Rick Santorum’s withdrawal from the Republican presidential race earlier this week marked the end of a long, strange trip for the former Pennsylvania senator, who made himself the political vehicle for Christian Right resistance to Mitt Romney. But the lesson of Santorum’s inevitable defeat isn’t that he was too socially extreme. Ironically, it was his record of loyal support for the compassionate conservative agenda of George W. Bush that did Santorum in, not his 1950s-era values.
The 2012 “invisible primary” is looking likely to end just how and where it began: with Republican ideologues anxiously looking to Iowa for signs of an electable “true conservative” alternative to Mitt Romney. Depending on whom you ask, they have found no such candidate, or have found too many of them. In either case, despite their fevered hopes the First-in-the-Nation Caucus is not likely to play its intended role as an all-important arbiter where ideological squishes are disciplined or destroyed and the faithful find their champion.