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August 09, 2013 8:04 AM Rick Santorum, Still Not Going Away

By Jonathan Bernstein

Byron York had an column on Rick Santorum earlier in the week, featuring an interview, and asserting that “Santorum will again be underestimated” as a presidential candidate in 2016.

Now, for one thing, he repeats the “runner-up” nonsense. But we can put that aside, I think.

A more interesting question is whether Santorum qualifies as a viable candidate. Could he actually win a nomination?

My two-step test (hey, I have a column up today about Christie which goes through that again) says that all viable candidates must have conventional qualifications and positions on public policy within the party’s mainstream.

Santorum was a two-term Senator who was defeated for re-election in 2007. If that was all, I’d say that he did not have conventional qualifications. Nine years from office, and he lost last time out? There’s no one similar to that who came anywhere close to winning a nomination in the modern (after 1968) era.

However, it has to count for something that he ran for president in 2012 and won several primaries and caucuses, including Iowa. I spent 2011-2012 saying that Santorum was close to the line for conventional qualifications…I think I’d have to say that his 2012 wins mean he has somewhat stronger qualifications this time around. I guess. Sort of. So he passes that test, albeit not by much.

What’s less clear, however, is whether Santorum is within the party mainstream on public policy — that is, on economic policy. I don’t think I know the answer to that, but we do know that he was utterly incapable of attracting significant party support last time around, and I strongly suspect it was for policy reasons. And from this interview, it sounds as if he’s moving farther from party orthodoxy, not embracing it.

I guess that sort of leaves him right on the edge of viability, pending more information.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.

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