Well, there it is. Santorum is out and the real presidential campaign begins today.

Summary:Now that he's sewn up the nomination, will we see the real Mitt Romney? Do we know who the "real" Mitt Romney is? Does even Mitt Romney, anymore, know who the "real" Mitt Romney is?

I have to say I'm disappointed. There was no doubt among just about anyone that Rick Santorum had to drop out of the GOP primary race. He'd fallen too far behind and was running on too little money. Plus, to be honest, he was a little too weird for the mainstream American voter.

CBSNews.com: Rick Santorum lasted longer in the GOP race than anyone predicted

Tonight, Rick Santorum dropped out of the race. Now, you all know I'm not in agreement with most of what Santorum stood for, but I've often said these past months how impressed I am with how far he'd gone on pure willpower. But Santorum had a tough road. Not only couldn't he raise enough money or get enough votes, but his baby, Bella, has been in and out of the hospital, including another visit just this weekend.

Perhaps Santorum is just plain worn out, and that explains his graceless exit speech. The presidential campaign exit speech is an art form, one that must accomplish many things. It should celebrate the efforts of volunteers and contributors, it must showcase the party's goals in the national perspective, and it should nod politely to those still in the race.

Such a speech is very important, because it sets up how the resigning candidate will be perceived in future discussions (and possibly future appointments or nominations). Although Santorum has run a fairly respectable campaign, the fact that he didn't mention Mitt Romney was a tactical mistake. It was an off-key final note to a run that surprised us all.

Oh, well. Santorum's done. Toast. So, by the way, is Newt. Newt might have been holding out for some big second-ballot opportunity at the convention, but Santorum's exit has paved the way for an almost assured 1144 delegates for Romney far before the convention in Tampa.

If Gingrich stays in the race now, it's just because he's having too much fun making speeches. But here's a caution to Newt: once there's a presumptive nominee who isn't you, less and less people will show up for your events. Get out, Newt, before the only people showing up at Hari Seldon High School are you, Callista, and that crazy lady who insists you're Ernie, the Keebler Elf (she does have a point, the resemblance is uncanny).

And, so here we go again.

The Republican Party has once again chosen a centrist candidate who ran so far right to get the nomination, he can't see the yellow line in the middle of the road anymore -- a candidate who may have pandered so hard to the fringe of his party that he can no longer make the case in the general election.

That's what happened with John McCain, a man who any of us in 2000 would have considered one of the most honorable men in politics. McCain chose to trade some of his credibility for delegates, a decision which allowed him to limp through to the nomination, but pushed him far too right to appeal to mainstream America. Well, okay, there was also a financial meltdown three weeks after McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. That was probably the worst timing in the history of politics, but I digress.

The point is, Mitt Romney has always been a centrist politician, one who actually might have appealed to most of America. Yes, he looks like the stuck-up has-it-all boss you've always hated, but before running for president, Romney wasn't a half bad politician. Plus, he actually likes and understands math. When was the last time we had a presidential nominee more comfortable in Microsoft Excel than in Excel, Alabama, more comfortable with PowerPoint than Hunters Point, Queens?

Romney's problem (other than most people just don't like the man) is that he's veered so far right to fight the Santorum threat (did I really call Santorum a threat? Seriously?) -- anyway, he's veered so far right to fight the Santorum threat that he's alienated women, gays, college graduates, his Harvard classmates, and just about anyone living on the East and West coasts.

It's sad, really. Sarah Palin can appeal to "real America" because she's Sarah Palin and genuinely believes most of what she says (even if the rest of us have difficulty following it all). Rick Santorum can appeal to fundamentalist Christian conservatives because he's Rick Santorum and genuinely wears sweater vests voluntarily.

But for all the times Mitt Romney has tried to sound a little like Sarah Palin, a little like Rick Santorum, a little like Joe the Plumber, he hasn't really been willing to sound like Mitt Romney -- someone boring and elitist and pompous as all heck -- but someone who clearly understands the complexity of finance and management to a level where he might get something done.

But that was the old Mitt Romney, the one who had to survive in the Massachusetts of the Kennedys. This Mitt Romney? Well, who knows? Now that he's sewn up the nomination, will we see the real Mitt Romney? Do we know who the "real" Mitt Romney is? Does even Mitt Romney, anymore, know who the "real" Mitt Romney is?

And no. I still can't tell whether Mitt Romney (whoever he is) or Barack Obama would be better for America in the next four years. That failure of positioning and leadership -- of both Romney and Obama -- may turn this into a surprisingly dismal campaign season.

ZDNet Government's coverage of Election 2012:

Topics: Microsoft, Software

About

In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

zdnet_core.socialButton.googleLabel Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.