In a late-night e-mail to supporters on Monday, Rick Santorum endorsed Mitt Romney, the man he once called “the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama.”
Santorum’s endorsement came almost a month after he dropped out of the presidential race and was laden with disclaimers. The former senator from Pennsylvania appeared wary of being labeled a sellout by his conservative base, writing “I felt that it was completely impossible for me to even consider an endorsement until after a meeting to discuss issues critical to those of us who often feel our voices are not heard by the establishment: social conservatives, Tea Party supporters, lower- and middle-income working families.”
Santorum said “the primary campaign certainly made it clear that Governor Romney and I have some differences.” He also noted disagreements about economic policy and said he “had concerns about Governor Romney making a case as a candidate about fighting against Obamacare.”
It was Romney’s Massachusetts health care law — which helped shape Obama’s national legislation — that prompted Santorum’s “worst Republican in the country” remark.
But Santorum said he was moved to back Romney after a “candid, collegial” one-on-one meeting in Pittsburgh that lasted more than an hour.
“There are many significant areas in which we agree,” Santorum said: “the need for lower taxes, smaller government, and a reduction in out-of-control spending. We certainly agree that abortion is wrong and marriage should be between one man and one woman. I am also comfortable with Governor Romney on foreign policy matters, and we share the belief that we can never allow Iran to possess nuclear weapons.”
“Above all else,” Santorum continued, “we both agree that President Obama must be defeated. The task will not be easy. It will require all hands on deck if our nominee is to be victorious. Governor Romney will be that nominee, and he has my endorsement and support to win this, the most critical election of our lifetime.”
Santorum told supporters that “I look forward to working together to defeat President Obama” but did not indicate plans to campaign alongside Romney.
The Romney campaign on Tuesday morning had not yet released a statement about Santorum’s endorsement.
Throughout the primary season, Santorum argued that a Romney win over Obama would be virtually impossible because the former Massachusetts governor is not conservative enough. In March, Santorum memorably suggested replacing Obama with Romney would make little difference because the two are so similar.
“If they’re going to be a little different, we might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk of what may be the Etch A Sketch candidate for the future,” he said.
In early April, as pressure to concede the nomination to Romney mounted, Santorum rejected the assessment of Florida Senator Marco Rubio that a contested national convention would be “very catastrophic for Republicans.”
“There is one thing worse than a convention fight, and that’s picking the wrong candidate, not picking the best candidate to give us the best chance to win,” Santorum said.
In his e-mail to supporters, Santorum predicted Romney will face “relentless attacks from the Democrats,” and said he will pray for his former rival.
Santorum added in a post-script note that “very soon we will be making another big announcement, and I will be asking you to once again join forces with me to keep up the fight, together.”
Callum Borchers can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.