Rick Santorum

The State of the Race

We need to rewind a little bit before we address the madness engulfing the presidential primary season.  During the runup to the 2010 midterm elections and in its immediate followup there has been some internal GOP strife between purists who want to select only the most ideologically pure candidates and those of a squishier stripe whose primary concern is electability.  This has been an ongoing warfare, and has continued on into the GOP presidential primary.

So now Newt Gingrich is atop of the polls.  A mere few months ago Newt had been written off as a candidate, especially by the purists.  Gingrich reviled the base right at the start of his campaign by deriding Paul Ryan’s budget reform plan as right-wing social engineering.  This was just the latest in the string of rhetorical and other slights against the right.  He had endorsed Dede Scozafava, sat on the couch with Nancy Pelosi for that silly global warming PSA, and had otherwise served as a negative symbol of the establishment.  But a few great debate performances – and I emphasize the word performance here – plus the flameout of various other non-Romney candidates managed to put Newt at the top of the polls.

So now the same establishment voices that urged moderation are attacking Gingrich in full voice.  Pundits like Charles Krauthammer and others are questioning Gingrich’s bona fides.  George Will went so far as to suggest that Newt is some kind of Marxist, and Mark Krikorian implied that Newt’s heart belonged to the French Revolution.  This, in turn, has angered the conservative firebrands, who perceive that the establishment is attacking the new conservative hero.  In other words, for questioning Gingrich’s conservatives purity these writers are basically being written off by purists who think that these commentators are manifesting a clear lack of purity.  The anti-purists, meanwhile, are writing off a candidate because of his, umm, lack of purity.  So the anti-purists are clearly RINOs because they think someone who the purists themselves thought was insufficiently pure not that long ago is not in fact pure. On the other hand the purists are upset that the non-purists are questioning the bona fides of a previously heretofore believed to be impure candidate, and in doing so are demonstrating that they are tools of the impure establishment.

Yeah.

I am convinced that if National Review wanted to derail the Gingrich campaign all it has to is endorse Gingrich.  As I have written before there seems to be a contingent of the GOP electorate that is motivated by spite, and they will flock to any candidate that the establishment criticizes.

It’s an astoundingly insane situation.  Frankly, I think that Gingrich is neither a Marxists-Leninist, nor is he the modern embodiment of Ronald Reagan.  Gingrich is a conservative technocrat.  He thinks that we can achieve conservative outcomes through just enough social and government tinkering.  He’s not quite a big government conservative, but I think Jonah Goldberg has a pretty good feel for Gingrich’s political instincts.

Gingrich probably agrees with the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan more than any other leading conservative. “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society,” Moynihan observed. “The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” A constant theme of Gingrich’s career is a desire to use government to fix the culture. Indeed, there’s no Republican in the field with a more robust faith in the power of government.

So in this crazy, upside down primary season the segment of the Republican party that agrees with Gingrich is trying to eliminate him from the race, and the segment that is turned off by this sentimentality is outraged that anyone could question Gingrich.

Personally, I am ambivalent about Newt.  He’s a better candidate than most, and think that he’d ultimately make an adequate president. And while I don’t that it is unfair to dig deeper into a candidate’s philosophy and question his fitness for office, some of the assaults on Gingrich are a little absurd.  When John Sununu is on the attack against a candidate and questioning his conservative record, well, let’s just say Sununu is probably not the best judge of conservative character.

But to me the race has come down to two men named Rick.  Which one will I ultimately vote for?  If it were purely about ideology it would be Santorum, but other factors – including executive experience – ultimately matter as well and weigh in Perry’s favor.  I’d be perfectly content with either candidate.  Neither is looking particularly strong in the polls right now, but considering all that has taken place over the past few months, we should expect either to be the party’s nominee.

In all seriousness, neither is as much of a longshot as they appear right now.  You see, there’s this election that takes place in Iowa.  Despite the fact that Iowa is a rather small state and has a method of voting that is one of the dumbest and most confusing methods of selecting a candidate known to man, the Iowa caucus is crucial.  And so, this completely outmoded and overrated caucus may very well cause a darkhorse candidate to jump to the front of the line.  Both Santorum and Perry appeal to the socially conservative element in the state, and victory is obtainable in a state where the election hinges on non-traditional forms of electioneering.  I’m not suggesting that Perry or Santorum will in fact win, but if either does – especially in the case of Perry – then it will fundamentally alter the narrative of the campaign.

Of course, if either takes (or in Perry’s case, reclaims) the lead, then expect the establishment to get the knives out.  But then at least the battle lines will make sense.

Why Aren’t More Conservative Catholics Supporting Rick Santorum?

Most of you have an immediate response to the question posed in the title of this post, but please indulge me for a moment.

In this seriously flawed Republican presidential primary field is a candidate who is a Roman Catholic.  He is a man who clearly lives his faith.  He has no skeletons in his closet (that we know of, naturally).  He is the father of seven children, and has demonstrated a devotion to the pro-life cause in a manner that is second to none.  He is unapologetically conservative, and is willing to take stands that go against the grain.

