When Rick Santorum suspended his candidacy today, it came as something of a disappointment to me, even though I knew his eventual exit from the presidential race was inevitable.
Santorum was my "Alan Keyes candidate"—the guy I agreed with the most and was most passionate about but who I knew wouldn't win. Alan Keyes is the dynamic, pro-life conservative who ran most seriously for president in the primaries of 1996 and 2000 before sliding into political oblivion.
If Santorum had been able to beat Mitt Romney, he might have been our first Catholic president. I know most people think that John Kennedy was, but Kennedy was only nominally Catholic and made it well known that he wouldn't let his Catholicism get in the way of his political ambition. Kennedy birthed the philosophical cover used by pro-abortion Catholic politicians from Tip O'Neill and Geraldine Ferraro to Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden who place party and ideology above Christ and his Church.
Santorum, by contrast, did not run from even the most controversial of Catholic teachings, acknowledging the evils of birth control. There is no "I'm personally opposed but..." division of religion and politics in his life. If Santorum had gotten the nomination and gone on to be president, we would have finally gotten a Catholic president.
Alas, it was not to be. And, while Mitt Romney doesn't inspire any passion in me other than as the Anti-Obama, neither did John McCain or George W. Bush or Bob Dole or George H.W. Bush—which is as far back as I go with the Republican Party. McCain and the two Bushes were good candidates who could draw a broad range of voters while remaining mostly conservative. (Dole, the man whose most firm conviction was that he was next in line, was a waste of a nomination.)
While I've had my concerns about Romney, I think he is more conservative than being a politician from Massachusetts has allowed him to let on. Sure, he's a striver. He wants the presidency as a personal achievement but, then, anyone who runs does. And, if a politician governs the way he campaigns, the personal ambition doesn't negate his worthiness.
I would also note that his Mormonism doesn't negate his worthiness. While I don't believe Mormons are Christians, I think Obama's Christianity is, at best, a distant runner-up to his leftist ideology. Obama is a true believer but it's not Christ he truly believes in. So, the race is between a non-Christian and a nominal Christian. I have no problem voting for the conservative non-Christian who has promised to issue waivers to everyone involved should Obamacare not be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. I also know Romney won't be tempted to try to be president and Pope and all nine Supreme Court justices at the same time as Obama has.
Rick Santorum will be back. And the four or eight years he'll wait for his time to run will give him a chance to polish his sometimes stumbling or inarticulate presentation.
And, someday, after we have our first Mormon president, we'll have our first Catholic one.