PITTSBURGH -- Rick Santorum dropped his presidential campaign nearly a month ago, so his meeting here Friday with presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney would have seemed like the perfect opportunity to offer Romney his endorsement.
But even before the 90-minute meeting took place, everyone knew that would not happen anytime soon. Santorum, like pretty much everyone else who has run in the Republican presidential contest, has embraced the party's standard-bearer with a stiff arm. They will work to defeat President Barack Obama, they say. Yet few have been willing to get behind their party's winner with anything approaching enthusiasm.
When he dropped out of the race last week, Newt Gingrich damned Romney with faint praise, saying that he was no Ronald Reagan and then reiterating in an interview that he thought Romney was a liar. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota got around to endorsing Romney on Thursday, four months after she dropped out. And some of the hottest stars in the party avoided weighing in until the race was a foregone conclusion -- notably Sen. Marco Rubio, and former Gov. Jeb Bush, Floridians whose backing would have meant far more before the state's primary in January.
It's a contrast from last time 2008, when Romney endorsed 2008 GOP nominee John McCain and Hillary Rodham Clinton endorsed Democratic nominee Obama just days after dropping out. Although the races were hard-fought, both endorsements were considered heartfelt and unequivocal.
Then, Romney called McCain a true American hero and "a man capable of leading our country in this dangerous hour." Clinton, whose supporters were at times hostile to Obama, told them, "We have to work together. And that is why I will work my heart out to make sure Sen. Obama is our next president. I hope and pray that all of you will join me in that effort."
This year. the statements are more tepid, focused on the need to unify the party against Obama rather than outright excitement for Romney.
Asked in late March why he was endorsing Romney, Rubio cited the need to avoid a fight at the party's national convention in August. He called that scenario "a recipe for disaster" that would deliver Obama a second term.
Or, as Gingrich put it when he announced he was ending his bid last week, "I'm asked sometimes, 'Is Mitt Romney conservative?' And my answer is simple: Compared to Barack Obama? This is not a choice between Mitt Romney and Ronald Reagan. This is a choice between Mitt Romney and the most radical leftist president in history."
And then there is the matter of what the others may want. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty endorsed Romney immediately after dropping out in Iowa last year, in part because the two had developed a warm friendship that led Romney to help Pawlenty ease his campaign debt. Gingrich, who has more than $4 million in debt, is reportedly seeking similar aid.
In her presidential campaign, Bachmann repeatedly criticized Romney's Massachusetts health-care law, which was a model for Obama's federal law. According to aides, she held off on her endorsement until she grew confident in Romney's pledge to repeal the federal law.
Santorum, whose 90-minute meeting with Romney was held in a location kept secret until it was over, wants to make sure the voices of social conservatives, tea party sympathizers and blue-collar voters are represented in Romney's general election campaign.
"He's there to be their voice to Gov. Romney, to make sure their concerns will be addressed and Gov. Romney represents their views and their values," said his spokeswoman, Alice Stewart. "We'll see what comes of it."
(Reston reported from Los Angeles.)
(c)2012 the Los Angeles Times
Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services