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Gingrich, Santorum Now Mostly a Sideshow

As Alana noted earlier, there’s a lot of talk about Rick Santorum pulling off the campaign trail for several days, that he’s reassessing his campaign, and that there might even be a Santorum-Gingrich “unity effort” to try to stop Mitt Romney from winning the GOP nomination.

Count me among those who believe that what Santorum decides doesn’t matter all that much.

I say that because the race is decided, even if it’s not officially over. Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee. Reporters have stopped covering Newt Gingrich, and they will become increasingly uninterested in what Santorum says. And Governor Romney is wisely focusing all his attention on President Obama rather than his GOP opponents. So even if Santorum stays in the race, the dynamic has fundamentally shifted. The only way Santorum can get much attention is by increasingly shrill attacks on the person who has, in a long and fair contest, soundly defeated him. And that will hurt Santorum even more than Romney. Even now, Santorum’s complaints about the GOP “establishment” and its “aristocracy” seem out of touch. (People like Jim DeMint, Ron Johnson, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Paul Ryan hardly qualify as RINOs.)

Rick Santorum did better than anyone, including probably Santorum himself, thought possible. He ended up second (albeit in a historically weak field of challengers to Romney). And he has undone much of the damage, and the memory, of his 18-point defeat in 2006. But at this stage, the outcome of the November election will not hinge on what the former Pennsylvania senator does. It would be better for the Republican Party, its eventual nominee, and Santorum’s future if he exited the stage (a primary loss in his home state would bring back the ghosts of 2006 in a hurry).

But Santorum, like Gingrich before him, is increasingly irrelevant. Governor Romney has the spotlight, the (de facto) nomination, and the party behind him. We’ve reached the point where his GOP opponents are more or less a sideshow.