What is Rick Santorum thinking? The path for him to win the 1,144 delegates required to clinch the Republican nomination by the end of the primary season looks impossibly difficult. So how does he see himself winning the nomination, and then becoming president?
The answer: “a two-month campaign.”
Arguing that neither he nor Mitt Romney will be able to sew things up by the last GOP primary in June, Santorum envisions spending July and August trying to persuade individual delegates to support him and “put together the coalition that’s necessary for you to get the 1,144.” He and his delegates would then move on to the Republican convention, scheduled to begin Aug. 27 in Tampa, Fla.
Once a nominee is chosen at the convention — who knows exactly how that will play out — the general election campaign will last just two months, September and October, before the presidential election Nov. 6.
That two-month campaign would greatly reduce the effectiveness of Barack Obama’s zillion-dollar campaign war chest, Santorum argues. “If we have only a two-month campaign, their money advantage — and it will be an advantage — won’t make as much difference,” Santorum says, “because there’s only so much money you can spend in two months, there are diminishing returns after a while. But if we have a nominee next week, all of the money advantages they have now are going to be trained on destroying whoever the nominee is.”
“It’s the best-case scenario for us because it shortens the campaign,” Santorum told a small group of reporters at a breakfast in Washington on Monday. “Resources don’t matter as much. I mean, they matter, but the advantage they would have over any Republican nominee, resource-wise, would be diminished because of the short time frame.”
Put aside whether it is possible for Santorum (with the help of Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul) to hold Romney short of the 1,144 mark by summer. Even if Romney falls short, many Republicans view Santorum’s “best-case scenario” as the worst-case scenario, a disaster for a deeply divided party that would inevitably lead to defeat in November.
Santorum absolutely rejects the argument. “It is the best thing that could happen,” he says.
Of course, if Republicans spent the summer without a nominee, there’s no reason the president couldn’t attack all the candidates. “Obama is not going to wait until after the convention and then all of a sudden open fire for the general election campaign,” says David Norcross, a former top Republican National Committee official. “He’ll just fight a two-front war and then later fight a one-front war.”
And if there were no nominee, then two, or possibly three, GOP contenders would spend the summer bashing each other — doing the president’s work for him. In addition, the outside spending groups that are currently divided among the GOP candidates would continue attacking each other — not uniting to attack Obama.
And then there are the various organizations associated with the Republican Party, nationally and in the states, that are preparing to jump into the campaign on behalf of the party candidate. All sorts of work is being done inside party organizations with the thought of working for the eventual candidate. That work would fall alarmingly behind schedule if there were not a candidate before the convention.
Asked about Santorum’s remarks, one party insider said, “There are people throwing out scenarios that they haven’t thought through. There are certain logistical things you can’t put together in eight weeks.”
The Romney campaign, of course, has been trying for weeks to convince Republicans that the race is over. “Each day Sen. Santorum continues to march up this steep hill of improbability is a day we lose to unite in our effort as Republicans to defeat President Obama,” Romney political director Rich Beeson wrote recently.
Of course, Romney could have run a stronger campaign and put away the competition earlier. And Santorum has a point when he portrays Romney as a candidate with unique weaknesses on the issue of Obamacare, which just happens to be hugely important to most Republicans.
At this point, the scenario of a two-month campaign remains unlikely, but it is not impossible. It’s probably the best Santorum can hope for, but for the rest of the GOP, it is a deeply worrisome prospect.
Byron York, The Examiner’s chief political correspondent, can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears on Tuesday and Friday, and his stories and blogposts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.