“We did it again.” So began Rick Santorum’s victory speech in LaFayette, Louisiana, where he was celebrating two victories none of the experts had predicted. The former Pennsylvania senator has now won 10 states, but his victories Tuesday in the Alabama and Mississippi primaries might have been his biggest surprises so far.
Santorum spent so many months as the hopeless underdog of the Republican presidential field that his successes always seem to surprise the experts, who counted him out of contention before the campaign ever began. The experts never gave him a chance to win the Iowa caucuses until he won on January 3. The experts wrote that off as a fluke, and another 35 days passed before Santorum won again — a triple victory February 7 in Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado. That was likewise counted as insignificant, and all the experts accepted the explanation from the Mitt Romney campaign that these were insignificant “non-binding” contests which made no difference to the former Massachusetts governor’s status as front-runner. A week ago, on Super Tuesday, Santorum won three of the 10 states that held contests. The next day in Boston, the Romney campaign gathered the press corps for a briefing where top aides explained that the mathematics of the delegate count made their candidate all but certain to win the GOP nomination. As one of the aides said, it would take “an act of God” for Romney to lose.
Perhaps God overheard that remark, or maybe someone forgot to explain to Republican voters in Kansas that they didn’t matter, because Santorum won the caucuses there Saturday. This brought Santorum’s total of victories to eight, but again, the experts dismissed the result: Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich hadn’t even bothered to campaign there. None of the experts saw much significance in Gingrich’s absence from Kansas, but he had canceled his schedule there after Santorum won Tennessee on Super Tuesday, which signaled Newt’s unexpected vulnerability in the South. Gingrich doubled down in Alabama and Mississippi, which at one point last week his campaign called “must win” states for him, before deciding to lower the stakes.
Meanwhile, the experts looked at the polls, the average of which showed Santorum third in Alabama and also third in Mississippi. So, the experts agreed, the big question Tuesday was whether Gingrich or Romney would win. Once again, however, someone forgot to tell those darned Republican voters that the experts had already agreed on the outcome. And so, after Santorum had already been declared the winner in Alabama, but while Mississippi was still seen as “too close to call,” the guy nobody thought could win took the stage in LaFayette and told his supporters: “We did it again.”
Perhaps the experts didn’t notice that Santorum spoke in the first person plural: “We did it again,” the pronoun signifying a large group of grassroots supporters who kept working for victory even when the experts said there was no chance Santorum could win. “The time is now,” the winner said, “for conservatives to pull together.”
Santorum wasn’t speaking merely to the Louisiana voters in the room, but also to the night’s biggest loser: Gingrich, who evidently had no intention to “pull together” if that meant dropping out of the campaign. When Newt went onstage in Birmingham, he vowed to stay in the race all the way to the GOP convention in Tampa. The logic of Gingrich’s campaign had just become utterly implausible. He followed up his defiant speech by going on Fox News for an interview with Brett Baier, who asked: “If you can’t win in Alabama and Mississippi, where can you win?” Newt had no real answer to that question, and none of the experts on the Fox News panel — among them the eminent Charles Krauthammer — were able to discern any real “path to victory” for the former Speaker.
What happened Tuesday night was another surprise in a long series of surprises, and who know how many more times will Santorum win such surprising victories?
Don’t ask me. Go ask the experts. They know everything, right?