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Santorum: In Bush’s Shadow Print E-mail
By Mark Stricherz   
Saturday, 17 September 2011

When Rick Santorum took the stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA for the Republican presidential debate Wednesday night, it was possible to envision him as a first-tier alternative to the top four candidates in the race.

Unlike Governor Rick Perry of Texas, Santorum has never been accused of being a regional candidate. In fact, his home state helps him in a general election. As a U.S. Representative and Senator for sixteen years (1991 to 2007), Santorum represented Pennsylvania, a blue state where President Obama is more and more unpopular.

Unlike Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, Santorum has never been accused of being a fringe politician. His political reputation rests not on calls to return to the gold standard or to legalize heroin, but partly at least on reforming the welfare system and requiring states to adhere to tougher education standards for their students.

Unlike former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, Santorum has never been accused of being a squish or a political panderer. He is an unapologetic defender of traditional values, so much so that one gay activist has waged a campaign to vilify and humiliate Santorum.

Unlike Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota, Santorum has never been accused of being a light weight. From 2000 to 2006, Santorum was the Senate Republican Conference Chairman, the third-highest ranking position among Senate Republicans.

In addition to not suffering from those candidates’ weaknesses, Santorum boasts strengths that not all of his rivals share. A hard worker, Santorum has crisscrossed the states of Iowa and South Carolina dozens of times. He is the lone cradle Catholic in the race, giving him a natural constituency among a slice of GOP primary voters. He has a compelling personal story, as he and his wife rejected the advice of some doctors to abort their son Gabriel, who was born prematurely and lived two hours outside the womb.

Yet in the 2012 Republican presidential race, Santorum is not a first-tier candidate.

Santorum registers support from 2.6 percent of GOP voters according to Real Clear Politics national polling average. Because of his low figure, organizers of the Palmetto Freedom Forum, a gathering of the top Republican candidates in Columbia, South Carolina on Labor Day, barred him from appearing. His campaign might surge, and he beat expectations in the Iowa Straw Poll last month, placing fourth. But his presidential candidacy is widely considered to be a long shot at best.

Why isn’t Santorum’s candidacy doing better? Talk with Republican consultants and strategists and their responses point to the same conclusion: Santorum has never separated himself from former President George W. Bush, who remains a divisive figure within the modern GOP. Like Hubert Humphrey in 1968 or John McCain in 2008, Santorum can’t put distance between himself and the president with whom he is allied in the public mind.

Bush and Santorum’s careers in elected office followed a similar arc. Both won a major office in the Republican year of 1994 (Bush to the statehouse in Texas; Santorum to the Senate in Pennsylvania). Both were known as a “big-government” or “compassionate” conservative who favored federal intervention in K-12 education, health care, and poverty, and the invasion of Iraq.

And in the 2006 congressional elections, both men suffered disastrous political losses; Republicans lost both houses of Congress, while Santorum fell to then-Pennsylvania state Treasurer Bob Casey, Jr. Appearing on Fox News last month, Santorum attributed his seventeen-percentage-point loss to Bush’s low approval ratings in the Keystone State, saying it was a “miserable year” for Republicans.

In the eyes of some GOP strategists, Santorum’s defeat in 2006 was a severe blow to his political career. “Santorum's biggest problem is that he got blown out in his reelection efforts a couple of years ago,” Republican strategist John Feehery said in an interview. “Nobody believes that a person who can't get reelected at the Senate level can than win at the Presidential level. He is a smart guy, but I don't think most people who contribute money will give money to a guy who lost by just a wide margin only two elections ago.”

Randy Brinson, an Alabama-based GOP consultant, said in an interview that the nature of Santorum’s defeat was debilitating. “He allowed Casey to poach voters leaning toward him (white working class and Catholic voters), and he couldn’t win support from voters beyond his rigid ideological base,” Brinson said. He added that Santorum’s defeat in 2006 contributed to the perception that as the winner of statewide races in the Republican elections of 1994 and 2000, he couldn’t withstand an unfavorable political climate.

