So the winner of the “Not Romney” caucus turns out to be a pro-life, hawkish, Midwestern, blue-collar, has-been politician in a non-threatening sweater vest who was polling in the single digits – not just nationally but in Iowa – until mid-December. If Tim Pawlenty isn’t on suicide watch yet, he should be.
Seriously, though, and I’m not a Pawlenty nostalgist – I’m overwhelmingly likely to be supporting President Obama in November, and no Republican actually running was likely to change my mind about that – but let’s look at the handful of things Santorum has going for him that the other “Not Romneys” didn’t. Everybody in the party doesn’t hate him, the way they hate Gingrich. He’s capable of at least remembering his own talking points, unlike Rick Perry, apparently. He’s not an obvious amateur, like Herman Cain, or an obvious crazy person, like Michele Bachmann. He’s not challenging core GOP positions, like Ron Paul is (on foreign policy, the drug war, civil liberties, etc.). His blue collar roots lend credibility to his economic message, whatever it is. He’s a Midwesterner, not a Southerner or a Texan. Every one of these attributes applies to Tim Pawlenty as well.
And his negatives? He has no money to compete nationally, no organization, no support from the party leadership (even Pawlenty wasn’t quite as bad off). He’s an exceptionally annoying person to listen to (call this one a tie). He lost his Senate reelection bid by 18 points (Pawlenty won his, narrowly). And he’s transparently an extremist on both foreign policy and social issues, and even if some GOP voters are thrilled to have a “full-spectrum” conservative to support, transparent extremism isn’t usually considered an asset in a general election. Call Pawlenty what you like, “transparent extremist” isn’t what you’d call him.
All of which goes to prove simply that winners don’t quit, and quitters don’t win. Pawlenty was a pretty uninspiring candidate. But with the exception of Ron Paul, who inspires a relatively narrow slice of the electorate but inspires it a great deal, nobody running is particularly inspiring. Heck, most of the folks running inspire some combination of dread and disgust. Rick Santorum would be a terrible general election candidate. Worse, even, than Mitt Romney. But he earned his hour to strut and fret upon the stage, by refusing to leave it.