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11 April 2012updated 12 Apr 2012 12:19pm

After Santorum

The unlikely ex-contender leaves a permanent mark on the GOP.

By Alice Gribbin

And then there was… one, and a couple others. As Rick Santorum yesterday ended his White House bid, the Republican party groaned, and sighed, in about equal measure. After a dirty, drawn out and, at times, beyond-petty primary season that began in Iowa on 3 January, Mitt Romney has now effectively sealed the nomination to take on Obama for the Presidency. With seven months until the November election we’re forced to ask: are the Republicans any more united now they’ve “found” their man?

Santorum, out but not down

Little known before his February surge following Gingrich’s falter, Rick Santorum has built a national presence beyond sharing the name of an egregious sex act. His bow-out spares Romney the embarrassment of losing any further states this late in the season, and also frees up the presumptive nominee a little cash and breathing space for the next two months while the final delegate votes trickle in.

But as wildly improbable as President Santorum ever was, the former Senator of Pennsylvania has left a number of marks on the political landscape. Not least of these has been the re-shaping of his opponent; as Jonathan Bernstein puts it, the candidate acted “as a mechanism for forcing Romney to hew to Republican orthodoxy”. In his campaign suspension speech (below), Santorum notes he won more US counties than all the other Republican contenders combined. His appeal has demonstrated just how fractured – and in some quarters, extreme – conservative America is. To a significant proportion of the electorate – too large for either Romney or Obama to ignore – strong rhetoric on social issues (abortion, same-sex marriage, union of church and state) and immigration is a draw. Santorum will most likely run for statewide or national office again (see 2016?) so long as Tea Partiers and evangelicals share with him these beliefs. Before then, we should expect to hear from Santorum across commentary outlets (he’s a former Fox News contributor) and as a fundraiser/advocate of conservative House and Senate candidates. This isn’t the last of Rick.

The Grand Old Party in a fix

Speaking of the US media, various writers have been plotting Mitt Romney’s political trajectory against that of Meg Whitman, the Republican gubernatorial candidate for California who swung to the right, dropped $150m of her own cash and burned out of the race. Eschewing his own opinions in courting the conservative Conservatives could very likely cost Romney the vote of mainstream America. Young, college educated women (a demographic that votes) are unimpressed, as Ruth Marcus writes; as are Hispanic Americans and, broadly, the middle class. Even on his own terms, though, Romney is not making gains: attacks on Obama’s jobs record will neither stick voters with nor swing them round to Mitt. With his likeability stats in the doldrums, Romney will have to reinvent himself – again – between now and November.

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