James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

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Campaign 2012: Hello Rick Santorum, GOP Presidential Candidate

by James M. Lindsay
April 18, 2011

Rick Santorum speaks during the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition's Spring Event in Waukee, Iowa March 7, 2011.

Rick Santorum speaks during the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition's Spring Event in Waukee, Iowa March 7, 2011. (Brian Frank/courtesy Reuters)

Pennsylvania State University can claim many accomplishments. The winningest coach in Division 1 football history. The largest student-run philanthropy in the world. The best ice cream ever whipped up on a college campus. What it can’t claim is to be the alma mater of any U.S. president. Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum wants to change that. Last Wednesday he announced he was forming a presidential exploratory committee. He made the announcement on the Fox News Channel, where until recently he was a paid commentator. I’m late getting this post up because my newspaper of record, the New York Times, didn’t see fit to note his announcement in the paper.

The Basics

• Full Name: Richard John Santorum
• Date of Birth: May 10, 1958
• Place of Birth: Winchester, VA
• Religion: Roman Catholic
• Marital Status: Married (Karen Garver Santorum)
• Children: Elizabeth Anne, Richard John, Daniel James, Sarah Maria, Peter Kenneth, Patrick Francis, Isabella Maria
• Alma Mater: BA Pennsylvania State University, MBA University of Pittsburgh, JD Dickinson University
• Elected Offices Held: Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1991 to 1995, Member of the U.S. Senate from 1995 to 2007

What Supporters Say.

Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) says that he is genuine.

One of the things I like best about him is he is completely authentic…he believes there should be more of an intertwining of government and religion, and he believes it passionately.

Quin Hillyer of the American Spectator warns the right not to underestimate Santorum:

Conservatives do themselves and their cause a huge disservice if they don’t take a Rick Santorum candidacy seriously.

Glenn Beck is a big fan:

I really like Rick Santorum…This guy gets it 110 percent.

What Critics Say. Former Bush and McCain strategist Mark McKinnon believes that a Santorum presidency would be extremely dangerous for America.

Santorum represents, in my view, much of what is wrong in the Republican Party. While I disagree with him on some fundamental issues, I am much more concerned with his lack of character.

Bob Kerrey, former governor and senator of the Cornhusker State (Nebraska),  reportedly joked just a few weeks into their service together in the Senate:

Santorum? Isn’t that Latin for A–hole?

Advice columnist Dan Savage despises Santorum for his criticism of homosexuality, so he launched a Google bomb campaign against the senator. Google will happily provide you with the details. Let’s just say that you don’t want to get Google bombed by Dan Savage.

Stories You Will Hear More About. Santorum’s father, an Italian immigrant, was a psychologist. His mother was a nurse. They met working for the Veterans Administration. Santorum grew up in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.

Santorum proudly puts his family first. He and his wife have seven children. In 1996, they had a son, Gabriel, who was born prematurely and lived for only two hours. They brought the body home to be introduced to their other children, held a private mass, and slept with him that night. Santorum later explained that he and his wife brought Gabriel home so that their other children could “absorb and understand that they had a brother. We wanted them to see that he was real.” Karen Santorum later compiled the letters she had written to her son Gabriel during and after her pregnancy into a book called Letters to Gabriel. Mother Theresa wrote the foreword.

The Santorums’ heart-breaking experiences with sick children did not end in 1996. Their youngest child, Bella, was born with Trisomy 18, otherwise known as Edwards syndrome. It is a devastating chromosomal defect that kills 90 percent of those born with it before their first birthday. Bella passed that mark and on her second birthday, Santorum used his column in the Philadelphia Inquirer to tell her story. She is:

A wanted and loved daughter and sister, as well as a beautiful gift from God.

Santorum won his first congressional election in 1990, defeating seven-term incumbent Democrat Doug Walgren in a huge upset. The Republican National Committee saw Santorum’s chances as so slim that they wouldn’t give his campaign even a token contribution.

In his first term in the House, Santorum gained fame for his membership in the “Gang of Seven,” a group of freshman Republicans, including now-Speaker of the House John Boehner, who exposed the House banking scandal.

Santorum was elected to the Senate in 1994 and won reelection in 2000. In 2001, he became chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, making him the third-highest ranking Republican member of the Senate.

Santorum drew national attention in 2002 for blaming the Boston Catholic Church’s abuse scandals on “cultural liberalism.”

