Rick Santorum is the latest Republican to benefit from the not-Mitt Romney vote. But he is probably just another Icarus who just got airborne. As a little more heat gets put on him, I bet his wings melt, too.

Every debate, interview caucus and primary is important.


But they aren’t that important. They are one piece in a 500-piece puzzle. When each one is placed it helps reveal the big picture of the 2012 election.


Rick Santorum is the latest Republican to benefit from the not-Mitt Romney vote. But he is probably just another Icarus who just got airborne. As a little more heat gets put on him, I bet his wings melt, too.


Newt Gingrich has decided he will run an overtly negative campaign against Romney now. He says that Romney is no conservative – his droll Massachusetts moderate references are already played out – and that he sees the race devolving into one of the remaining conservatives going mano a mano with Romney. Gingrich believes if Romney comes out of the primaries as the candidate that President Barack Obama would eviscerate him in the general election.


“The fact is three out of four Republicans rejected him,” Gingrich said. “Gov. Romney is a moderate Massachusetts Republican to the left of the vast majority of Republicans.”


How many of us are surprised that Gingrich has “changed his mind” about the promise he made to run a positive campaign? How many of us are surprised that it took him a month to break that promise? How many more books will he sell by being the “should’ve been” candidate on every political pundits television and radio show throughout the election cycle?


Gingrich is correct about Republicans are testing the waters early with several candidates, but to push that into the general election is probably not accurate.


Sure Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and now Rick Santorum have all been given a shot against Romney as a front-runner. But they have all come and gone while Romney is still the mark against which all of the others are measured.


There is evidence of a “not-Romney” voting pattern early in the primary process.


But if Romney were to run against Obama, how many of these “anyone but Romney” voters would immediately become “anyone but Obama” voters?


Gingrich’s belief that Republicans would vote for Obama because of Romney is almost as shortsighted as John McCain picking Sarah Palin as a running mate because Obama had not chosen Hilary Clinton.


I would love to meet the women who were Clinton supporters that switched to McCain’s camp because he put Palin on that ticket, but I think they are busy having a different kind of tea party with Alice and the Mad Hatter. Alice said the March Hare’s tea party was “the stupidest tea party I ever was at in all my life!”


I think it is equally “stupid” to believe that people who are choosing a more conservative candidate over Romney in early voting would then select a less conservative candidate in November.


However, Romney becoming the nominee does open the door far wider for a third party candidate to continue the split vote in the General election. We would have never had Bill Clinton without Ross Perot. Anyone who entered the general election to the right of Romney would only give Obama a larger advantage.


In the same sense, Gingrich tearing Romney down isn’t helping anyone but Obama either. I bet Democrats are the biggest donors to Gingrich’s super PAC funding these ads.


With all of the blood in the water during the GOP primary, I can’t see the ticket being filled with two of these candidates. Whoever survives will almost have to go “off the board” to find a running mate.


That makes Paul Ryan a real possibility, as well as, almost any Republican governor from a state with a good number of electoral votes.


There is a long way to go in the GOP primary before anyone selects a running mate. But if the name on the top of the ticket is “anyone but Romney” I will be surprised.


Romney has a great organization left over from 2008 and access to all the money he needs to finish the race.


Republicans will just have to hope Gingrich is wrong about him.


Kent Bush is publisher of the Augusta (Kan.) Gazette.