Rick Santorum Deserves Our Respect

Rick Santorum didn't so much set a new standard for candidate openness as revive an old one.

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It is fitting former Sen. Rick Santorum chose Gettysburg to suspend his campaign because, like General Robert E. Lee 150 years before him, he had reached that city by surviving longer than anyone expected.

Despite spending months on the trail with little money, low name recognition, and a skeleton staff, Santorum managed to win nearly a dozen GOP nominating contests and to finish a clear second behind former Gov. Mitt Romney in the Republican presidential race.

[See pictures of Rick Santorum.]

He kept battling as Rep. Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Gov. Rick Perry, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich took turns as the leading "conservative alternative" to Romney. He soldiered on as the 24/7 cable news apparatus pounded him on everything from calling President Obama a "snob" to controversial remarks by a key supporter about contraception. 

He worked crowds. He made eye contact. He appealed to the common man.

He spoke for social conservatives when other candidates wouldn't. He brought a passion to the campaign trail, an unscripted enthusiasm that charmed voters and confounded pundits. He didn't so much set a new standard for candidate openness as revive an old one.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Rick Santorum.]

There is much to second-guess about Santorum's campaign. Perhaps he should've gone to South Carolina after his impressive showing in Iowa or gone all in to win Michigan.

But trailing in his home state of Pennsylvania and with his young daughter sick—and being a candidate who truly does put family first—he chose the right path.

[Nancy Pfotenhauer: Rick Santorum Proved that Authenticity Matters]

His attacks had become increasingly bellicose as Romney's lead stretched, and only the Obama opposition research team benefited from that. This way, he gets credit for a graceful exit, for pushing Romney to the right, and for being a team player who knows when to say when.

As a result, it's not just possible but likely we haven't heard the last of Rick Santorum.

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