Santorum gets as little respect as support

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After Miley Cyrus dissed him on Twitter, it's official: Rick Santorum is the Rodney Dangerfield of American politics. No matter what he does, the former Pennsylvania senator, who plans to announce his doomed run for the Republican presidential nomination on June 6, can't get any respect.

Mr. Santorum's popularity among tea party types and social conservatives hovers at 3 percent on a good day, but usually settles at 2 percent. As a result, he's had to deal with the indignity of being left off of every political svengali's short list of Republican candidates who could give President Barack Obama a sleepless night or two.

He's had to watch from the underbrush of single-digit obscurity as the Republican establishment swooned over Mike Huckabee, Mitch Daniels and Haley Barbour, three candidates who ultimately rejected its overtures because their current gigs were too sweet or their wives asked them to forget it.

Even billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump, the thrice-married vulgarian, conspiracy theorist and reality television personality, managed to get a moment as the Republican front-runner before the White House released the president's long-form birth certificate.

The disrespect shown to Rick Santorum has been relentless. When he scans the list of candidates for his party's nomination, he has to wonder what an ultra right-wing social conservative has to do to crack into double-digit contention.

On Friday, CNN released its latest poll that had nothing but bad news for Mr. Santorum's candidacy, as usual. The headline about potential Republican presidential nominees was dispiriting. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani leads among Republican voters and GOP-leaning Independents. As of Friday, Mr. Giuliani wasn't an announced candidate.

Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Giuliani is also a thrice-married vulgarian who could only charitably be called an opportunistic social conservative.

To add insult to injury, another name casually thrown around as a possible presidential candidate in 2012 is Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a swaggering right-winger who oozes charisma, but not much common sense.

While it's true that the unsettledness of the Republican nomination race is more a rejection of putative front-runner Mitt Romney's status than any other candidate, it is impossible not to take it personally when you're the candidate everyone else is using as a floor.

As of Friday, Mr. Santorum was holding steady at 2 percent in the CNN poll. When he looks down, he sees others such as former Utah governor and U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman at 1 percent.

The Republican candidates trailing Mr. Santorum have one consolation: The Republican faithful have never heard of them.

Mr. Santorum doesn't have that excuse. He is a well-known Washington insider with a long track record in the U.S. Senate and Pennsylvania politics. His biggest problem is that he reminds everyone, including Republicans, of the annoying kid in Sunday school who memorizes all 66 books of the Bible so he can recite them in reverse order for the old ladies at church.

It's been said that Mr. Santorum knows in his heart he can't win the Republican nomination -- short of the Rapture removing his rivals from the political scene. The theory is that he's really running for the VP slot under someone like Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty because he knows he would be more valuable as the campaign's attack dog than the ticket's headliner.

Even so, Mr. Santorum has a funny way of jockeying just for second-place status in the crowded GOP field. He once referred to Mr. Romney as "Obama's running mate," because the former Massachusetts governor pushed through the nation's first statewide health care legislation.

Why would someone as uptight as Mitt Romney pick a running mate who looks like the kind of dude who would tattle on him at the first provocation?

Assuming the beating he took in the 2008 Republican primaries hasn't resulted in permanent memory damage, Mr. Giuliani will not enter the 2012 race.

This leaves Mr. Romney as the front-runner at 15 percent, Sarah Palin at 13 percent, Ron Paul at 12 percent, Herman Cain at 10 percent, Newt Gingrich at 8 percent, Michele Bachmann at 7 percent and Tim Pawlenty at 5 percent.

Mr. Santorum may not be a serious player in the 2012 presidential sweepstakes, but he shares the exact same odds as his Republican brethren for beating Mr. Obama in 2012 -- zero.


Tony Norman: tnorman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1631.


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