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Santorum has no coattails

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FILE -- Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum (FNC)

The classic definition of the Yiddish term "chutzpah" is the boy who murdered both his parents and then claimed lenient treatment from the court because he was an orphan: Rick Santorum fits it like a glove.

Last week, the Republican presidential hopeful and former Pennsylvania Senator Santorum graciously signaled to Mitt Romney he was now prepared to serve as the GOP frontrunner’s running mate after doing everything possible to split, weaken and discredit the GOP ticket.

Now it’s common practice for the victory in a presidential nomination contest to pick his also-ran as his running mate. The advantages are obvious: Such a pick heals or at least papers over the divisions that split the party during the nomination race, and the new Number Two can complement the candidate by bringing along his own supporters.

Sometimes it works: John F. Kennedy would never have scraped home against Richard Nixon in 1960 had he not put Lyndon Johnson, a man he personally loathed, on the ticket. And while George Herbert Walker Bush wasn’t essential to Ronald Reagan’s blow-out defeat of Jimmy Carter in 1980, he didn’t get in the way of it either.

But winning candidates certainly aren’t compelled to pick the number two man (or woman) as their running mate. George W. Bush reached out to Dick Cheney in 2000 and Barack Obama famously picked Joe Biden over Hillary Clinton four years ago – and their choices worked for both of them.

But when an also-ran has attacked the frontrunner publicly, mercilessly and scathingly throughout the campaign – putting him on the ticket will not strengthen the candidate, it will critically weaken him. 

That is Santorum’s problem for Romney in a nutshell. If Romney picks him as his running mate now, Santorum will weaken Romney, not strengthen him. In fact, he’ll bury Romney six feet under.

First, Romney won’t look confident and commanding by appointing his last real challenger, he will look a wimp, weak and insecure – everything he is trying so hard to avoid. 

Second, the enthusiasm of the “anyone-but-Romney” forces for Santorum have revealed their own political bankruptcy. The amazing fact is that Santorum is infinitely more the Washington insider than Romney ever was. 

Third Santorum has no coattails in a national election: He couldn’t even get himself re-elected as senator from Pennsylvania.

Santorum spent 20 straight years as a full-time national professional politician sitting in Congress. During that time, as a recent devastating anti-Santorum ad noted, he voted to raise the federal spending limit several times, voted with Hillary Clinton to allow former convicted felons to vote and pushed through more than a billion dollars in pork barrel earmarks for his own state. 

Does that sound like the New, Clean Politics to you? It sounds like the usual mushy-liberal corrupt consensus to me.

A man who spent the last year telling the world that Mitt Romney lacks the character to be president now says he will support Mitt Romney for the presidency if Mitt Romney makes him vice president. 

What does this say about Rick Santorum’s own character and moral fitness to be either president or vice president? 

What does it say about his respect for the supporters who believed him when he endlessly badmouthed the GOP frontrunner? 

What does it say about George Will’s enthusiastic endorsement of him for the party’s nomination?

That such a man as Santorum can end up as the Tea Party’s Last Great Hope to launch a new and golden era of Pure and Principled Politics is a devastating indictment of the Tea Party. The Tea Party was forged in the heat of principle and passion, but if the Tea Party finally settles for Santorum it will end in farce.

Mitt Romney certainly needs to rally the conservative faithful behind him in his great crusade. But if he thinks Rick Santorum is the running mate to do it, he might as well pack the whole thing in and go home to Bain Capital. Santorum sends every floating independent voter running, or collapsing in uncontrollable laughter. You might not like to hear that, but that’s the way it is.

Romney can certainly use a good running mate who will rally the faithful while attracting the independents. He might well consider Jeb Bush or Bobby Jindal. (He certainly shouldn’t yield to all the liberal siren-voices softly and smoothly telling him to put Condoleezza Rice on the ticket. Rice is rightly anathema to all conservatives and she won’t bring any black voters who are loyal to Obama or women voters who are loyal to Hillary either.) There’s plenty of other talent out there.

Mitt Romney isn’t Ronald Reagan and is never going to be. He isn’t going to be any kind of dream candidate for conservatives – ever. But he isn’t Barack Obama, Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton either. Romney represents a genuine and preferable alternative to the sitting president for conservatives.

The real question is: will Romney put up a decent fight against Barack Obama or will he just cower into a passive ball and give up the campaign the way Bob Dole and John McCain did? 

I don’t think Romney will do that. I think he will fight.

Great leaders elevate their causes: Ronald Reagan raised the banner of conservatism in the face of liberal jeers and carried it to victory. 

Rick Santorum is making principled conservatism a laughing stock and object of contempt: Rick Santorum is no Ronald Reagan.

Martin Sieff is the author of "That Should Still Be Us: How Thomas Friedman’s Flat World Myths Are Keeping Us Flat on Our Backs," published next month.