When you think of Rick Santorum you probably don’t guess he has much in common with John Edwards. Yes, Santorum is a hardcore social conservative, a better husband and did serve longer in the U.S. Senate.
But as presidential candidates Santorum may face the same predicament as John Edwards. Like Edwards, Santorum emerged after a strong performance in Iowa. Santorum ended up being the strongest rival to the eventual nominee and like Edwards did, will inevitably seek the presidency. But also like Edwards it is doubtful he will have as much of an impact the second time around.
Similar to Edwards, Santorum is looking at a much better field of competitors. New faces who can whip up the passions of GOP voters like Rubio, Cruz, and Walker all aim to steal Santorum’s status as heir apparent.
Tell me this doesn’t at least resemble what happened to Edwards with the emergence of Clinton and Obama in 2008? A party looking for fresh new leadership didn’t turn to the guy who came in second.
Also, Santorum is following a strategy that mirrors Edwards’ 2008 run. As Robert Costa writes in the National Review Online:
Trips to Iowa are in the works, he’s meeting daily with his advisers, and he’s already fine-tuning his message for the early primaries… That’s why he’s going back to Iowa in August. It’s Santorum’s first trip there since the election. He’ll headline a fundraising dinner for the Lyon County GOP and attend the state fair in Des Moines… Back in December, Brabender hosted a Christmas party in Northern Virginia for Santorum’s inner circle that served as a reunion — and as an informal strategy session. Over drinks at the River Creek Club in Leesburg, Va., the senator’s friends and allies debated the pros and cons of another run. By midnight, the consensus was clear: “The boss,” as his friends call him, should jump into the 2016 race, if at all possible…
“The presidential election is a long way away,” Santorum says. “I know we’re not on the front burner of anybody’s mind right now, and there’s a lot going on that’s getting people’s attention. But I’m going to stay out there, and you’ll see me in Iowa soon.”
So he’s keeping a close knit group of supporters and staffers together and putting everything on a big win in Iowa. That was Edwards’ plan in 2008 and it didn’t work. Why? Because you can’t be an insurgent more than once. What makes an insurgent campaign is the newness of someone challenging the established favorites and offering people mad at the party the hope that they’ll be a new beginning. But if you run as an insurgent and lose, the next time you come back you have to graduate to being an established favorite. That is what Reagan did in ’80 after ’76, Bush did in ’88 after ’80, and Romney did in ’12 after ’08.
But if you don’t make that move (which looking at Santorum’s poll numbers and statement’s to Costa it looks like Santorum won’t) you go from being an insurgent to being a protest vote or perennial candidate along the lines of Pat Buchanan, Steve Forbes, Dick Gephardt, or Jesse Jackson. All of those candidates had moments when they won a primary or caucus and upset the apple cart for a few days but they were never able to make anything out of it and when they ran the second time it was clear the magic was gone (for Buchanan you really can’t count ’92 because that was a 6 week effort against and incumbent President).
Maybe that’s what Santorum wants? To be a protest vote. Maybe he just wants to run again so he can charge higher speaking fees, continue being a FOX News Contributor, and sell more books? But if he’s running to win he’s following the path of a man who ended up second in Iowa the second time around and then shortly out of the race.