Where Does Rick Santorum Go When the Campaign Is Over?

Rick Santorum has benefited from excellent timing. Unlike the other not-Romneys who ran for president this year, he had the good fortune of not catching the imagination of the Republican base until late in the primaries, after Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich had all had their brief moments as the alternative to the likely eventual nominee. By the time the voters got around to Santorum, there was just nobody else left, which has enabled him to have his moment in the sun at the end of the primaries, just where you'd want it to be if you're going to parlay your loss into a lucrative and influential career opportunity.

Today The Washington Post makes the case, without much in the way of evidence, that "Santorum has, after ten weeks of contests, all but claimed the title of leader of the conservative wing of the GOP." I don't buy it. First of all, conservatives in the GOP aren't a "wing." If anything, it's the establishment that's a "wing," in that it represents a small portion of the party that is capable of acting in a unified fashion. Conservatives are the rest of the party, and that's too complex a group to have a single leader. Second, there's no evidence that Santorum represents much more to them than "the guy we like better than Mitt Romney right now." Fast forward a few months: Mitt Romney is the nominee, and has picked someone else to be his running mate. Is Rick Santorum really going to be a powerful figure leading millions to act on his instructions? I doubt it.

After he got booted out of the Senate by Pennsylvania's voters, Santorum followed a fairly typical path for an ex-Senator, cobbling together an income of nearly a million dollars a year as a corporate "consultant," a "senior fellow" at a conservative think tank, and various media mini-gigs on places like Fox. Now that he's had this relatively successful campaign, what exactly will he do?

It isn't as though he'll be able to start some kind of movement that will translate the Santorum-worshipping masses into an organized political force. One might naturally assume that he'll use his power through media, but the opportunity there may be limited. Unlike Mike Huckabee, who got his own show on Fox after running for president and is about to launch a nationally-syndicated radio program, Santorum's future in media won't extend past "Fox News Contributor," where he can come on the air for five minutes at a time. Where Huckabee is smooth and friendly, Santorum is a dour scold, and the the number of people who will tune in to hear him whine about America's moral decline for an hour every day is small. Unlike Sarah Palin, he isn't a compellingly erratic personality who can sustain a reality show or two. Many conservatives like Rick Santorum, but he isn't going to be on the cover of People a year from now.

No, I think the best he can hope for is a somewhat amped-up version of what he was doing before: getting corporations to give him money for his sage advice, perhaps a well-paid sinecure at a conservative think tank, and coming on Fox to talk about how Barack Obama is a jerk. But the leader of conservatives in America? I doubt it.

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