Opinion: Why Rick Won't be Mitt's #2

Rick Santorum waits to speak at the Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner at Bowling Green State University.

Mitt Romney will be the GOP nominee. This has been the betting man's favorite for awhile. Karol Markowicz on the Right and I on the Left have agreed on this at It's A Free Country. Tuesday's wins cemented Mitt's momentum. The story is no longer whether Santorum will upset Romney but whether Rick can hold his own home state. The President and DNC are mobilizing against Romney. Short of a revolt by the Super Delegates, the numbers are on Mitt's side, and more GOP power brokers have been getting in line.

Obama vs. Romney, here we come. Just like we always knew we would. And Rick Santorum will be nowhere in site.

For all that Rick Santorum has shaped the race (even the fact that it's still going is remarkable), pushed the dialogue (who knew we'd be debating contraception?) and excited a small conservative base, he will not be running the next lap toward November at Romney's side. As much as he and Mitt both publicly suggest the possibility, it just won't happen -- which is good for Mitt…and, actually, good for Rick.

For Romney, the calculus is easy: Santorum gets him nothing. He's about to humiliate the ex-Senator in his homestate -- not a good trial run if the VP's job is to pull a swing-state like Pennsylvania. Obama is already standing firmly astride the center of American politics. Romney needs to shoulder him left, not flank him on the right, as Santorum would inevitably do. Romney is bleeding support among women because he has to match Santorum's anti-women rhetoric; in the general, the etch-a-sketch needs to make all those scars go away.

Then there's the most compelling factor: the more people know Santorum, the less they like him. That's already true of Romney. Whether that's inherent in these two men, or a factor of expensive and all-negative independent expenditure campaigns, the fact is that even in this long primary season of tight contests, turn-out has been considerably lower than four years ago. We think there is right-wing enthusiasm for Santorum, but that's only because there is nobody else being enthusiastic for any Republican. People are staying home.

Mitt can't have that in the general. He needs to choose a lesser known entity whose approval rating is higher, or at least whose disapproval rating is lower. It's why betting sites have Florida Senator Marco Rubio leading the pack, followed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez. He may want to watch that he doesn't get outshone by a more authentic-seeming media darling like Christie -- but he certainly has more to worry about than keeping a leash on a rival-turned-running-mate.

But Rick won't cry when he's passed over…because coming in #2 is better than running as the #2. Romney was the front-runner because he came in behind McCain; whose turn it was after he was bested by George W. Bush. The GOP primary system seems to respect "the next in line."

Whereas life isn't so kind to the general election also-rans. Dan Quayle, a former VP, was never a serious contender in '96 or 2000. Nobody heard of Jack Kemp again after '96. Sarah Palin is still in the spotlight -- but not in the running.

Santorum might get more out of a second place primary finish -- he gets to remain true to himself while running a 50 state campaign, groundwork for four years from now.

And Romney wins in the deal. After all, he gets to run without -- and run away from -- Rick Santorum.