Guest Column: Santorum’s exit no sure way to Republican Party unity

Steffen Schmidt

Rick Santorum has “suspended” his campaign. All the pundits tell us the real race for the White House can begin.

But I wonder if that’s true. Maybe there is more Republican Party insider fighting coming alongside the general. I say this because, in watching Santorum and other conservative and religious Republican leaders talk about what Santorum’s suspension means, I am not hearing unconditional support for Mitt Romney.

The Republican Party has emerged from a grueling and costly primary season highly fragmented. Among the tribes in the party, we have the mainstream Republicans who coalesced around Mitt Romney as the most likely candidate to give President Barack Obama a good run for his money in November.

We also have Ron Paul’s Libertarian Republicans, who I’m not even sure are really part of the Republican political spectrum in the United States.

Third, we have what are called the “true conservatives,” which includes Christian evangelicals and other religious-based GOP voters.

Finally, we have the tea party movement, which doesn’t necessarily sit apart from these other categories but which has evolved with a life, leaders and grass-roots organizations of its own.

Romney still has to accumulate 1,144 delegates before he is safely the candidate of the Republican Party. Two candidates, Paul and Newt Gingrich, still remain in the race.

In states where delegates are allocated proportionately to the vote, they may continue to accumulate delegates. Then there is the problem that Santorum has a sizable number of delegates who are not Romney’s to have, and Santorum has not indicated whether he will ask them to vote for Romney at the convention.

Gingrich is a whole different matter. He seems unwilling to support Romney or perhaps any other Republican but himself. How he will see his continued campaign in the coming months is unclear today, but in any case, it remains an irritation and a distraction to the front-runner.

We still could see some fireworks at the GOP convention in August, as those who were not enthusiastic about Romney jockey for positions on the platform and other influence deals. There also will be some challenges to seating delegates and fights by states that had their delegate counts cut in half by the Republican National Committee because they “jumped in front of the line” in the primaries.

Let me also comment on the widespread assumption that all the Republican voters and leaders of Republican interest groups will rally around Romney and give him their enthusiastic support.

I’m not sure that actually will happen. The reason is that there are rumblings and rumors spreading around from the Republican side that Santorum pulled out of this year’s race ahead of a likely embarrassing primary defeat in his home state of Pennsylvania.

There is also talk that he withdrew from the race at this point in order to preserve his credibility for a potential White House run in 2016.

If there is any truth to this, it means that Santorum and his supporters and especially the “true conservative,” Christian base of the party may actually prefer Obama have a second term, leaving the field clear for a 2016 run for the White House by a rested and reconstituted Santorum.

Remember, they still don’t like or trust Romney very much. And, since they believe Obama is a disaster, by 2016 the country should be in such bad shape voters will have no choice but to vote Republican all up and down the ticket.

Most of us think short term. Real thinkers and ideologues think long term and 2016 is not that far away.

There is still a lot of healing and coming together left for the GOP. So this will be the political equivalent of three-dimensional chess.