What the erstwhile candidate's unexpected success tells us about today's Republican Party.
1) There isn't much money in championing the importance of the American family and blue collar jobs. Mike Huckabee was at a fundraising disadvantage four years ago, and Rick Santorum was unable to raise anything approaching what some of his rivals could do in this cycle. Numerous factors help explain this phenomenon. Foster Friess notwithstanding, the dearth of moneyed interests eager to bankroll a social conservative's campaign for the presidency is just the most obvious among them.
2) GOP donors should stop giving so early. Think of all the contributions to Rick Perry and Herman Cain that were wasted when their campaigns imploded. Surely some of the contributors would've been better served waiting for debates and early primaries to narrow the field. That they backed the wrong non-Romney early probably made it harder for Santorum to raise money later.
3) Early media predictions are often worthless. A lot of pundits correctly picked Mitt Romney as the front-runner, but very few imagined that Santorum -- and not, say, Perry -- would come closest to challenging him for the nomination.
4) There are still second acts in American politics. Six years after losing his Senate seat in a landslide, Santorum was besting rivals presently serving in elective office; in doing so, he reinvigorated his political career, earning influence far beyond what he'd enjoy if he'd never run for president.
5) Even in the Tea Party era, a social conservative came closer to winning the GOP nomination than any of the more consistent fiscally conservative or libertarian candidates. Call it revealed preference.
See also: "Lessons From Rick Santorum's Campaign: Ball Edition." Who's right? Add your take in the comments.