The Republican nomination battle is definitely not over — but Rick Santorum’s path to victory is now extremely steep and narrow. Mitt Romney’s campaign really is looking like the death star, pounding the rebels into submission with the dark energy of a relentlessly negative campaign.
Santorum needs several developments in order to pull out the biggest political upset anywhere since . . . well, since his own first election victory in 1990. First, he needs to secure at least one major endorsement from a respected figure, one big enough to undermine the narrative that Romney is the inevitable nominee. If Newt Gingrich, for instance, not only dropped out and endorsed Santorum, but began campaigning on his behalf, it could do a lot of good. Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, or even a John Ashcroft or Phil Gramm are among the very few who could get enough attention to make a difference. The point is that for somebody important to put himself on the line even against such long odds is for that person to signal that the race is . . . not . . . over . . . yet.
The second thing that could help Santorum is to somehow goad Romney into another debate — and then to completely outclass him.
The third, and most important thing, is for Santorum significantly to expand his appeal into new constituencies. He is getting crushed among high-income earners in every state; he is getting crushed in suburbia in most states; he is somehow consistently losing among Catholics. He needs to tweak his message to reach these constituencies. Professional women don’t identify with bowling alleys. Insurance executives don’t get excited by incentives for manufacturing.
Santorum so far has used an amazing alchemy to do as well as he has. He has over-performed by a greater degree than any presidential candidate since 1976. All credit is due to him and his team. But they need an attention-grabbing, game-changing gambit now. Otherwise, Romney will be the nominee — and conservatives again will have been told to sit in the corner and shut our mouths.
— Quin Hillyer is a senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom and a senior editor of The American Spectator.