RICK SANTORUM’S decision to quit the presidential race on Tuesday clarifies a number of things: Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee; the general election race will be closer than it otherwise would have been; and for the second cycle in a row, the conservative activists who make up the GOP’s base are going to get stiffed - they’ll be forced to reconcile themselves to a nominee whom many dislike.
This is not how the 2012 Republican primary was supposed to unfold. When the race unofficially got underway 18 months ago, the Tea Party was at the peak of its influence, having just handed Republicans control of the House of Representatives. The GOP presidential field was scrambling to appeal to the party’s new source of power, which looked like it might determine the identity of the next nominee. Candidates like Tim Pawlenty - a pleasant, competent technocrat during his two terms as governor of Minnesota - awkwardly recast themselves as fire-breathing deficit warriors, in an effort to get a leg up.