In a 2003 interview with the Associated Press, Santorum shocked an interviewer—and subsequent audiences—when he suggested that allowing gay marriage could lead to “man on dog” relationships. According to the transcript, Santorum’s comment led a shocked interviewer to reply:

I’m sorry, I didn’t think I was going to talk about “man on dog” with a United States senator, it’s sort of freaking me out.

Santorum said he has “no problem with homosexuality,” but does have “a problem with homosexual acts.” He elaborated:

I have nothing, absolutely nothing against anyone who’s homosexual. If that’s their orientation, then I accept that. And I have no problem with someone who has other orientations. The question is, do you act upon those orientations? So it’s not the person, it’s the person’s actions. And you have to separate the person from their actions.

In the interview, Santorum also discussed the right to privacy and cultural norms:

And if you make the case that if you can do whatever you want to do, as long as it’s in the privacy of your own home, this “right to privacy,” then why be surprised that people are doing things that are deviant within their own home? If you say, there is no deviant as long as it’s private, as long as it’s consensual, then don’t be surprised what you get. You’re going to get a lot of things that you’re sending signals that as long as you do it privately and consensually, we don’t really care what you do. And that leads to a culture that is not one that is nurturing and necessarily healthy. I would make the argument in areas where you have that as an accepted lifestyle, don’t be surprised that you get more of it.

In 2004, he and his wife Karen were invested as a Knight and Dame of Magistral Grace of the Knights of Malta.

Santorum had a spat this winter with Tea Party darling Sarah Palin. When Santorum suggested that Palin did not attend the February 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference because she “has some demands on her time” and “a lot of them have financial benefits attached to them.” Palin responded by telling Sean Hannity:

I will not call him the knuckle-dragging Neanderthal. I’ll let his wife call him that instead.

In mid-April, Santorum disavowed his campaign slogan: “Fighting to Make America America Again.” Why? Well at a speech at New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire, a reporter pointed out that the slogan was taken from a “pro-union poem by the gay poet Langston Hughes.” Santorum responded:

No I had nothing to do with that. I didn’t know that. And the folks who worked on that slogan for me didn’t inform me that it came from that, if it in fact came from that.

A few moments later, Santorum added:

Well, I’m not too sure that’s my campaign slogan, I think it’s on a web site.

Yes, it is on a website. It’s on the official “Rick Santorum Exploratory Committee Website.” Indeed, it’s about the only thing on the website.

Santorum in His Own Words. Santorum lost his 2006 reelection bid in a landslide to Bob Casey. Santorum later told the National Review that he wanted “to contribute to the world of ideas.” He assessed his abilities as follows:

I know that I’m not the foremost scholar in the world, but I can offer a lot of ideas and help put together a communications strategy to describe the threats we face.

Despite his effort to re-brand himself as a man of big thoughts, Santorum also sees himself as a doer:

I’m someone who moves the ball. I get a lot of stuff done.

In January, Santorum told the Hill that he is used to being the underdog.

It’s been the same in every single race I’ve ever run. People underestimate me. Can’t say it’s ever bothered me, though.

Santorum says that one advantage he has is his ability to persevere in the face of adversity. He illustrated that point in a recent speech by telling an unusual story about campaigning door-to-door. One elderly voter invited Santorum into her house. He sat on her couch, and the woman’s dog jumped onto his lap and peed on his pants. He faced a choice. He could pack it in for the day or continue knocking on doors. Which option did he choose? He told the crowd:

You’ve all been there. Tan pants, with a spot, and what do you do? Soldier on.

Unfortunately for the baseball fan in Santorum, the next house he was scheduled to visit belonged to a Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher he had long admired. When the baseball player opened the door and found Santorum and his wet pants on his doorstep, Santorum joked with the pitcher:

I was just so excited to meet you.

Give the man credit for a sense of humor.

The Campaign Book. Santorum wrote It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good in 2005 in part as a response to Hillary Clinton’s 1996 best-seller, It takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us. Santorum argues that the family rather than federal government should be the foundation of society and that Americans should confront social and economic problems through conservative statesmanship. It Takes a Family caught attention among Democrats in Santorum’s home state of Pennsylvania with state Democratic Party leader T.J. Rooney declaring that every woman in the state should take personal offense with the book’s argument that respect for traditional stay-at-home moms “has been poisoned by a toxic combination of the village elders’ war on the traditional family and radical feminism’s misogynistic crusade to make working outside the home the only marker of social value and self-respect.”

Foreign Policy Views. Santorum disagrees with the common notion that jobs and budgets will dominate the 2012 campaign. He thinks that foreign policy will matter as well and that no other GOP candidate possesses the necessary knowledge on critical foreign policy issues. At a June 2010 conference on Iran he asked:

Can [the other candidates] get out and talk about what I’m talking about today? National security and anti-terrorism are going to be a key issue (sic) in the campaign.

