Slouching Towards Tampa (A Candidacy to Remember edition)

One hundred years ago today, the RMS Titanic slipped into the North Atlantic, taking with it more than 1,500 lives; five days ago today, Rick Santorum went to Gettysburg and suspended his presidential candidacy. Except for the majestic luxury liner, terrible casualties and historic milestone stuff, the two tragedies are virtually indistinguishable.

So what was Rick Santorum’s iceberg? That’s tough to say, because there are so many possibilities. I’m leaning to a campaign appearance in Fairfield, California back on March 29, myself. A Los Angeles Times headline about the event is a cheery highlight of the election season so far: “Rick Santorum invokes Ronald Reagan at Jelly Belly factory in California.”

At the time, Santorum had racked up a number of primary wins, some of them almost surprising if one discounts the depth of “Anyone but Romney” sentiment (which, of course, one can’t). At least part of the GOP “intelligentsia” must have realized that Santorum should be treated seriously. He was certainly being treated seriously by the Romney campaign, meaning that they were delighted to spend, well, titanic amounts of money attacking him. At some point in one of the debates, Santorum even fielded two questions in a row on geopolitics, and answered both with shockingly nuanced calls to moderation.

Rick Santorum had arrived nationally, in other words. So what did he do? He started gnawing off his own newfound prestige like a critter caught in a leg trap:

“Let them know, conservatives all across this country have not given up the fight, we’re not going to concede to the moderate establishment who wants to convince everybody that it’s over, it’s time to go away…”

If you’re unaware of the Republican moderate establishment, they were last seen headed for the exits following the Dole campaign in ’96, but Santorum obviously doesn’t know that.

“They’re asking you, people of principle, to compromise your principles and to be for someone who is less corely convicted than Ronald Reagan because we need to win. My question is, ‘Win what?’ Every time we run someone that the moderate establishment of the Republican Party said we need to win, we lose. Why? Because Americans don’t have a clear choice. They don’t have a vision for someone who actually believes and who dramatically, decisively lays out a vision for the American people to inspire and lift up and get people, like Reagan did, to believe in themselves.”

It’s hard to even imagine a more “corely convicted” politician than Rick Santorum. I admit I don’t fully understand what “corely convicted” even means, but it surely has a Santorian ring to it.

The speech foreshadowed both his eventual withdrawal from the race and his determination to remain an outsider (or maverick, if you will). It was also noteworthy that Santorum used the words “Reagan” and “stool” in the same sentence:

“We as conservatives need to stand up and fight for a candidate who can win this general election, who stands solidly, firmly on the ‘three-legged stool’ that brought the Reagan coalition together.”

He returned to this theme in his concession speech on April 10. Or at least I think he did; Newsmax’s transcript is pretty dodgy:

And laying out not a thee-legged [sic] stool of Ronald Reagan but a four-legged tool [sic] with the Constitution being one of those vitally important legs that we had forgotten about.

He’s right; you can’t be too careful laying out a stool, and no good could ever come from forgetting about vitally important legs.

How his party reacts to him in 2016 will depend largely on how badly Mitt Romney gets beaten this year. For the record, I think Romney’s going to get pasted. So see you next time, Rick. It’s been unreal.

The Republican Party, in its one slight overlap with the rest of the known universe, abhors a vacuum. With Santorum’s unique brand of evangefunkadelic know-nothing social conservatism suddenly subtracted, two remaining candidates rushed to fill the absurdity gap. And what better place to do so than an NRA convention?

Newt Gingrich took to the lectern to advocate for the extension of Second Amendment rights to every person on the planet:

A Gingrich presidency will submit to the United Nations a treaty that extends the right to bear arms as a human right for every person on the planet because every person on the planet deserves the right to defend themselves from those who would oppress them, those would exploit them, rape them or kill them.

This inanity followed by a matter of minutes Mitt Romney’s speech to the same convention, in which the candidate mentioned firearms precisely once, crushing the hopes of anyone in the room hoping to get some tips on “small varmint” hunting.

Given that he had nothing else to do that or any other evening, Rick Santorum swung by the convention to announce that his seriously ill three-year-old daughter Bella is now a life member of the NRA. Note to Newt and Mitt: that, gentlemen, is absurdity done right. Far right, in fact.