What Rick Santorum's lukewarm endorsement of Mitt Romney means
Nearly a month after exiting the presidential race, Rick Santorum endorsed Mitt Romney in the 13th paragraph of an e-mail sent to supporters late Monday. That's not exactly a show of enthusiasm for the Republican standard-bearer.
Former Senator Santorum, whose passionate advocacy for conservatism contrasted sharply with Mr. Romney’s more moderate persona, dropped out of the presidential race nearly a month ago, on April 10, ceding the Republican nomination to Romney.
“Above all else, we both agree that President Obama must be defeated,” Santorum wrote Monday. “The task will not be easy. It will require all hands on deck if our nominee is to be victorious. Governor Romney will be that nominee and he has my endorsement and support to win this, the most critical election of our lifetime.”
In his e-mail, Santorum made clear that the two men “have some differences.” But he also acknowledged areas where they agree – smaller taxes and government, reduced spending, opposition to abortion and gay marriage, and denying Iran nuclear weapons.
“And while I had concerns about Governor Romney making a case as a candidate about fighting against Obamacare, I have no doubt if elected he will work with a Republican Congress to repeal it and replace it with a bottom up, patient, not government, driven system,” Santorum wrote.
To sum up his message: At least Romney is better than Mr. Obama.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement – especially given the lack of joint appearance or press conference. Santorum’s e-mail explained that he and Romney met Friday in Pittsburgh, one on one, for more than an hour and had a conversation that was “candid, collegial, and focused on the issues.” Santorum also noted that the topic of endorsement did not come up, but clearly it was on his mind, as many supporters, he said, had weighed in on whether to formally endorse.
Santorum’s tepid nod to Romney “shows his reluctance to be fully on board,” says Terry Madonna, a political scientist at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. “It shows that he still harbors this concern that Romney isn’t a true conservative."
If Romney wants more out of Santorum, he’s going to have to deliver, says one Republican strategist.
“I think that Santorum knows that Romney’s going to need social conservatives, so right now [Santorum] is a valuable commodity,” says Ford O’Connell, chairman of Civic Forum PAC. What Santorum wants, he adds, is a prime-time speaking slot at the Republican convention in August.
Santorum won 11 primaries and caucuses, and more than 3 million votes. Santorum’s support is centered in the religious conservative wing of the Republican Party, which harbors concerns about Romney over his tenure as moderate governor of Massachusetts and his Mormon faith.
Polls show Romney faces an enthusiasm gap with Republican voters. A USA Today/Gallup poll of 12 battleground states released Monday showed only 46 percent of Republicans are enthusiastic about voting, compared with 57 percent of Democrats. It was the lowest GOP enthusiasm number (down from 62 percent in January) since USA Today/Gallup began its 2012 battleground poll last October.
Meanwhile, Santorum made clear in his e-mail to supporters that he is not leaving the political stage.
“I can assure you that even though I am no longer a candidate for president, I will still continue to fight every day for our shared values – the values that made America the greatest country in the history of the world,” Santorum wrote.
He ended his e-mail with a P.S.: “As promised, very soon we will be making another big announcement, and I will be asking you to once again join forces with me to keep up the fight, together. Stay tuned.”
Whether Santorum fancies himself the next Ronald Reagan – who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination in 1976 only to go all the way to the presidency four years later – remains to be seen. Santorum mentioned 1976 when he was still a candidate, which some analysts saw as a sign that he was protecting his options for the future.