TOPICS > Politics

Santorum Bows Out: What’s Next for Him, Obama, Republicans?

April 10, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
"While this presidential race for us is over," Rick Santorum said Tuesday in Gettysburg, Pa., announcing his campaign's suspension, "we are not done fighting." Judy Woodruff, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Jim O'Toole and USA Today's Susan Page discuss his political future and what comes next in the race for the White House.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The quest for the Republican presidential nomination ended today for Rick Santorum. The former Pennsylvania senator dropped out of the race two weeks before his home state primary.

Santorum made his announcement and reflected on his campaign at a stop in Gettysburg, Pa.

RICK SANTORUM (R): Against all odds, we won 11 states. Millions of voters. Millions of votes. We won more counties than all the other people in this race combined.

Every state I went to — and those of you who followed me around, I would say, “I really love this state.” It was a love affair for me going from state to state and seeing the differences, but seeing the wonderful, wonderful people of this country who care deeply about where this country is going in the future, who care deeply about those who are out there paddling alone, who are feeling left behind, and in some respects feeling hopeless and want to do something.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, we — we made a decision to get into this race at our kitchen table and against all the odds. And we made a decision over the weekend that while this presidential race for us is over, for me, and we will suspend our campaign effective today, we are not done fighting.

We are going to continue to go out there and fight to make sure that we defeat President Barack Obama, that we win the House back, and that we take the United States Senate, and we stand for the values that make us Americans, that make us the greatest country in the history of the world, that shining city on the hill, to be a beacon for everybody for freedom around the world.

I think we sometimes forget that these people who run for president are human beings. So some of these [negative blows] leave scars. I think that may be one reason why we didn't hear Rick Santorum utter Mitt Romney's name in this rather long speech he gave today.Susan Page, USA Today

JUDY WOODRUFF: Soon after the announcement, Mitt Romney issued a statement praising Santorum.

The former Massachusetts governor said — quote — “Sen. Santorum is an able and worthy competitor, and I congratulate him on the campaign he ran. He has proven himself to be an important voice in our party and in the nation. We both recognize that what is most important is putting the failures of the last three years behind us and setting America back on the path to prosperity.”

For more on Santorum’s decision and whether he and Romney can mend fences, we are joined by Jim O’Toole, political editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and Susan Page, Washington bureau chief of USA Today.

Welcome to both of you.

Susan, Santorum did not say exactly why he’s getting out. What do you know about why?

SUSAN PAGE, USA Today: Well, it’s not unexpected.

I mean, the nomination was Mitt Romney’s this morning, before he decided — before Rick Santorum decided to get out, as it is now. But I think a couple factors were in play. One, he has enormously restored his reputation. We used to know him as the guy who lost a Senate reelection campaign in 2006 in Pennsylvania by 18 points.

Now we know him as the guy who came in second to Mitt Romney in the quest for the Republican presidential nomination. Going on to the Pennsylvania primary and probably losing there, I think, would have cost him some of that luster.

And of course, we also have a personal factor. His 3-year-old daughter, Bella, who struggles with a genetic disorder, was in the hospital this weekend, just released. And I’m sure that was also a factor in his decision to get out.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jim O’Toole, what is your reporting telling you about why he did this right now?

JIM O’TOOLE, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Well, I think that the family personal issues that Susan alluded to and he alluded to in a statement were certainly part of it.

But I think the election math was there, too. He has been trailing in the polls in — he was trailing in one poll here in Pennsylvania. He has been losing ground in other polls. And the idea of ending this remarkable story on a kind of a sour note had to have been a big part of it.

And I just don’t think he saw a path forward beyond Pennsylvania, if he had prevailed. There was some talk in his campaign about getting Texas to switch to a winner-take-all system. That wouldn’t have allowed him to get the delegates for the nomination. It might have helped him block Romney. And I think it just got to the point where he did not see a path ahead.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan, you have covered this campaign so closely. What effect has Rick Santorum had on it?

SUSAN PAGE: Well, he’s been the beneficiary of the anti-Romney sentiment. He’s been the last guy standing against Mitt Romney.

We shouldn’t forget what a huge achievement that is. I remember in December, I went to cover a Rick Santorum event in Red Oak, Iowa, and no one showed up. It was him and me and his driver and the county chairman. And this is the guy who went ahead and actually won the Iowa caucuses, won 10 other states.

And we can only imagine if the dynamic of the race might have been just a little bit different, if Iowa had counted its votes correctly that night and he had been declared the winner.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And he had gotten credit when it actually happened.

