Dave Weigel looks beyond November.
A true-sounding aside from Alex Pareene: “Rick Santorum is the 2016 GOP nomination frontrunner.” It’s true because the runner-up of the last Republican primary always starts off with an advantage. McCain 2008. Dole 1996. Bush 1988. Reagan 1976. Romney looked like the candidate most likely to break the trend, but no longer.
It’s also true because of what would happen if Romney won the nomination and lost. A Romney defeat would come after countless evangelical leaders endorsed a credible candidate and watched him lose to someone the “elites” called electable. Again. It would be the second time they’d been blown off by the party, nominated a moderate, and gone down to defeat. No matter how and why Romney actually lost, the storyline — as it was in 2008 — would be that the party lost its way, and needed to nominate a real conservative next time. In 2009 and 2010, the main proponent of the argument was the less-than-totally-focused Sarah Palin. In 2013, wouldn’t it be Santorum?
My guess is that Mr. Santorum would be the one by default; who else is left — so to speak — to lead them?
SteveM notes that the next candidate on deck is usually an Establishment-type — i.e. Mitt Romney — and Rick Santorum is not one of them. But that depends on your definition of Establishment; the wild-eyed ones have been taking over the party. As Rachel Maddow noted last month, the trend line in the Republican Party has been to skew more and more conservative over the last twenty years to the point that even Ronald Reagan would have trouble getting nominated because he’s too moderate and willing to compromise with the Democrats. So by 2016, especially if Barack Obama gets re-elected and Congress goes back to the Democrats, the Republicans will probably go even further to the right. They will say that Mitt Romney was too moderate and that if they had put up a true conservative, they would have won. Yes, they really do think that.
And why not? In their perfect world of straight white Christians, where men are men and women make meatloaf and babies, the idea that someone like Barack Obama could become president is just as scary to them as the idea of a theocratic gay-sex-obsessed evolution-denying know-nothing is to liberals. The fact that after three years in office Barack Obama still hasn’t taken away all the guns, let Jeremiah Wright move into the Lincoln Bedroom, performed same-sex weddings in the Rose Garden with Lady Gaga singing at the reception, and invited Bashir Assad of Syria to have a beer is not relevant; it’s only a matter of time, especially if he gets a second term. By then it will be too late. Rick Santorum is the natural selection for 2016 — so to speak — assuming he can get his act together to form a functional campaign. That’s been an issue for him this time around.
The bigger question, though, is who’s next for the Democrats? Any suggestions?