As the presidential campaign season plods along and presumptive nominee Mitt Romney looks more and more like a sure thing, the big news this week isn’t who’s in, but rather, who’s out.
On Tuesday, Rick Santorum declared that he was suspending his campaign for president. Though the reasons for Santorum’s exit from the race were many and oft debated, one thing is clear – for many, his announcement led to a collective sigh of relief.
For sure, there are many things Santorum should be proud of. At the start of his campaign, success was a long shot. He was a former senator whose chances were almost laughably thin. Rarely was he even mentioned as a potential winner, and as alternatives to Romney came in and out of favor – first Michele Bachmann, then Rick Perry, then Herman Cain, then Newt Gingrich – he stayed in it when many had forgotten he was even a candidate.
His rise was as unexpected as it was short-lived, and in the end, he has certainly made a name for himself and pulled out of the din of near anonymity. His campaign was a testament to the fact that in politics, one is hard pressed to accurately predict the turn things will take. Most of all, many people may think twice before writing off a candidate early. So for that, I say congratulations, Rick.
That being said, his departure from the race has put many hearts at ease. Santorum’s campaign and platform, it often seemed, was hinged not on what he was for, but rather what – and who – he was against. In an era of American politics more divided than many can remember, his contribution to the debate frequently consisted of attacks on groups and practices he was firmly against, namely homosexuals. Though I’m sure his message struck a chord with many likeminded citizens, for others it was almost sickening. It takes only a quick search on Google to read all about it, and over the past few months, we’ve all become well versed in Santorum’s intolerance.
But, now that it is over, what can we glean from the fact that he was rejected by his party? His early exit means that we’ll never know how he would have fared in the general election, how his platform and views would have resonated with the entirety of the American public, and, most importantly, if it could have translated to a win in November. But such musings have been rendered mute as of Tuesday, and a renewed belief in more rational debate can once more enter the minds of voters who already have so much to contend over.
Santorum certainly served as a lightning rod of debate, criticism, and support from frustrated, socially conservative voters. But hopefully his defeat signals that these ideals cannot sustain a campaign and don’t resonate so well with America’s conservative party. For many, the fact that he even came close was disturbing, but his failure to capture the nomination renews hope that progress towards social equality is inevitable. Rather than signaling a social movement, let’s hope that his brief success was an enigma and not an eventuality.
In the end, perhaps Santorum’s exit from the race signals a new, more inclusive direction for American politics. Though his brief emergence as the potential GOP nominee left many wondering if this message of intolerance was one that could bring political success and positions of leadership, his subsequent defeat has, at least for now, put this notion to rest. More important is the fact that it wasn’t America as a whole that said “no,” but his own party, one that has hardly garnered a positive image regarding tolerance. In fact, in many ways this moment is a cause for renewed belief in political partnership amongst a heavily divided electorate. At least for now, this kind of intolerance won’t be a part of the debate, and we won’t be debating the issue on such absurd terms.
On the other hand, Santorum’s brief viability can also be viewed as a point of extreme concern. Would Santorum have had similar success in years past? Do his views really represent the direction that conservative voters are moving in? Time will tell what his campaign has meant in the long run but at least for now, some of us can sleep a bit easier knowing that the grand experiment is now over. Sadly, though, no longer can we speculate as to what absurdity he’ll think of next, and political satire may suffer thusly.
Beau Monast is a Collegian contributor. He can be reached at email@example.com.