Why Rick Santorum Isn't Endorsing Mitt Romney

Santorum has a message and a mission, and cold political calculations do not interfere much with them.

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It's not clear what Rick Santorum is thinking these days, but it's a safe bet he's not imagining himself as Mitt Romney's vice presidential pick.

First, there were the letters received recently by voters in Iowa (and apparently sent before Santorum suspended his campaign). The mailings, first reported by the Des Moines Register, say:

It truly frightens me to think what'll happen if Romney is the nominee. My friend, Republicans and conservatives will be crippled by a nominee who presents zero contrast with Barack Obama on the major issues of this election. Any attempt by Mitt Romney to attack President Obama's positions on healthcare, energy policy, social issues, or the economy will be easily neutralized.

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

And while much of the rest of the GOP establishment is beginning to coalesce around Romney as the presumptive nominee, former Pennsylvania Senator Santorum has pointedly declined to do so yet. "As far as how you vote, that's up to you," Santorum said in a conference call with thousands of supporters. "I haven't supported any candidate at this point, so that's really up to you."

Romney might have been getting more help from Santorum while the Pennsylvanian was still in the race. At least, Santorum's missteps (such as saying a speech by John F. Kennedy made him want to "throw up) made Romney look like the grown-up in comparison.

It's odd, too, for a public official to decline an endorsement when the primary is approaching in the would-be endorser's state. It's a way of saying, I'll give you my backing when it's actually less meaningful.

[ Read: Santorum Dropped Out Because of Lack of Money]

But Santorum is not driven by practicality, and never was when he was actively running for the GOP nomination. He has a message and a mission, and cold political calculations do not interfere much with them.

Santorum can be forgiven, too, for withholding an endorsement ahead of the Keystone State primary next week. It was clearly painful for Santorum to suspend his campaign before having the chance to compete in his home state, and endorsing Romney now would be like asking his own people to betray him. He was in grave danger of losing the Pennsylvania primary anyway, but giving Romney official sanction would widen the gap even more. If Santorum just needs time to grieve, an endorsement may be forthcoming. But if he still believes Romney would be a dangerous prospect in the Oval Office, that endorsement may never happen.