Jim O’Toole, what would you add to that? You have covered him, what, since he first ran for Congress, is that right?

JIM O’TOOLE: That’s right. And he’s always been one to run against the odds.

I think he had — luck often goes with hard work. No one worked harder than Rick Santorum in this race. And the kinds of lonely stops in Iowa that Susan described were the norm for him for months and months. But there was an upside to that, in that at a time in late November, December, when other candidates in Iowa who we barely remember were killing one another on the airwaves and elsewhere, he was below the radar screen.

So when that kind of anti-Romney vote was looking for a place to land, a place to coalesce, he was able to benefit from the fact that he had not been torn apart, as some of his rivals had been.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, in fact, Susan, for all — people, I think, in a way, maybe belittle what Santorum did because, well, he was the last of the anti-Romneys standing, but he was able to keep at it longer than any of the rest of them.

SUSAN PAGE: And we saw him be pretty effective in all those debates, even when he wasn’t getting very many questions because he was the guy on the end of the stage as one of the lowest-ranking ones in terms of the polls.

We saw him demonstrate some of his political skill today when he announced he was getting out. He talked about the people he had met. He talked in an affecting way about why he ran and what it meant to him and his vision for the country.

And these are effective skills that sets him up well for the future.  I mean, I think Santorum is just, what, about 53 years old now. I don’t think this is the last campaign he intends to run.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I thought it was touching when he spoke about — he talked about people with disabilities showing up at his events in connection with his daughter Bella, who had just gotten out of the hospital.

Jim O’Toole, what about his successes in this campaign, and how do you see him down the line? And then I want to ask both of you about what happens now with Romney.

JIM O’TOOLE: Well, I think that let’s take the most immediate thing first.

I don’t see him as a likely vice presidential choice. Romney is going to want to cultivate Sen. Santorum and the people that were voting for him, but I finally don’t think that he’s going want to kind of be going toward the social issue corner that Santorum represents.

He’s kind of blocked in Pennsylvania. The governor here was just elected in 2010, a Republican, and he can run for one more term. It won’t be for a while until there’s a Senate seat up for him. But when you look at 2016, if there’s not a Republican incumbent, he becomes one of the first two or three names mentioned as a potential Republican nominee that time around.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Susan, what about that? And then what about right now and his — how much bad blood is there? They were saying some really ugly things. Rick Santorum was saying Mitt Romney was the worst person to run against — for the Republican Party to run against Barack Obama.

SUSAN PAGE: Yes, later said — qualified that to say he meant on the issue of health care.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

SUSAN PAGE: But he called him a liar. He said he was an ultimate flip-flopper. I mean they were saying nasty things about one another as late as this morning.

So it’s not like they have had a lot of time for tempers to cool. And I think we sometimes forget that these people who run for president are human beings. So some of these things leave scars. I think that may be one reason why we didn’t hear Rick Santorum utter Mitt Romney’s name in this rather long speech he gave today pulling out.

But we know that the two men talked on the phone and that Romney has asked for a meeting with him. And I assume we will see an endorsement at some point down the road, but, yes, I think there are some hard feelings.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How hard do you think it will be, Jim O’Toole, for them to patch up whatever feelings there are on Santorum’s part toward Romney, vice versa, and what about the willingness of people who were supporting Rick Santorum now to back Gov. Romney?

JIM O’TOOLE: I think the first question is easier to answer than the second.

I think that Santorum and all the other Republican candidates said all along that they would have no trouble uniting behind a candidate running against President Obama. I think Barack Obama is the greatest thing the Republicans have in terms of a force for unity.

But, at the same time, I don’t want to stress that too much, in that while some of the social conservatives drawn to Sen. Santorum aren’t going to turn around and vote for President Obama, Romney wants something like enthusiasm from them, too. And that’s going to be tougher to engender. And he is going to need the help of people like Sen. Santorum to do that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan, how do you see the task ahead for Romney and winning over some of these folks who were — have been so enthusiastic about Santorum?

SUSAN PAGE: Well, Rick Santorum, I think, can be helpful.

But Jim mentioned Ronald Reagan as a unifier for the Republican Party. I’ll tell you someone who is more — a stronger uniter of the Republican Party today, and that is Barack Obama. Republicans of all stripes are very eager to deny President Obama a second term.

And, in the end, I think that is the strongest force that will unite the party behind Mitt Romney.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We are going to leave it there.

Susan Page, Jim O’Toole, we thank you both.

SUSAN PAGE: Thank you, Judy.

JIM O’TOOLE: Thank you.