The One GOP Debate Candidate That Probably Won't See The Stage Again

The first GOP debate of the new year is coming up, and this the lineup will be a bit different this time. As usual, there will be both an undercard debate and a primetime debate; unlike previous debates, however, only six candidates will be allowed onto the main stage, as opposed to twelve. The lineup hasn't been announced yet, but regardless of who makes the cut, it's likely that one candidate won't make any debate stage again — and that's former Senator Rick Santorum.

Rick Santorum entered the race with high expectations, by which I mean you were probably high if you expected anything significant to come of his candidacy. Despite being one of the last men standing in the 2012 Republican primary, Santorum hasn't won an actual election since 2000, and his particular brand of social conservatism — you know, the kind that condemns all contraceptive use as morally wrong and considers gay sex and bestiality to be basically the same thing — isn't quite in vogue anymore.

When Santorum announced his candidacy, it begged the question: Could a man whose political fortunes peaked in the 1990s make a splash in 2016? As it turns out, no: Santorum struggled to gain steam from day one, and that never really changed. With Lindsey Graham, George Pataki and Bobby Jindal out of the race, Santorum is now the lowest-polling candidate still in the running, pulling an average of just 0.3 percent.

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Santorum's main problem is that for everything he offers the Republican electorate, there's another candidate who offers a more appealing version of it. Blue-collar economic populism was Santorum's thing last time around; now, the much more entertaining Donald Trump has that covered. Santorum is a die-hard social conservative, but hey, you can get all of the same policies from Marco Rubio without any of the explicit bigotry that comes with Santorum. He's hawkish on foreign policy, but hey, so is everybody else in the GOP race. And so on.

Due to his lack of popularity, Santorum has been relegated to the undercard debate every time so far. Every candidate he's shared that stage with has now either dropped out of the race (Jindal, Pataki, Rick Perry) or ascended to the main debate (Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina). The exception is Mike Huckabee, but he only recently joined Santorum at the kid's table; in this sense, one might consider Santorum the "sole survivor" of the undercard debate.

Not that that's much of a consolation. Santorum's days in this race are numbered, and frankly, it's a surprise he hasn't dropped out yet. This could well be his last debate, and if it's not, it may as well be.