorum.
All while President Obama spent his money on putting together a massive ground game in critical states all across the electoral map.
Santorum’s personal brand as an earnest, uncompromising zealot presented a sharp contrast with Romney’s image as an opportunistic political shapeshifter, willing to do or say whatever is necessary to appeal to a Republican base that is far more conservative than he’s been in the past.
Santorum spoke his mind. He had no qualms about saying he’s against birth control. Catholic candidate Santorum had no problem saying that Catholic candidate John F. Kennedy’s historic speech upholding the separation of church and state made him want to throw up. Sometimes, Santorum even let slip the darkest dogs of his intolerant mind, saying he would not “make black people’s (or was it “blah people’s) lives better by giving them other people’s money” and calling President Obama a “government nig…” before catching himself in front of a friendly audience in rural Janesville, Wisconsin. That’s not just a dog whistle: it’s a dog loudspeaker.
Not only did Santorum’s shoot-from-the-lip certainty put Romney’s serial waffling in stark relief – it also revealed the darker, puritanical, homophobic, misogynistic and racist angels of the rabid right wing. For these two reasons alone, Santorum’s candidacy was a daily blessing for progressive Americans. It was a light shed on the darkness. And it kept Romney from running in the sunshine, teeth gleaming, every hair in place and looking like something he’s not: a good guy.
So, now Rick is gone. Google will get fewer hits and we’ll get fewer news cycles about birth control and “blah people”.
But with Santorum gone, Newt Gingrich is free to pander to the religious right and all those “true conservatives” that Santorum had successfully courted. That Santorum has given Newt new life in this race is, perhaps, his last gift to those of us Democrats and Independents who support President Obama’s re-election and fervently hope to take back the House and keep the Senate.
And yet, Rick Santorum will likely have one more card to play – one more way to stick it to the man that he pointedly did NOT endorse in his speech last night suspending his campaign. I’m sure that Rick – a resurgent star of the GOP with a big chunk of devoted delegates — will have to be given a nice big speech at the Republican Convention. Maybe even a keynote address. Remember how well the “culture war” speeches by those two bombastic right wing patriarch Pats, Buchanan and Robertson, went down with the larger viewing and voting public? It’s not likely that Santorum’s speech will be a uniting Kumbaya embrace that helps to draw independents and working class people of all races, creeds and color into the GOP fold.
That speech may be Santorum’s last campaign 2012 gift to progressive America.
Thank you, Rick Santorum, for being exactly who you are.
Something Mitt Romney is not.