For quite a while, Bill Kristol, The Weekly Standard editor and leading Republican voice, has been pining for new entrants into the Republican presidential field. But this week, the GOP pundit seems to have found a new love — who happens to already be running.

[Rick] Santorum can hope to win. He has been running to win. And after what he pulled off in Iowa, it’s foolish to suggest he doesn’t have a chance to win. His Iowa performance, and his speech Tuesday night, were impressive enough to suggest to primary voters in subsequent states that they should make an effort to judge both his capacity to win and his capacity to govern.

Organizational and financial advantages often prevail. But isn’t the story of America that they don’t always determine the outcome? And, by the way, if the candidate with those advantages does prevail, won’t he be better off for having faced a serious challenger? […]

Santorum — and anyone else in the field, or anyone who may still enter — deserves “an open field and a fair chance” to compete for the “big White House” that Lincoln occupied. All American history is saying, and all we are saying, is … give Rick a chance.

That’s a nice sentiment, and given Kristol’s role in Republican Party politics, his appeal to “give Rick a chance” is pretty interesting. If The Weekly Standard editor starts taking steps to promote Santorum and encourage his political allies to do the same, it might actually have an impact on the race.

But Kristol has to know it would have been infinitely smarter of him to have made this pronouncement, say, two months ago. Four days ago, Romney won Iowa; three days from now, Romney will win New Hampshire. The latest polls show him as the clear favorite in South Carolina. Republicans can “give Rick a chance,” but so long as Republicans are giving Mitt their votes, this race appears to be over.

The only credible avenue left is for the various anti-Romney factions — Kristol and his allies, the religious right, the far-right netroots, etc. — to quickly settle on one candidate and start pushing everyone else out. But so long as Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry are dividing the right, Romney has reason to feel confident.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.