Mitt Romney thanks supporters at the Grain Exchange in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Tuesday, April 3, 2012. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
Rick Santorum started the 2012 presidential race as an asterisk seemingly destined for footnote status.
But Mitt Romney made Santorum a contender—so much so that, if the now all-but-certain Republican nominee loses to Democrat Barack Obama in November, Santorum may merit a chapter of his own in the “Making of the President” books.
Santorum’s improbable rise from bit player to potentially definitional figure in the 2012 contest was entirely the result of Anybody But Romney sentiment within a fractured Republican Party.
No one has been running for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination for longer than Romney. He began campaigning back in the middle of George Bush’s second term, stumbled through a 2008 bid and then kept on running.
Romney was almost always the front-runner.
But he was never loved, or even liked all that much, by Republican voters. Even to the last—in the Wisconsin and Maryland primaries of April 3—Romney could not get 50 percent of the vote. Republican voters in thirteen primary and caucus states gave wins to someone other than Romney. Four states put Romney in third place. Where Romney did win, if was more often than not by narrow margins—as in battleground states such as Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. And though the former governor of Massachusetts built and maintained a steady delegate lead, most Republicans voted for someone else—as of April 3, only 41 percent of GOP primary and caucus voters had backed Romney. The combined vote for other Republicans was roughly 6.6 million to around 4.5 million for Mr. Mitt.
The story of the 2012 Republican presidential race was not of Romney’s growing popularity. To the end, the candidate and his Super PAC had to spend dramatically in order to scrape out victories against the always underfunded and often bumbling Santorum campaign.
No, the story of the 2012 Republican presidential race was of a desperate search by most Republicans for Anyone But Romney. They never trusted the independent who gave money to Democrats turned liberal Republican turned moderate Republican turned sort of conservative turned right-wing ranter.
The great mass of Republican tried as hard as they could to find an alternative: Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, New Gingrich again and, at last, Santorum.