Politicians have come back from bruising political defeats before. But unlike Richard Nixon, who lost the 1962 California gubernatorial election and was elected president six years later, Santorum has not sought to reinvent his political views or persona.

Although Santorum disavowed his vote in 2003 to add a prescription drug-benefit to Medicare, the big-government conservative has yet to find a niche among GOP primary voters, whose ranks are overrepresented by Tea Party supporters and whose primary concerns are economic. “If he’s not talking about jobs and the economy, he’s not going to penetrate effectively,” Republican consultant Ron Bonjean said in an interview. “Focus on jobs and the economy. Talk about those topics and nothing else.”

The conservative strategists did not trace all of Santorum’s low standing in the polls to his ties with Bush. Brinson said Santorum’s staunch social conservatism doesn’t distinguish from Perry and Bachmann. “There’s not room for Santorum,” he said. “Perry had that religious event at Reliant Stadium in Houston (last month) with 40,000 to 50,000 people there.”

But in the eyes of those Republican consultants, Santorum has yet to find a way to escape from Bush’s long shadow.


Mark Stricherz
is a blogger at
CatholicVote.org, is the author of Why the Democrats are Blue: Secular Liberalism and the Decline of the People’s Party
(Encounter Books).

 

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Comments (15)Add Comment
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written by MikeS., September 17, 2011
Like Ron Paul, Santorum has a small but vigorous following.
Like Ron Paul, his views are principled and coherent.

Like Ron Paul, Santorum alienates more voters than he attracts.
Like Ron Paul, Santorum is unelectable.

Like Ron Paul, whether Santorum's ideas are the best in the world or not is beside the point.
Like Ron Paul, Santorum is the Obama reelection committee in disguise.

We have enough problems with our genuine first tier candidates, who, God help us, may also be unelectable, without this distraction.
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written by Yezhov, September 17, 2011
Santorum, the best of the best, but, alas, unelectable.
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written by Grump, September 17, 2011
Santorum is too good to be President of a country in which half the people, according to polls,support homo marriage. In an ideal world, he would be great. But in a real world where queers and the liberal media have disproportionate say in the life of the nation, he wouldn't stand a chance. As Yezhov notes, "unelectable." The Repubs will wind up with a mealy-mouth like McCain -- likely Romney or Perry -- and be lucky to squeak a victory out in 2012. Then it will be business as usual: More wars, inflation and canned speeches about "job creation."
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written by Manfred, September 17, 2011
It was Santorum who supported pro-abortion Arlen Specter over pro-life Pat Toomey, electing Specter. Toomey is now in office in PA and Santorum is out.

It was Santorum who supported pro-abortion Christie Whitman for governor in N.J., even coming into N.J. to stump for her.
His answer when questioned on both these decisions-it is politics. His own constituency finally pushed him out.
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written by PCH, September 17, 2011
Yes, there are problems with Ron Paul. But why does his commitment to a restored gold standard make him "fringe" or crazy or problematic? Sound money - ie, money tied to actual value - would make it much more difficult to fraudulently fund an unexcusable deficit ($1.5 trillion this year) by means of monetary manipulation (Bernanke's vodoo). Our economic future is much grimmer than people understand. And contrary to popular understanding, this is not an economic or accounting issue as much as it is a moral one, one which Catholics should support. A gold standard would also slow inflation, which would greatly benefit the poor. Is not this also a big issue for Catholics?
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written by Mike S, September 17, 2011
A return to the gold standard would be catastrophically deflationary. Everyone with a mortgage or a student loan or a car loan would see the real value of that debt increase 3,4,5x. It is a non starter.
The toothpaste is out of the tube and it is not going back in.

The gold standard is only one of his many loopy ideas. Ron Paul also wants to legalize narcotics. Almost nobody but a vigorous few Paulistas think America will be better off when people can purchase crack at 7-11.

The point is that Paul and Santorum are unelectable.

