Rick Santorum’s hugely strong performances in Tuesday’s contests in Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado amount to perhaps the most remarkable showing in a presidential-nomination battle since the eminently forgettable Henry Cabot Lodge won New Hampshire in 1964 as a decidedly unenthusiastic write-in candidate. Unlike Lodge, Santorum is a champion of conservatism, and his campaign will not prove at all forgettable.
Santorum has run a campaign on a budgetary shoestring. He has been written off repeatedly by the pundit class and by the entire political establishment. He was supposed to appeal only to social conservatives. But he has triumphed tonight, after winning in Iowa, after winning four — count them, four — uphill races in purplish-blue Pennsylvania. It is high time that people start respecting Santorum’s political skills, his political appeal, and his heartfelt conservative principles.
Meanwhile, his victory speech tonight hit perfect notes. His theme, that Barack Obama does not listen to the American people and that those people deserve to be listened to, is a winner. His pro-growth economic message is attractive to Reagan Democrats. And his sincerity is eminently likeable.
Mitt Romney still has all sorts of financial and organizational advantages. Newt Gingrich, nearing electoral irrelevance, still can call on effective bluster. But the voters in the heartland have made Rick Santorum now at least an even bet, if the bettors have any sense, to win the Republican nomination and defeat Barack Obama. And he and his family have earned this new status through hard work, perseverance, and sterling character. Conservatives have every reason to like what they see.