After Rick Santorum rendered his campaign inanimate yesterday, his communications director, Hogan Gidley, gave TPM the valedictory:
“[Santorum] was able to further the conversation about life, about protecting the unborn, about marriage between one man and one woman. I think those things are important and Rick was very clear about not having to sacrifice those things to try and curry favor.”
So whose favor did Santorum decline to curry? That would be the favor of the Republican powers-that-be, who have been at pains since 2008 to keep "social issues" out of sight even as they summoned the evangelical base of the party to vote against the demon Democrats. The Tea Party provided excellent cover for the exercise in 2010, but it's been a no-show in this year's presidential primary. And for good reason: while Tea Party "supporters" have favored anyone but Mitt Romney, Romney's the guy preferred by the powers-that-be that control the Tea Party organizations.
Of course, Santorum was hardly the lonely champion of the voters who have powered the Republican Party lo these past three decades. Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich all made their bid for the job. The problem for would-be social conservative candidates is that they don't get to show moderation on the economic side the way a Romney gets to show moderation on the social side.
Remember Mike Huckabee's getting stomped in 2008 for showing a smidgeon of economic populism on his eschutcheon (Club of Growth = Club of Greed)? Or Gingrich being put in his place by his Super Pak sponsor in South Carolina this year when he made so bold as to criticize Romney for promoting the export of manufacturing jobs? Based on his record in the Senate, organized labor actually thought Santorum was a Republican they could work with. But there was simply no way for him to create such an opening to the middle.
So Santorum's folks could, as TPM reports, pride themselves on knocking Romney "off his economic message." The problem was that Santorum wasn't permitted to offer an economic message of his own.