Santorum starts to find new friends

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t much care who Gary Bauer endorses for president, but there’s a relevant backstory to this.

Bauer, for those unfamiliar with the name, is a prominent religious right leader, a veteran of the Reagan White House, and a former GOP presidential candidate (he finished fourth in Iowa in 2000, a few points ahead of John McCain). As of the weekend, Bauer is also an enthusiastic Rick Santorum supporter, traveling with the former senator to South Carolina yesterday.

Bauer … praised Santorum as “the next Ronald Reagan” while introducing him at Stax restaurant here.

“For me, Ronald Reagan has always defined what the right political prescription was for the United States,” Bauer said. “As I listened to [Santorum], I realized the next Ronald Reagan had been standing in front of me all this time and I hadn’t been paying attention.”

Now, Bauer doesn’t control a massive voting bloc, so in isolation, it’s not as if his endorsement will suddenly give Santorum a major boost towards the nomination.

I mention this, though, because we learned last week that several major religious right leaders planned to hold “an emergency meeting” in Texas on Saturday to find a “consensus” anti-Romney candidate they could coalesce behind. Bauer was one of the attendees, and a day later, he was on the campaign trail with Santorum.

It would suggest that if this Republican contingent intends to pick their horse, they’re betting on the former Pennsylvania senator (and not the disgraced former House Speaker).

In all likelihood, the right is too late. Romney won Iowa, he’ll win New Hampshire, and he’s leading in South Carolina and Florida. Conservatives knew early on they didn’t want him as their nominee, but they splintered and failed to pick a Romney rival when it could have made a difference. Sure, they’re scrambling now, and seem to be settling on Santorum, but if they wanted to have a real impact, these prominent far-right figures should have gotten their act together a month ago.

Still, it’ll be interesting to see just what kind of investments these movement conservatives are willing to make over the next week or two, and whether they have any success in driving some candidates (see Perry, Rick) from the race altogether.