Most campaigns have a musical theme. Rick Santorum, who "suspended" his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination on Tuesday, might have selected the song "The Impossible Dream."
Santorum's dream seemed improbable, if not impossible, from the start. He lost his last Senate race and had been out of office -- and out of mind -- for the last few years; not exactly a platform on which one usually runs for president.
Political "experts" believed his chief foe, Mitt Romney, was unbeatable. Santorum played an important role by exposing some of Romney's weaknesses, but early enough that it will help Romney in the general election campaign.
Santorum was forced to "bear with unbearable sorrow" the health struggles of his daughter, Bella, and he did it with a grace that allowed others who are struggling with physically- and mentally-challenged children to identify with him. No one could credibly accuse him of being an elitist and out of touch with average Americans.
The former senator ran where others would not, or could not, go successfully.
Santorum is a decent man in an indecent age, preaching to a largely hedonistic culture about old-time values abandoned by many, perhaps even a majority of Americans. At the very least, too many are indifferent to them. In doing so, he attempted to "right the unrightable wrong" and encourage others to be "better far than you are," even when their "arms are too weary."
Rick Santorum's greatest contribution to the Republican campaign may have been to force the now presumed nominee, Mitt Romney, to the right. Romney claims he has always been a conservative, but he has had a difficult time convincing voters who were attracted to Santorum, whom they believed to be the true conservative in the race.
If Santorum ends up campaigning for Romney and brings his religious and conservative values voters with him, Romney will owe him in a big way and that might make him an important powerbroker. He could also serve as a useful attack dog, snapping at President Obama's heels. Should Romney choose to use him in that role, he could be an effective counter to Vice President Joe Biden, who has been engaging in demagoguery against Republicans in recent speeches.
Though Santorum did not mention Romney in his campaign suspension announcement, Romney mentioned Santorum in a brief statement. Romney said of his now former rival, "He has proven himself to be an important voice in our party and in the nation. We both recognize that what is important is putting the failures of the last three years behind us and setting America back on the path to prosperity."
If Santorum reciprocates, maybe not immediately, but eventually, the healing of the divisive primary campaign will have been achieved. If Santorum does the job well enough, he could find himself in a Romney cabinet, say, secretary of Health and Human Services, where he could focus on those moral and cultural issues about which he cares so much. Or, he might even be Romney's choice for vice president. There have been stranger bedfellows in American politics.
Santorum as vice president really would be an impossible dream, but if elected he would have come very close to almost reaching "the unreachable star."
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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