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Rick Santorum’s personal agony: How his religious politics got sidelined

In just a few days the 2014 midterms will be over and it’s likely that we will spend exactly one day and maybe an afternoon analyzing them before the entire press corps will startle like a herd of antelope and abruptly turn around and run in the opposite direction.

That’s right, the presidential race will be in full effect. I know it’s depressing. But look at it this way: There are few more entertaining political pageants on this earth than a wide-open GOP presidential primary. And this one promises to be one of the most wide open in recent memory.

Normally, the Republicans have an heir apparent waiting in the wings. And it’s usually the guy who came in second the time before or whose “turn” everyone agrees it is. Reagan, Bush, Dole, Bush II (a Bush I mulligan), McCain and Romney all fit that pattern in one way or another. But this time, except the rather obvious attempt by the Bush family to force poor Jeb to run as the last gasp of the Bush dynasty whether he likes it or not, there isn’t anyone obviously in the queue.

However, if one were to follow their usual system of picking the runner-up from last time, that fellow would be none other than … Rick Santorum. That’s right, you’ll recall that after the magnificent flame-outs of Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich, Perry and Paul there was one man left standing and it was he. And he made quite a run for it there at the end. As the avatar of the Christian right, he laid claim to that very important faction of the party and one that can never be taken for granted. He’s making noises about running again. For political junkies that’s Christmas morning and graduation night rolled into one.

Let’s recap Rick Santorum’s career, just to get up to speed on his basic political philosophy. He was, after all, once an important Republican leader, having served as a senator from Pennsylvania for two terms and rising to the third most powerful job in the caucus before he was ignominiously dumped in the 2006 Democratic wave. During his time as senator he was perhaps the most influential social conservative in the government, sponsoring such legislation as the 2001 Santorum Amendment, which questioned the teaching of evolution in the schools and promoted intelligent design. It passed the Senate 91-8 (!) and went on to be struck from the final bill in conference.