The Spectacle Blog

The Santorum Snowball Effect

By on 12.30.11 | 11:37AM

Aaron Goldstein asks what would happen if Rick Santorum actually won the Iowa caucuses Tuesday. Though I don't think that's very likely, the fact this is no longer a ridiculous hypothetical -- at least one poll has Santorum in second place behind Mitt Romney -- shows that anything is possible.

Call it the "Santorum snowball effect." Social conservatives in Iowa have been looking for a candidate. As the polls increasingly show Santorum ahead of other possible choices, more uncommitted social conservatives will break toward him rather than Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann. In fact, he is beginning to eat into some of their committed supporters. (Don't believe me? Notice that Perry has run an anti-Santorum ad.) This momentum has the potential to build.

The question is whether Santorum is well situated to capitalize on his Iowa performance, no matter where in the top three he falls (and I do think he will be top three, barring a major shift). My sense is that he doesn't have the money or organization to do much beyond beat Romney in some Southern primaries and maybe Pennsylvania, and that he is ill prepared for a longer campaign.

If you are Romney, you want to see Iowa derail Gingrich and Perry. Those are the two Republicans who can potentially beat Romney. They are also the two candidates who can force Romney into a protracted nomination fight where he wins but ends up irritating large portions of the base in the process. If either Santorum or Ron Paul gets to be the last man standing against Romney, it will be win-win for both them and Romney: they will get more votes than they could have ever thought possible, without ever really threatening Romney's nomination.

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