Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

George Will: Return of the GOP Runner-Up

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

George Will: Return of the GOP Runner-Up

Article excerpt

A near miss can be a sharp spur, so Rick Santorum wants to say something to those who profess condescending puzzlement about his persistence in pursuing the Republican presidential nomination: You probably have no idea how close I came to defeating Mitt Romney in 2012.

Since 1968, he notes, the Republican presidential nominees emerging from contested primaries have been either former or sitting vice presidents (Richard Nixon, George H. W. Bush), an incumbent president (Gerald Ford), a son of a president (George W. Bush), or men who previously were runners-up for the nomination (Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole, John McCain, Mitt Romney). Santorum intends to join this last group, starting in Iowa next February.

It was there in 2012 that he won the caucuses about two weeks too late. On the night of the caucuses, Romney was declared the winner by eight votes. Late-certified results from eight (of 1,774) caucuses made Santorum the winner by 34 votes. Had this result been recorded on caucus night with the donors and journalists paying rapt attention, his stunning upset would, he thinks, have triggered a deluge of contributions.

This, he thinks, would have enabled him to win in Romney's native state, Michigan. Santorum insists "I crushed him on Election Day," and that Romney's margin of victory came from absentee ballots cast early.

Winning Michigan would have validated Santorum as more than a product of Iowa quirkiness. Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's 2013 book "Double Down" says Romney believed if he lost Michigan his campaign would have been doomed. Even without a financial and political boost from a Michigan victory, seven days after Michigan, Santorum lost Ohio by just 0.8 percent of the vote, even though he had so little money he ran no ads in Cincinnati or Cleveland.

But as the poet said, "for of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: 'it might have been! …

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