This year, Whim has covered several interesting developments in the Republican presidential race. As journalists, students, and citizens, we should all take some interest in the more obvious and pivotal aspects of the campaign — one of which undoubtedly occurred last week, when far-right conservative Rick Santorum announced the termination of his presidential bid. An underdog from the beginning, Santorum won 11 state primaries (and trailed front-runner Mitt Romney by eight votes in the Iowa caucuses) before his withdrawal.
Part of Santorum’s decision relates to his family life; he and his wife Karen have seven children, the youngest of whom was born with Edwards syndrome. Her illness and resulting hospitalizations have been cited by Santorum and his staffers as the deciding factor in the suspension and termination of the campaign, but political factors play a major role as well. Specifically cited by one aide was the continuing presence of Newt Gingrich; the aide said that the campaign “needed Newt to step aside a long time ago” for Santorum to have any further chance at the Republican nomination.
This sort of comment — which comes across as distastefully snippy, to me — highlights a perpetually interesting question for campaign junkies. When, exactly, should a candidate make the decision to drop out of a race? How many primaries need to be won or lost for the eventual outcome to become obvious? Should ideologically similar competitors be willing to cede to their erstwhile opponents for the sake of their overarching message or party platform?
Like many others, I am truly astonished that Gingrich is still in the race. The former Speaker of the House has won only two primaries (South Carolina and Georgia), and has run a campaign marked by staffing misfortunes and damaging personal attacks. Several senior staffers left his team last June, and his checkered marital past — Gingrich has been married three times, twice to former mistresses — has proved a major stumbling block to conservative Republicans who prize family values.
Yet Gingrich remains in the race. To me, it does seem like a waste of time and money on the part of his campaign — but unlike most political analysts, I don’t think Gingrich has an obligation to leave the race. We pride ourselves on holding free and fair elections in this country; if Gingrich has the money and inclination to stay in the race, he shouldn’t have to kowtow to the wishes of the political machine’s favorite.
It isn’t even as if Romney is an entirely robust candidate. As previously mentioned, he only won the pivotal Iowa caucuses by eight votes, and he has amassed less than 600 of the over 1,000 delegates already allotted. Furthermore, Santorum notably failed to endorse the former Massachusetts governor in his exit speeches.
Our political campaigns seem to drag on for ages — but we shouldn’t cut them short unnecessarily.