Our only real choice is between Obama and some lesser evil.
Bite the bullet.
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written by Tony, September 17, 2011
It is odd, though, that Rick S should be in the same category with Dr. Paul. There's nothing that he believes that was not considered mere common sense or common decency, well within living memory. The fact that Rick Santorum is not electable says a great deal more about us than it does about him.
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written by Chris B, September 19, 2011
It's simple. Santorum lost his seat decisively. As able as he is, and as solid his positions are, the fact that Casey the Lesser was able to knock him off makes him damaged goods. A great pity, but that's the way the game is played.
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written by Steve C, September 19, 2011
Santorum is a big gubbmint hack. He is pro 'lets bomb anyone we want to the stone age" he's pro gov't can solve all issues. I wish Dr Paul was Catholic b/c he has the right way of going about all this here. Anyone read any of Dr Paul's books? If not please do. Peace should be something we all should strive for & RP is electable as he is in the heat with the establishment's people (imagine if the media industrial complex gave Dr Paul his due on airtime imagine a debate that gave Dr Paul equal time as Mitt 4 brains or Gov Gardasil? He would be way ahead of the competition). Dr Paul is pro life, pro man/woman marriage, pro freedom, pro liberty (has Santorum even said that word? "Liberty"? nope), pro free market, pro 'can we get the churches involved & not gov't?", and on & on
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written by jse, September 19, 2011
Santorum's downfall was not because of his association with Bush. Rather, it was his endorsing the undeniably pro-abortion Arlen Specter over the pro-lifer Toomey. Serving both God and mammon doesn't work. Santorum should have known better. So many of us Pennsylvanians were incredulous that he should take the party line rather than doing what he knew to be right.

Unfortunately, now he continues to reap the fruits of listening to the Republicans rather than listening to his conscience.

Although I'm no fan of Bush's, let's be honest and place the blame where it should go. It's not Bush's fault that Santorum stomped for Specter. Therein lies his fall.
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written by Phil, September 19, 2011
I will not forget that Santorum endorsed Arlen Specter (the pro-choice double talker who came up with the magic bullet theory on the Warren Commission) over pro-life Pat Toomey.

I will not forget that Santorum endorsed pro-choice Meg Whitman as governor in New Jersey.

I will not forget how he dribbles when he tries to convince the American people that America needs to be an empire that bombs people into Democracy.

I will not forget how he bullies Ron Paul during presidential debates.

I will remember that he is a neo-con.

--former Santorum fan

Phil
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written by Donal Mahoney, September 19, 2011
Although I am thoroughly pro-life, I would never vote for Santorum if he were to get the nomination. I would simply stay home.

One must not forget that he endorsed Arlen Spector some time ago, when the latter was a Republican and running against a pro-life candidate in the Republican primary.

Some things can be forgiven but not forgotten.
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written by Chris, September 20, 2011
This has nothing to do with former president Bush.

Those "experts" who say that don't understand how his former "base" of supports thinks.

It comes down to this, Santorum endorsed and stumped for pro-abortion Arlen Spector over Pro-life Pat Toomey during the primaries.

That day he lost my support. I did vote for him over Casey, but I pinched my nose while doing it. I was not really a Santorum supporter, but a vote against Casey.

The Spector endorsement is what did him in.... Thats why he is going nowhere....
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written by Mike, September 20, 2011
Ditto to Phil's comments of 9/19. He also takes credit for the smoke and mirrors partial birth abortion ban act...that explicitly re-affirmed Roe v Wade. The GOP platform has for years stated the party's intention to support legislation restoring 14th Amendment legal protections to unborn children. Is this what they mean?
"Section 2
The Congress finds and declares the following:
(14)(H)...A child that is completely born is a full, legal person entitled to constitutional protections afforded a `person' under the United States Constitution. Partial-birth abortions involve the killing of a child that is in the process, in fact mere inches away from, becoming a `person'."
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written by Charles, September 20, 2011
Despite what mainstream Republican strategists say social issues still matter. The Democrats lost in NY 9th because the district's substantially Catholic and Jewish population rejected the Democratic candidate after he voted for same sex marriage in the NY legislature.

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