Rick Santorum Feb. 7, 2012 (Reuters)
Rick Santorum at election night rally in Missouri, Feb. 7, 2012 Photo by Reuters
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Following the spectacular failure of the pollsters to predict Binyamin Netanyahu’s 1996 election victory over Shimon Peres, the hyperbolic term “Yom Kippur of the pollsters” became fashionable, to signify a political surprise of a magnitude similar to the Israeli intelligence failure in the 1973 war.

But in the current Republican primary season, a “Yom Kippur of the pollsters” or a “Pearl Harbor of the pundits” occurs almost on a weekly basis. This time it was former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum who confounded the critics while smashing the frontrunner Mitt Romney and decimating his own conservative counterpart, Newt Gingrich.

A Santorum victory in small-town conservative Minnesota was considered within reason, and a close race with a good second-place finish in Missouri was also in the cards. But no one even thought to mention the possibility of a triple win – a political trifecta – that would include a victory in Colorado, where Romney won with a resounding 60% of the vote in the 2008 Republican primaries.

Even after his loss, Romney continues to be the Republican’s leading and “inevitable” candidate, the one with money, organization and the support of the establishment, and he has only one slight problem: the voters don’t seem like him very much. Every time it seems that they may have come to terms with his supposedly predestined candidacy, they turn around and try out an alternative: once it’s Gingrich, now it’s Santorum, later it might even be Ron Paul, and in the end, who knows, someone who isn’t even a candidate.

Romney, nebbish, was caught napping. He made the rational decision not to devote too much effort to Minnesota or Missouri, whose primaries were symbolic anyway, but he apparently forgot one of the golden rules of politics, on which Netanyahu, by the way, is an expert: that the trend is much more important than the actual results, as are appearances and what the Americans call “the big Mo” – momentum. Now all of these are in Santorum’s hand, and not only was Romney right when he told his followers yesterday that “there is a long way to go”, but the arrival at his final destination is no longer as certain as it was before.

If Romney had any consolation yesterday, it was in the fact that while he was beaten by Santorum, Gingrich was completely crushed. The former Speaker didn’t waste too much time or effort in yesterday’s contests either, as he is concentrating on next month’s Super Tuesday primaries, but a candidate who purports to be the only alternative to Romney cannot allow himself to garner such miniscule support or to finish in fourth and last place, as he did in Minnesota.

Gingrich can also forget about Santorum heeding his call to resign from the race so that the conservative wing of the party could unite behind Gingrich. On the contrary, it is Gingrich who must now be concerned about Santorum’s momentum and the newfound enthusiasm that his victories are likely to spark among supporters and financial backers. In fact, it is Gingrich who will probably now face increasing pressure from conservatives to make way for Santorum to be the consensual “anti-Romney” candidate and conservatism’s standard bearer in the battle against Obama.

Strange as it may seem to many Israelis and a sizeable chunk of American Jews, the Republicans don’t have too much ammunition to fight Obama on foreign policy, and the steady economic improvement is also making life more difficult by the day, especially for Romney’s main claim to fame, his business acumen.

What’s left is the cause célèbre of Catholics, Evangelicals and other devout social conservatives: the fight for family values. And with the intensifying controversy and debate over the Administration’s insistence on forcing Catholic institutions to cover the cost of contraceptives in their employees’ health insurance, Santorum may have found the perfect vehicle to assert his leadership and to rally the troops behind him.

He is not a moderate-turned-conservative like Romney nor a tainted serial philanderer like Gingrich, but rather a perfect knight in shining armor who can lead the Republicans on their crusade to retake the White House from the usurping heretic who currently resides there.

This scenario may seem improbable and even outlandish, but going by the track record of the prophecies in the Republican race so far, it should be viewed as a very distinct possibility.

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