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February 27, 2012

Santorum's Surge

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Former Pennsylvania Senator and GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum is riding high among Tea Party-identified and likely conservative Republican voters. He gained significant momentum by surprising Mitt Romney in a three-state primary/caucus sweep a couple of weeks back.


As always in politics, you take the good with the bad. A surge in state and national polling means that Mr. Santorum is afforded a new level of scrutiny, from his primary base voters, his primary opponents, the national news media, and most ominously, from President Barack Obama's campaign.


Smarter people have attempted to diagnose the Santorum Surge. It still feels as though Republican voters are searching for someone other than former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Mr. Romney's failure to rise from the mid 30's in popularity among GOP primary voters throughout 2011 and early 2012 should have signaled that discontent.


The "pop goes the weasel" nature of the primary itself, with names rising to the top and dropping like a stone, was another indication. Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich all assumed the top spot only to see their stars flame out. Similarly, the thirst for an undeclared savior, someone like former governors Mitch Daniels of Indiana or Jeb Bush of Florida, or even current New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, wouldn't occur if Mr. Romney made the cut for most.


On MSNBC's Morning Joe last Tuesday, the Rev. Franklin Graham, the son of iconic preacher the Rev. Billy Graham, offered his less-than-art-full rationale. He suggested that Christians might reject Mitt Romney due to his Mormon faith, since according to most Christians, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the real name of that faith, Mormon is but one of many prophets in the church's theology) are not considered Christians.


We should be past this kind of blatant ignorance. Excuse the bluntness, but Reverend Franklin, I've watched your Daddy. I've listened to him preach and heard him speak. Franklin, you're no Billy Graham!


So, Rick Santorum is surging. Whether it's a function of intended religious intolerance, or just the fact that Mr. Santorum works harder, he has the big momentum headed into tomorrow’s Michigan and Arizona primaries.


News media pundits make light of his embrace of faith; but what do they expect? Remember George W. Bush famously mentioning that Jesus Christ was his favorite philosopher? This is what smart Republican presidential candidates do during primary elections. They wrap themselves in the cloth and clutch their King James Version of the Holy Bible. That's not a criticism, that's a fact!


Just as Democratic candidates curry favor with labor unions, the poor and the elderly by avoiding fixing entitlements, Republicans play to the base in primaries. Mr. Santorum, already known as a zealous defender of his faith, has seized on the hot button social issues to strengthen his candidacy.


Not only is Rick Santorum going to fight abortion, in the past he has targeted contraception and family planning. In spite of the fact that a majority of women identified as Christians use some form of contraceptive in their daily lives, this has become a central issue of the GOP primary.


If you peel back the layers, it isn't really due to Mr. Santorum, though. Sure, he's said some off-the-wall things, and his views, while consistent, are a bit to the right of mainstream GOP thinking.


The national news media and spokespeople for the Democratic Party (to the extent you can tell the difference) are the real sources of these Santorum values studies. You see, President Obama's re-election team understands the rightward lurch of GOP primary candidates, and to the extent they can take advantage, why wouldn't they?


Somebody went back and dug up a 2008 speech Senator Santorum gave at Ave Maria University in Florida. In that speech, he talked about how he believed that Satan was attacking us, and that our declining values were making us more susceptible to those attacks.


Democrats would have you believe that a President Santorum will invade your medicine cabinet and bedroom, that we can expect to see him, adorned in one of those snappy sweater vests, holding fireside chats about our social decline and the importance of thriftiness, moral cleanliness and Sunday School attendance.


Excepting the fact that those things might actually be helpful, looking at Mr. Santorum's political past, one can rest comfortable in one's sins. More likely, a President Santorum will be more like the senator himself was during his time in Congress, which was a consummate Washington DC insider.


So, maybe this Santorum Surge isn't such a big deal after all. Maybe instead of a fundamental Christian values reformer, Rick Santorum is just another big government conservative Republican. Maybe in the end, the differences between these guys isn't really all that stark.


And that, ladies and gents, is what should scare us the most!


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