Good Money After Bad

I guess I ought to say something about Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign announcement yesterday. He did, in the end, come closer to messing up Mitt Romney’s nomination than anyone else last time around.

But as Trip Gabriel points out in a New York Times piece on Santorum’s launch amid terrible polling numbers, the 2016 field doesn’t exactly provide the best backdrop for him:

One reason for Mr. Santorum’s struggle this year is that in a field shaping up to include a dozen or more Republican contenders, including sitting governors and senators, he has not held office since 2007 and looks to many voters like someone who has already had his shot.

Yeah, I guess that could part of his problem. I mean, you’ve got a three-term New York Governor (not to mention former governors of Maryland and Virginia) who’s being treated as a nonentity in the race. But then it doesn’t explain why Santorum seems to have a lot less Christian conservative support than Ben Carson, or less overall support than Donald Trump or even Carly Fiorina.

But his immediate concern is that the two things so important to him in 2012–a slow, patient grassroots campaign focused almost entirely on Iowa, and then later on crucial financial backing from a billionaire angel, Foster Friess–may not be available to him before he’s shunted off the debate stage and out of the field by poor polling numbers. There’s just no time for a 99-county tour of Iowa before the deal goes down. And while Friess is bellying up to the bar for another big belt of Santorum’s campaign expenses, it doesn’t sound like he’s going to just dump vast sums into a Super-PAC like he did last time. He’s certainly playing coy with reporters about when and how much he’s going to give his buddy:

Friess volunteered that he spent $26,000 on a charter flight to join Santorum in Western Pennsylvania for his campaign kick-off. He told John Heilemann on Bloomberg Politics’ With All Due Respect that he might learn about his 2016 campaign giving “if you work real hard.”

That suggests that Friess might be opting for a 501c group, which under current law can fund political efforts without disclosing donors, rather than a super-PAC, which reports regularly to the Federal Election Commission. Asked whether that’s the case, Friess would only say, “Could be.”

It might also suggest that Friess doesn’t want criticism for spending less on Santorum than he did in 2012. Who knows?

But you do have to credit Friess for being a hilariously robotic Santorum spinmeister. Here’s what he had to say about Rick’s chances in 2016, per Bloomberg Politics‘ Mark Niquette:

“He has the best chance of winning,” Friess said. “I can’t imagine why anybody would not vote for him.”

Guess that’s why he’s bumping around between 1 and 2 percent in all the early polls. As for his new “middle class” message, which combines ultra-nativism with a call for a minimum wage increase–it seems to be going over about as well as Chris Christie’s ringing call for Social Security benefit cuts. I mean, you go to hear Rick Santorum speak, and he’s not talking about baby-killing and man-on-dog sex? Who needs him?

I’m afraid that may be the question that kills his 2016 campaign.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.