04/02/2012 09:24 am ET Updated Jun 02, 2012

Rick Roiled

With time and math both signaling that the battle for the Republican presidential nomination is in its final throes, it's starting to look a whole lot like Mitt Romney is going to be cementing the "presumptive nominee" status he's enjoyed practically since the last presidential election wrapped.

With the primaries likely winding down, it's as good a time as any to take stock of what an absolute trainwreck this process has been. Not in terms of citizens exercising their democratic right to choose their own leaders -- that worked just fine -- but rather who they were casting those votes for.

This is a season that's had certified unelectables like Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich all leading in the polls at one time or another (in Gingrich's case, twice!). And of that motley bunch of anti-Romneys, no one came closer to potentially wresting the prize away than Mr. Google Bomb himself: Rick Santorum.

That Santorum, less than six years after losing his Senate seat in what remains one of the biggest electoral losses in the nation's history, actually posed a threat to Romney's moneyed bludgeon is comical in what it says about the likely Republican nominee, and tragic in what it says about the state of our polity.

As it happens, however, it wasn't anything Romney did with his massive ad-buys that deep-sixed Santorum's presidential aspirations. Rather, it was the candidate's own practiced inability to check himself and modulate his wackadoo views about, well, pretty much everything.

Like Icarus flying too close to the sun, the merest taste of electoral success, coupled with the fawning approval of his faithful, was all it took to launch him into off-point, off-key screeds about public school and religion and reproductive rights, as if the term "wedge issue" wasn't so much a warning to heed but a challenge to overcome (a tendency that I previously discussed at length).

This extensive, in-depth write-up from Sam Stein tracking Santorum's long, slow race to the bottom, from the beginning of his political career to now, offers a very instructive window into the all-too-common mindset that presumes the absolute rectitude of one's own views and the absolute immorality of anyone who disagrees.

In that sense, Santorum's near-miss White House run is merely a symptom of a much larger problem. It's an indication of precisely what happens and who happens when we let our political discourse get to the point it's now at, all awash in apocalyptic, end-times metaphors and doomsaying prognostications about the other side instead of doing the job of coming together and working past our differences.