The Next GOP Candidate To Drop Out Should Be The Guy Literally Polling At Zero Percent

We’ve survived yet another Republican debate, and the field of candidates is finally showing signs of winnowing. A mere ten people participated in this debate, compared with the 17 who crowded the two stages at the first GOP forum. That’s an improvement, but it’s still too big, as evidenced by the fact that Fox Business Network once again split the field into two different debates. There are still too many people running, and the next Republican to drop out should be Rick Santorum.

When it comes time to pick presidential candidates, it’s often said that Republicans nominate the candidate who’s “next in line” (whatever that means — it’s always left vague). This isn’t really true, but the myth nevertheless provided a plausible rationale for Santorum’s 2016 presidential run. During the 2012 race, Santorum won the Iowa caucuses, plus primaries in 10 other states, and was the only Republican to give Mitt Romney a legitimate run for his money. He ultimately didn’t succeed, but he got closer than any of the other Republicans running for president that year.

That must have been been going through Santorum’s head when he decided to run four years later. But while Santorum benefited from a historically weak field of candidates in 2012, many of the Republicans who entered the race in 2016 did so with significant bases of support, huge financial networks, or — in the case of Donald Trump — both. This has made things exponentially harder for Santorum, a former senator who lost his last election by 18 points.

Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

With abrasive “tough-talkers” like Trump and Chris Christie, establishment favorites like Jeb Bush and John Kasich, and young fresh faces like Marco Rubio and Scott Walker, there just hasn’t been any room for Santorum to make a splash time around. Sure, he’s a genuine conservative, and back in 2012, he could have plausibly claimed to be the most conservative Republican in the race. He can’t make that claim in 2016, as several of his opponents — Rubio, Cruz, and Ben Carson in particular — are arguably more conservative than he is.

As a result, Santorum has been relegated to the kids’ table in every 2016 debate. During this most recent forum, as with previous ones, he hit on many of his favorite themes, like the idea that most of America’s problems would be solved if only we could preserve traditional families (that is, ban gay marriage) together and outlaw abortion. But it hasn’t worked: Santorum now has a polling average of zero percent per Real Clear Politics, putting him behind even the likes of Mike Huckabee, though Fox Business Network's polling criteria still managed to allow him to participate in the undercard debate.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

It’s understandable why Santorum decided to run in 2016. What isn’t understandable is why he’s still running. For eight months, he’s been a non-entity in the race, and this last debate did nothing to change that. It’s time to throw in the towel, Rick.