I've been told that it is way too early to begin showing signs of Rick Santorum derangement syndrome.
A well-meaning reader suggested that even if the Republicans were suicidal enough to hand the former Pennsylvania senator the nomination, his defeat in the general election would dwarf the blowout Barry Goldwater suffered at the hands of Lyndon Baines Johnson.
The argument goes like this: Rick Santorum is such an implacable foe of modernity that casting a vote for him is only possible if one shares his nostalgia for the chauvinism, authoritarianism and unbearable whiteness of the 1950s.
According to this argument, Mr. Santorum is a protest vote writ large across the Republican firmament by grass-roots conservatives repulsed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's malleability and phoniness. It isn't a vote for Mr. Santorum's political theology as much as it is a rejection of the likely apostasy of the Republican frontrunner.
This also happens to be the prevailing view of the pundits toiling daily in newspapers and the cable news commissariat. The assumption that Rick Santorum can't be elected president is axiomatic in the circles I frequent, too. He was a punch line long before he lost his Senate race by 18 points in 2006.
Yet, a mere half dozen years after what should have ended his dreams of ever holding elected office again, Mr. Santorum is poised to steal the Michigan primary from Mr. Romney, although the polls have tightened in recent days.
Many Democrats are salivating over the prospect of an Obama/Santorum showdown in November. The only contest that could possibly make a Democrat happier would be one in which Newt Gingrich or Donald Trump were the Republican nominee.
Ironically, Mitt Romney, the gelatinous Gibraltar of Republican politics, stands the best chance of making the race for the White House competitive among independent voters he has alienated in recent months. After a hard tack to the right, Mr. Romney wouldn't lose an ounce of sleep embracing the middle to beat Mr. Obama in November. It's that kind of mercenary pragmatism that enrages conservatives who value principle over short-term electoral victory.
Because Mr. Romney has residual appeal with independents, Democrats would rather Mr. Obama faced someone with more extremist views -- someone like Rick Santorum. I understand the logic. I just don't buy it.
I think it is irresponsible to underestimate the appeal of a demagogue when so many Americans are suffering and the public mood is so mercurial. All it would take would be a few weeks of $5 a gallon gas and a Democratic electorate demoralized because of some administration misstep to put even the strangest protest candidacy into play.
Mr. Santorum is a principled culture warrior who doesn't believe in evolution, man-made global warming, sex for purposes other than having children, separation of church and state, tax-financed public education (except by Penn Hills of his home-schooled kids), a Constitutional right to privacy, contraception, some forms of prenatal testing, or freedom of conscience if it contradicts his church's edicts or his party platform.
Mr. Santorum would like to see doctors who perform abortions criminally prosecuted. He has said that war with Iran to thwart its nuclear ambitions is in America's best interests, despite the painful lessons of the past decade and the skepticism of our own generals.
If he is elected president, women should expect an administration openly hostile to their interests on a number of fronts. As for "blah people" -- union members and academics -- well, they can just forget it.
The former senator's comments about Mr. Obama's "theology" over the weekend make it clear that his version of environmental stewardship is more about exploiting the earth than respecting it. It is a mentality closer to that of a 19th-century robber baron than someone informed by modern science or concerns about environmental integrity.
So, how did Mr. Santorum make it this far? How is his candidacy even possible in the modern world? Some pundits refer to his "likability" compared to his rivals. What are they talking about? What has he said or done during his surge that paints him in any way as likable?
There's some Rick Santorum derangement syndrome going around all right, but it's not affecting me.
Tony Norman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1631.