Why Rick Santorum Won't Be Romney's Running Mate

Santorum's liabilities, and the availability of better options, meant he was never in the veepstakes to begin with. Has that made the primary race longer and nastier?

santorumgettysburg.banner.jpg

Getty Images

Rick Santorum for vice presidential nominee: There's a certain logic to it. With Mitt Romney on the verge of wrapping up the GOP nomination, why wouldn't he look within the field, like so many nominees before him (Kerry/Edwards, Reagan/Bush, Clinton/Gore)? The former Pennsylvania senator has federal legislative experience, which could complement Romney's state and business governance, and he's proven over the course of the primary that he has the ability to speak to the evangelical voters, social conservatives and blue-collar folks Romney leaves cold.

But most Republicans dismiss this idea out of hand. (Insert caveat here about how the whole thing is an empty Beltway parlor game and the decision will fall solely to Romney.) There's a lot of other candidates they like better on the GOP's deep bench -- Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Reps. Paul Ryan (Wisc.) and Eric Cantor (Va.), Govs. Bob McDonnell (Va.), Susana Martinez (N.M.), Brian Sandoval (Nev.), and Nikki Haley (S.C.), and others. As with John McCain four years ago, there's a question of whether Romney can stand to campaign with someone whose star power overwhelms his own. RedState founder Erick Erickson told me this is why he doesn't think Rubio is the likely pick: "He'd overshadow the presidential candidate, and I'm not sure the vanity of the Romney campaign could handle that." Santorum may not be that sort of potentially overwhelming GOP star, but most veep-watchers' short lists nonetheless just aren't long enough to include Santorum given all the other possibilities.

Then there's the case against Santorum. All his liabilities as a GOP primary candidate -- his far-right views on social issues, his ugly loss in his last Senate race, his long tenure on unpopular Capitol Hill -- would be amplified on a general-election ticket. ("For women between 30 and 50, he's got a Voldemort quality," one veteran Republican strategist told me.) In addition, his inability to maintain message discipline would make him a constant risk; Santorum may actually more gaffe-prone and less controllable than Joe Biden. And he and Romney don't seem to like each other. Though Santorum endorsed Romney and campaigned for him four years ago, sources say they never became close and didn't keep in touch afterward. The same cultural divide that separates their voting demographics also delineates their temperaments -- Romney's slickly professional veneer versus Santorum's hardscrabble air and tone of resentment. Members of Romneyworld, who tend to reflect the candidate's sensibility, view Santorum with a distaste bordering on disdain.

And Santorum seems to know it. For a brief while, he seemed to be trying to cozy up to Romney: When Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry first began attacking Romney's record in private equity, Santorum stuck up for Romney, saying, "I just don't think as a conservative and someone who believes in business that we should be out there playing the games that the Democrats play, saying somehow capitalism is bad."

But that was then -- mid-January, when Romney looked like he was sewing up the race quickly with wins in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. This is now: Santorum started winning, emerged as Romney's main threat, and convinced himself of the urgency of his mission to take out the unacceptably moderate front-runner. Romney and his allies have turned their attack machine on Santorum in ads and debates, and it's gotten pretty personal. Asked on Fox recently if he would need a more conservative running mate than himself to bring the base his way in the general election, Romney said, "Well, that would preclude, of course, Rick Santorum. Because, I mean, look at his record." It was a brutal and unprompted swipe -- Fox host Neil Cavuto hadn't mentioned Santorum in his question.

Perhaps because he senses Romney is not interested in being friends, Santorum has left no attack unhurled. He and his team have gone after Romney for his work with Bain and for tying his dog to his car, and lately Santorum has taken to more or less calling Romney a liar in the course of calling him out for his record of supporting health-care mandates. He's hammered home the flip-flopper theme with relish -- in his election-night speech Tuesday, Santorum said of Romney and Gingrich's views on the environment, "When the climate changed, they changed their position" -- and now he's taken up the image of Romney as "Etch A Sketch" candidate with similar glee.

Would Santorum be making these kind of vicious, personal attacks if he thought he had a shot at being on the Romney ticket? Probably not. And that's the real consequence of Santorum's absence from the veepstakes: It's lessened his incentive to play nice and treat his rival with respect. It may well be keeping him in the race, continuing to torment Romney from the right despite the near-impossibility of denying him the nomination. Like Gingrich and his go-for-broke nihilism, Santorum realizes he has nothing to lose. And that's making this long, nasty primary even longer and nastier.

Presented by

Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

Video

An Ingenious 360-Degree Time-Lapse

Watch the world become a cartoonishly small playground

Video

The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain

"You really have to love solitary time by yourself."

Video

The Rise of the Cat Tattoo

How a Brooklyn tattoo artist popularized the "cattoo"

More in Politics

Just In