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When Do Political Rules No Longer Apply?

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Former Sen. Rick Santorum, seen here during a Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game while he was still in office, is this year’s political version of the Oakland A’s, Stuart Rothenberg writes, adding that the GOP presidential candidate looks like a team competing for the playoffs.

If I told you that the Oakland A’s or the Pittsburgh Pirates would be in the Major League Baseball playoffs this year instead of the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, Texas Rangers or Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, you’d probably have me institutionalized.

At the very least, you would dismiss me as a crank who knows nothing about baseball and probably thinks Yu Darvish is some kind of Middle Eastern street food. (He is, in fact, a Japanese pitcher whose father is Iranian and who was recently signed by the Texas Rangers.)

But this year’s political version of the Oakland A’s, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), looks awfully formidable now. In fact, he looks like a team that is competing for the playoffs, maybe even the league championship.

If Santorum were a baseball team, he’d be a small market (undoubtedly Pittsburgh) team with weak pitching, no closer, a shortstop with no range and a first baseman with the nickname of “Doctor Strangeglove” (the nickname of former Pirates first baseman Dick Stuart).

In fact, Santorum the baseball team could never have gotten as far as Santorum the politician.

He wouldn’t be a factor because the rules of baseball still apply. Winning teams have a strong starting rotation, are strong up the middle (pitcher, catcher, centerfield, second base and shortstop), have an unassailable closer and play solid defense. And winning teams haves creative general managers who are given enough resources to put together strong teams.

Traditionally, there are “rules” that apply in politics as well. But this year, things seem different. They don’t seem to apply, which is a problem for those of us who look at the past to understand the present and to project future outcomes.

For one, the presidential candidate who wins the Republican straw poll in Ames in August of the year before the election is not supposed to finish last in the Iowa caucuses.

Strength at the straw poll presumably reflects organizational muscle and appeal with the kind of dedicated Republicans — and critically important evangelical Christians — who will turn out when the caucuses roll around five or six months later.

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