The Conservative dilemma & why Santorum will fall

The impressive near-victory by Rick Santorum in last night’s Iowa caucus is making headlines today, but his star will fall soon enough. As I argued in my last post, Mitt Romney is the inevitable candidate, and for two reasons: he can beat Barack Obama, and he would be a pretty good president.

Santorum is simply the latest in the never-ending train of “anti-establishment” candidates, a fact evinced by his complete inability to earn serious consideration by Republicans until all other options imploded. Mitt Romney is not the guy conservatives wanted this time around, but they will soon have to admit what we really knew all along: that guy isn’t in the race.

I rooted for Mitch Daniels early on. He declined to run. Others rooted for Chris Christie, Paul Ryan or Marco Rubio, but it simply isn’t their time. What we ultimately ended up with is a field of candidates who are each impressive in their own way, but come with at least one massive handicap. Perry’s home-state success can’t outweigh his debate gaffes; Paul’s conviction for individual liberty can’t outweigh his wacky foreign policy; Gingrich’s excellent debate skills can’t outweigh his personal baggage; Cain has his sketchy past and Bachmann has this.

Santorum cannot be the nominee because he is completely mismatched to the concerns of the electorate. He is a hard social conservative running at a time when jobs, the economy and international instability are key concerns. I like that faith and family are important to him (just as they are with Romney) but sometimes you need a chaplain and sometimes you need a mechanic.

The 2016 and 2020 cycles will provide a bevy of seasoned conservatives from which to elect a national standard-bearer. But for 2012 we have two possible choices: Romney or Obama.

This is sad news for fiscal conservatives who felt they were abandoned in 2008 with a McCain nomination (include me among them). This, not Obama, is what kick-started the Tea Party movement. They have spent four years anticipating 2012, and they are working hard to show that they will not be pushed around, which has resulted in one of the most bizarre nominating processes in recent history. But again, Santorum’s social focus will not enthuse this crowd for long.

I am willing to acknowledge the good fight and go with the candidate most likely to result in a better America, even if he’s not ideal. But there are plenty of martyrs left to continue the resistance. Those who think America is ready for a hard-lined conservative are ignoring the realities of the country they live in.

Our best chance is nominating Romney and making sure that the Congress he must work with is solidly conservative. He might not win. And he wouldn’t be as conservative a president as one of the other guys. But let’s not forget that what brought our nation leftward was not presidents but culture. If we want to reverse course, it’s got to happen outside of the voting booth.

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