This afternoon, when Rick Santorum dropped out of the presidential race, my heart broke. As a young conservative, for as long as I can remember, the political landscape has been dominated by corrupt career politicians who ignore the voice of their constituents and vote as they please to gain power and riches. It seemed political efficacy was dead. The only people whose voice mattered were the rich and powerful who had the connections to run for office and buy votes. I’d given up hope for the 2012 election. And then, along came Rick Santorum and his incredible underdog campaign.
Why did Rick Santorum matter so much to me?
He went from being the longest of long shots, garnering one or two percent in presidential polls, to winning Iowa. In every state, he was outspent two or three times by the most prominent candidates. They ran attack ads that Santorum could not afford to respond to, yet people still voted for Santorum.
Time and again, GOP leaders endorsed Mitt Romney. Even conservative and Tea Party leaders, whose views Rick Santorum embodied, gave their endorsement to Mitt Romney. And still, Rick Santorum pulled off seemingly miraculous primary wins.
Rick Santorum had little money. The majority of his campaign finances came from small donations from private citizens, not rich businessmen or corporations. What he lacked in money, he made up in personal campaign stops to spread his message, perhaps most famously by visiting every county in Iowa.
Time and again, his words were twisted by the media-he was a crazy right wing extremist who wanted to ban birth control and drag women back to the dark ages.
Yet, despite the media spin, despite attack ads and trailing in campaign donations, despite virtually no exposure in early debates and despite the media dismissing him at every turn, Rick Santorum drew votes from the people. Something about his message made sense to voters. And his success in the poll was a result of his message, not support from party politicians, not a result of money spent on ads selling him or attacking his opponents.
And that’s why Rick Santorum mattered- he reminded us that a private citizen, with little political party backing, little money and little organization, could get out on the public stage, speak passionately about the principles that moved and motivated him, and inspire people to vote for him.
And that’s why today, I’m deeply saddened by Rick Santorum’s decision to drop out of the race. In my short life, I’ve become frustrated with an America whose political system is dominated by career politicians who sell their votes for personal gain and don’t care about their constituents. Rick Santorum restored my faith that there are still people of character who care about individual freedom and the rights of man. And from the bottom of my heart, I thank him for that.