There comes a point in a presidential campaign — and in the lore, it’s always 3 a.m. when this happens — where the candidate finds himself staring at the ceiling, contemplating financial ruin. Rick Santorum has arrived at his 3 a.m. moment and now must decide what to do next.
He isn’t going to win the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. That required a knockout blow last week, which he failed to deliver in Michigan, or this week, which he failed to deliver in Ohio. It doesn’t matter how agonizingly close he came in both states. He didn’t get it done.
And so he’s now engaged in a war of attrition, fighting an opponent (Romney) who can under-write his own campaign with a personal check for $30 million or $40 million or $50 million.
This is it for Romney. He either wins the GOP presidential nomination this time around or he will never win the GOP presidential nomination. And Romney knows it. So when he said Tuesday that he would not under-write his own campaign with personal funds, but would instead continue to fund-raise from others, what he meant was: “If it comes to that, then I will spend whatever it takes.”
Santorum knows this only too well. He talked about it on Monday, in Miamisburg, Ohio, saying that if he had Romney’s money, he would be well on his way to the nomination. But he doesn’t. And there’s no pretending that he can raise it.
As it is, he’s eating into his personal savings just to keep going. Or as The Los Angeles Times reported: “Santorum (said) that his family is sacrificing financially because he gave up lucrative work to run for president. ‘I walked away from all the jobs that I had, all the money, that is, and we’re living, basically we’re spending down our savings, not necessarily the best thing to do when you have three kids entering into college in the next couple years,’ he said.”
That’s what you think about in the proverbial Marriott Courtyard at 3 a.m., when you’re Rick Santorum. You think, “I cannot possibly win a war of attrition. All the ammunition is on the other side. In every state that matters, we keep coming up a little short. Newt isn’t going to get out; he’s waiting for me to buckle and fold. I’m doomed and there’s nothing I can do that will change that. And at the end of the day, I may not have any savings left at all.”
But running for president is a very powerful drug. All the attention, all the energy, all the edge gets into your bloodstream. Going back to a life of lobbying for some unimportant Pennsylvania health care companies at $50,000 per month seems beyond tedious by comparison. You don’t exactly bounce out of bed to do that. You do it for the money and that’s it.
Running for president is exhilarating, especially when you’re Rick Santorum and been left for dead after losing in a landslide in Pennsylvania in 2006. It’s vindication; I was right and they were wrong. It’s proof that you “have what it takes.”
So Rick Santorum won’t give up the drug until he absolutely has to, until (as they say) the last dog dies. It’s no longer about logic or delegates or the possibility of the vice presidential nomination. It’s about validation. He is now who he thinks he should be. He’ll have to figure out a way to put his finances back in order later.