By leaving the race when he did, Santorum did himself considerable political good. He will now be fondly remembered by Republican activists, a status that makes the conservative world his oyster.
He could follow the path trod by Huckabee, setting himself up as a leading conservative commentator. Or he could begin organizing for another presidential bid — in 2016, if President Obama is reelected, or in 2020. He will be 58 in 2016 and 62 in 2020, young enough to mount another race. And, given the surprising strength of his candidacy this time around, he would probably be viewed as a serious and credible candidate.
That Santorum is even in the mix as a potential candidate in future presidential elections speaks to how far he came over the past 18 months. What he does next remains to be seen, but his options have multiplied tenfold because of the race he ran — and how he chose to end it.