Now that Paul Ryan has been pegged as the vice presidential nominee for the GOP, all that remains for the "also-rans" is to fill out the 2012 GOP Convention lineup. You thought you said goodbye to Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and the rest, didn't you? Never!
Sure, candidates may cease to be viable options for a variety of reasons -- because they are out of money, because they have skeletons in the closet, or because they are just kind of dumb -- but that does not necessarily mean they are "out," even if they have no chance of ever winning. Never forget that the lust for power and the radiance of the spotlight are the mainstays in this game. Ambition is to politicians what narcissism is to the cast of Jersey Shore.
We can see this reflected in the fact that five major candidates in the 2012 race deliberately used the word "suspend" as they bowed out of the race (Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich). Michele Bachmann decided to simply "step aside," whereas Tim Pawlenty was the only candidate to unequivocally "end" his effort, without even teasing supporters with the semantics of impermanence. Why? Because suspending a campaign is a sign of strength, while ending it is seen as a show of weakness. Ending a campaign means you lost; suspending a campaign means you have simply yet to win. Plus it puts you in position to speak on behalf of your Party, something a state senator from Illinois used to grab a spot at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, ultimately leading to the White House.
Part of the strategy of merely suspending any campaign is to stay in the discussion, to make way for a transition, and to frame the "exit" as an entry. But, an entry into what? Here are some predictions sure to be wrong for this year's crop of also-rans.
Since political newcomer Herman Cain's suspension was purportedly a function of the "continued hurt" caused by allegations of infidelity, expect him to enjoy his post-CEO/candidate career as a radio host and regular on the lecture circuit. His time on the campaign trail gave him the attention and attraction to realize a host of positions of influence, albeit from the sidelines... for now at least. He will be a broker for those seeking the support of the populist elements of the GOP, as well as anyone interested in supply chains for running a pizza business.
Political veteran Jon Huntsman, labeled too bi-partisan to win a Republican primary, conceded that Mitt Romney was better suited to "return conservative leadership to the White House." This straightforward support for the eventual nominee, plus the common heritage shared by the two men, will position Huntsman well for a cabinet position within the Romney administration.
Rick Perry suspended his bid because he didn't see a "viable path forward" in the race. This was one of the few apt observations Perry made during his debacle of a campaign. One would think the template for how a Texas governor with swagger could become president was pretty well in place, but not if you can't even remember the three cabinet departments you are going to eliminate once you take office. Perry will fade into obscurity. His awkward experiences running for president likely mean he is not a realistic candidate for the U.S. Senate or House.
Rick Santorum assured supporters that, suspension or not, he was "not done fighting" -- and nor were his supporters ready to stop supporting. Even after stepping out, Santorum still won approximately 150,000 votes in his home-state primary (Pennsylvania). How will he harness his evident strength? Santorum will continue to offer tepid support for Romney, a Mormon who has serious trouble connecting with evangelical Christians, and his sacrifices now as the "good soldier" for the party will embolden him to become the general leading the charge in 2016.
At the time he suspended his campaign, Newt Gingrich reminded us all that this did not mean he was "suspending citizenship" -- thus alleviating so many of my concerns. Whew! I worried that he might, perhaps, stop promoting himself as the cure-all for the nation's maladies. Of course, newts, as a species, are notoriously difficult to eradicate, so expect that "Speaker Gingrich" will be off-stage for awhile, racking up more jewelry store bills and cultivating even more of his signature "big ideas." He will be back in 2016 (well, actually 2013) with yet another wife -- his fourth -- and will be especially well-suited to lecture us all on faith and family values.
Michelle Bachmann will continue her unspoken battle with Sarah Palin for control of the "conservative white mother of lots of kids"-bloc of support amongst national Republicans. She will continue to rail against "socialized medicine" while harnessing her heightened exposure to run for the next opening for U.S. Senate in Minnesota.
Tim Pawlenty will... wait, who?
Last but not least, Ron Paul, who actually did not even "suspend" his campaign (he stated he was no longer "actively campaigning") will continue his ideological crusade. His supporters view his message as transcendent, so whether or not he could actually win is secondary. And yet, because he decided not to seek reelection to Congress in order to run for president, he will now be unemployed (another job loss due to Romney?), so expect him to play the role of John Galt in the Broadway rendition of Atlas Shrugged.
To run for president, all one must do is collect $5,000 in contributions, file docs with the Federal Election Commission, be at least 35, and gather enough votes in each state for placement on the ballot. These are the specifications for entering the race (and 381 individuals did so during this cycle); but by contrast we do not have technical requirements for exiting the race. Perhaps that is because no one is ever really out?