After spending a considerable portion of his Senate career on foreign policy and defense, Santorum now is affiliated with the Ethics and Public Policy Center where he has begun writing a book on the rise of radical Islamic fascism. He calls it the “gathering storm” of the 21st century. Yep, that’s no doubt an intentional allusion to Winston Churchill’s memoirs.

He believes Islamic fascism spurred on by Iran is the source of much of the conflict around the world, although he opposes taking direct military action and instead supports punitive legislation against countries supporting Iran’s nuclear program and the encouragement of pro-Democracy groups in the country. He says:

We must fight for a strong Lebanon, a strong Israel, and a strong Iraq. That requires effective action against Iran.

Target Audience. Santorum’s core constituency is social conservatives. He has made a name for himself over the years as a family values guy who passionately opposes abortion and homosexuality. He says of his conservative social views:

After reading newspapers all those years you used to think my first name was “ultra.”

Major Strengths. Santorum is well-known and beloved by social conservatives. Even though he is a Catholic, Time named him in 2005 as one of the 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America. The Washington Post’s George Will reminds us that in 1994, when Santorum was running for his first term in the Senate, his response to a reporter who asked how he was going to win was “guns.” Santorum now says:

Never underestimate the power of social issues.

Social conservatives are a powerful force in two of the first three nominating states, Iowa and South Carolina. Santorum can also credibly portray himself as a fiscal conservative. Groups like the National Taxpayers Union praised his fight for tax cuts and pro-growth policies when he was a U.S. senator.

Major Weaknesses. Santorum is a former senator, and he lost his reelection bid by 17 percentage points. So many voters are likely to see him as damaged goods. One sympathetic commentator writes that a comeback is impossible.

It is folly, if not sheer madness, to think that a former U.S. senator who lost his last re-election campaign in a home-state landslide could possibly turn around and be elected president.

As much as Santorum excites social conservatives, he alienates more moderate voters. Michael Sokolove warns that certain aspects of Santorum’s personality can make him—or his sometimes incendiary words—political liabilities:

He has been impatient and sometimes impertinent—the political equivalent of the too-rough kid on the playground who either doesn’t know the rules of the game or just doesn’t care to follow them.

Santorum lacks the rock star appeal of Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann. If either of these women throws her hat in the ring, Santorum won’t do well even with social conservatives.

Santorum in Depth. The New Republic outlines Santorum’s efforts and progress over the last four years to recast himself as an innovative thinker. A New York Times Magazine profile suggests that his pugnacious, slow to compromise personality is not quite fit for Washington. The Washington Post thinks that the right combination of social issues could land Santorum in the White House, or then again, it might not. The Washington Post‘s “The Fix” also lays out the case for Santorum. This winter Santorum sat down with the “Today” show and discussed his record and the possibility that he might enter the race for the White House.

Click here to view this video on YouTube.

Odds for Winning the Nomination. Unlikely. An April NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that only 3 percent of likely GOP primary voters intend to cast their ballot for the former senator. If you are looking to place a bet on Santorum, you are in trouble. 1800 Sports has not even listed odds for Santorum yet.

Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by William

    [[Former Bush and McCain strategist Mark McKinnon believes that a Santorum presidency would be extremely dangerous for America.]]

    Coming from where this criticism does, I view it as good reason to endorse/support Rick Santorum for President. When will the Republican establishment ever come to?

  • Posted by D. Elaine

    You can not find a more qualified person for the job of president of the United States than Sen. Rick Santorum, and Marco Rubio, Same Brownback or Alan Keyes would be excellent running mates. Mr. Santorum would bring back the dignity and greatness of the USA, something that Clinton and Obama have been chipping away big-time, and from which our country suffers greatly.

  • Posted by Marvin Schmidt

    I am very sure that Mr Santorum will NOT bow to the kings and leaders of the world, nor will he apologize for America’s greatness. He will restore the greatness America had, until Obama, because he is a man of deep integrity, unilke Obama.

  • Posted by Abe Einheber

    I can appreciate Mr. Santorum for his obvious dedication to conservative political principles. He is credible in his views on social, economic and security matters. However, he impresses me as an unstable quantity in personality: easily excitable, brittle under stress, and inflexable when confronting a world of different opinions. In a chief executive, the nation requires a man of seasoned maturity and patient judgment. With time, Mr. Santorum may actually arrive at that degree of character development. This is not to say that he would not make a great vice-president.

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