Rick Santorum: The GOP’s Most Undervalued Presidential Candidate

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Tom Williams / Roll Call

Updated: 6/6/2011, 9:20 a.m.

The “serious” Republican candidates for President, apparently, are Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman. But none of these boring establishment guys represent the fire-breathing, far-right id of today’s Republican Party. Jonathan Chait thinks this represents a huge opportunity for fire-breathing, far-right Michele Bachmann, even though (he’d probably say because) she appears to be ignorant as well as looney-tunes. I’m sympathetic to Chait’s logic, but I doubt that even the Tea Party wants a President who reminds most Americans of their crazy ex.

There’s a more plausible Tea Party candidate who’s being overlooked—not only by the political experts, but by the political futures markets. And he officially announced his presidential candidacy on Monday. 

So…why isn’t anyone talking about fire-breathing, far-right Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania? He’s a former U.S. Senator from the kind of industrial swing state the Republicans need to reclaim in 2012, but our campaign guru Mark Halperin didn’t even lay odds on him, even though Bachmann made the cut at 10,000-1. (And yes, I’d bet a buck on her with those odds, cuckoo-eyes and all.) Santorum was Tea Party before being Tea Party was cool. He’s also a hardcore Christian conservative. And he’s not one of those amiable Republicans who inspired ObamaCare or went to work in the Obama administration. (Does Mitt Romney have a prayer with Evangelcials?)

Santorum is best known as an ardent social conservative, a married father of seven who led the fight against partial-birth abortion and wrote a book about family values. (His wife also wrote a religious-themed book about their son Gabriel, who died when he was two hours old.)  Santorum is plenty conservative on economics and foreign policy as well; he may be a bit more of a populist China-basher than the GOP establishment, but in a primary that could be a feature, not a bug. Yes, he got wiped out in his last reelection campaign, but he didn’t compromise his principles when they were unpopular with his constituents. These days those principles happen to be extremely popular with the Republican base.

I’m not saying he’s going to win.  He needs money. His in-your-face style might end up grating on voters; it certainly didn’t endear him to his fellow Senators, one of whom famously quipped that Santorum was Latin for, well, look it up. And if you did look it up, you may have noticed that Santorum has a hilariously obscene Google problem, created by gay activists who objected to his anti-gay comments. (What will become of the GOP after 2012?)

But Intrade is currently giving him an 0.5% chance to win the nomination. I’m saying that’s going to rise as the campaign starts heating up in Iowa. I’m saying that if you’ve got six cents to invest, he’s an undervalued stock.