Rick Santorum’s candidacy has not survived on organization or momentum. Nor has it survived on rhetorical or fundraising prowess of the candidate. No, instead Santorum’s candidacy has been boosted by the populist, socially conservative moment many of these voters see embodied in Santorum. This offers quite a contrast with Romney’s managerial based campaign.
Santorum is a movement candidate. In the long history of politics movement candidates have come and go. In 1980 Ronald Reagan personified the modern movement conservative candidate. He won two terms. H.W Bush won one term and managerial candidate Bob Dole lost to Clinton in 96. Clinton in 92 also personified a populist, socially liberal but smaller government Democratic movement that had fizzled out by 2004. In 2000 neither George Bush nor Al Gore could claim the mantle of a movement candidate and in 2004 Kerry was anything but. In 2008 the GOP fell back on the tried and sometimes true method of a candidate like McCain whereas the left nominated the ultimate movement candidate in Barack Obama.
Every movement candidate has aspects that make him and his supporters unique. In 1980 it was Reagan leading a suddenly more conservative of Eastern Europeans, blue-collar workers (Reagan Democrats) and Southerners. In 1992 Clinton personified the remains of the white Southern Democratic vote and moderate views of left leaning suburban voters. And in 2008 Barack Obama was the movement candidate for a disenchanted youth, minorities across the country and college educated women.
In 2012 Santorum has tapped into the populist wing of the GOP’s struggle against the managerial class. This struggle goes as far back as Eisenhower. Reagan’s victory in 80 showed the conservative, populist wing of the party could win elections. But Reagan also showed with his pick of Bush as his VP that the party needs both wings to win elections.
Santorum is not in the mold of Reagan in many ways. Reagan was a two term Governor from moderate California. Santorum is a former GOP Congressman and Senator from swing state Pennsylvania. Reagan had a way with words that made people take notice. Santorum’s appeal is his outspokenness and brashness to the point of turning off some voters. But both Reagan and Santorum have tapped into the same wing of the party. And just like Reagan in 1980 Santorum faces the managerial wing of the party’s choice in Romney.
Romney is not a movement candidate. He is more in the mold of H.W Bush. Next in line to the party’s standard-bearer, a wealthy independent businessman, and with connections to K Street Romney is the ultimate managerial candidate. He is not nearly as brash as Santorum and due to his background, just as HW did, struggles to connect with certain aspects of the primary electorate. Yet Romney connects with the managerial wing of the GOP. College educated voters, moderates, suburban women and men all have gravitated to his campaign.
In many ways the Democratic primary struggle of 2008 illustrated their own part’s divide. Democrats suffer from essentially the same division the GOP does between their minority based populist wing and their increasingly suburban and urban educated base. In 2008 Hilary was able to capture the votes of the populist wing of the party (minus the large minority black population). Candidate Obama on the other hand won blacks, college educated voters and women. While Clinton might have been called a movement candidate in 2008 had Obama not run that mantle fell on the junior Senator from Illinois’s shoulders.
Santorum’s candidacy at its core looks to be the same kind of populist uprising led by Huckabee in the 2008 GOP nomination. In states such as Iowa and the South this kind of candidacy has life. But the electorate of the GOP, while becoming increasingly conservative, is also becoming more suburban and less regionally consolidated. Romney has capitalized on this to lock down the nomination. After Santorum (first called for Romney) won IA Romney took NH. Than when Gingrich took South Carolina Romney rebounded in Florida. And when Santorum became viable with a win in the CO Caucus Romney won a string of key victories in the Midwestern states of MI, OH, IL and WI.
Some movement candidates can overcome this. Certainly Reagan did but the GOP electorate of 19080 was different. Reagan united the various factions of the GOP. G.W. Bush in 2004 also did the same and could be said to have the distinction of uniting the managerial and populist wing of the party in a way not seen since Reagan. Since than though the GOP has fallen back on nominating managerial candidates.
Huckabee’s surge in 2008 was quickly dashed. And it looks almost inevitable the same will happen to Santorum. The movement his candidacy champions will not disappear. If blue-collar workers, socially conservative and fiscally populist) continue to join the party in future presidential primaries they could have the power to sway the selection of the nominee. Or the populist wing of the GOP could take hold with the introduction of many populist, Tea Party affiliated freshman Republican lawmakers in Congress. Already these freshman have made quite a mark on the GOP.
For now however it looks like the managerial wing of the GOP will have their nominee. It is likely the rest of the party will follow Romney against Obama in November. But regardless of the outcome in 2012 the struggle between the two major factions of the GOP will continue and their battle for supremacy will be fought in proxy wars like presidential nomination contests.