In other words, we have a candidate who it would seem should be drawing a large chunk of the conservative and Catholic vote.  Yet he regularly polls somewhere in the 1-2 percent range.  Considering the number of Catholics in the country and within the Republican party, this suggests he can’t even win the support of even a fraction of the most conservative Catholics.  Heck, even the conservative and Catholic author of this post has not really fully supported Senator Santorum.  I oscillate between the two Ricks, but have generally leaned towards Governor Perry.  So what gives? Continue reading

Shape Shifter

Just so we’re clear, if this guy wins the Republican nomination, I walk:

Mitt Romney was firm and direct with the abortion rights advocates sitting in his office nine years ago, assuring the group that if elected Massachusetts governor, he would protect the state’s abortion laws.

Then, as the meeting drew to a close, the businessman offered an intriguing suggestion — that he would rise to national prominence in the Republican Party as a victor in a liberal state and could use his influence to soften the GOP’s hard-line opposition to abortion.

He would be a “good voice in the party” for their cause, and his moderation on the issue would be “widely written about,” he said, according to detailed notes taken by an officer of the group, NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts.

“You need someone like me in Washington,” several participants recalled Romney saying that day in September 2002, an apparent reference to his future ambitions.

Romney made similar assurances to activists for gay rights and the environment, according to people familiar with the discussions, both as a candidate for governor and then in the early days of his term.

People can change their minds on an issue, and if Mitt Romney has had a genuine change of heart on abortion, then that’s great.  But how can anyone possibly trust this man?  He’s a chameleon who changes his tune to suit his audience.

On the other hand, though Rick Santorum is not my first choice at the moment, he’s the only candidate who puts social issues first on his website.  He’s by far the most passionate defender of the unborn we have in this race, if not the country.

That’s What the Bully Pulpit Is For

Peter Wehner’s getting all nervous because certain Republican candidates are saying things that he disapproves of:

One of the GOP presidential candidates (Ron Paul) believes the United States is responsible for triggering the 9/11 attacks. Another (Rick Santorum) has said he would use the presidential bully pulpit to speak out against the dangers of contraception and its role in the moral decline of America (“One of the things that I will talk about that no president has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the sexual liberty idea and many in the Christian faith have said, you know contraception is OK. It’s not OK because it’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”)

Yet another (Herman Cain), has dramatically shifted his positions on negotiating with terrorists and legalizing abortion within a matter of hours, after having said he would (contra the Constitution) impose a religious test on Muslim Americans. And nowGovernor Rick Perry has indicated he’s not quite sure whether Barack Obama was born in the USA, citing Donald Trump as an authority.

Some of this is correct, but the rest is a mess.  For instance, Perry’s comments seem almost totally aimed at tweaking Obama and nothing more.  Even Paul’s 9/11 theories are a bit more nuanced than Wehner suggests.  As for Rick Santorum, I say good for him.  As Mike Potemera points out, it’s rather unlikely that any conservative president will be “calling for the hiring of millions of contraception cops as a solution to joblessness.”  Santorum would be using the office of president to discuss an important cultural issue.  It’s nothing more than what Michelle Obama has done to encourage efforts to fight against obesity.  There’s nothing wrong with using the bully pulpit to discuss social issues and raise awareness so long as you are not actually calling for legislation that impedes personal liberty.

Santorum continues to be one of the few candidates who gets it, in that he understands the nexus between social and economic issues.  While others have concentrated on narrow technocratic solutions, Santorum has really been the only one to explain how the breakdown of the family is one of the contributing causes of our economic rot.  That’s not to say, by the way, that certain tax and fiscal policies are wrong.  In the end, you can’t quite dictate improved sexual mores through executive fiat , so we do need purely economic solutions to the current mess we’re in.  But at least Santorum is willing to engage in conversation about social issues.  Okay, so perhaps he does so in a manner that comes off as just a bit whiny, but that doesn’t dilute the importance of his message.

Perry Vs. Santorum on Gay Marriage

At this early stage of the game, I’d say that my top  choices for the GOP nomination are two Ricks: Perry and Santorum.  The latter has as much chance as I do of actually getting the nomination, but he’ s also the one who I am most sympathetic to ideologically.

I say this all as a preamble because I’m going to disagree with parts of both of their comments from this past weekend.  Rick Perry had this to say about New York’s decision to permit gay marriage:

Perry, who is considering running for president, at a forum in Colorado on Friday called himself an “unapologetic social conservative” and said he opposes gay marriage — but that he’s also a firm believer in the 10th Amendment, the Associated Press reported.

“Our friends in New York six weeks ago passed a statute that said marriage can be between two people of the same sex. And you know what? That’s New York, and that’s their business, and that’s fine with me,” he said to applause from several hundred GOP donors in Aspen, the AP reported.

“That is their call. If you believe in the 10th Amendment, stay out of their business.”

Perry’s argument on behalf of federalism is completely legitimate.  For now I’ll leave that specific debate aside and focus on the tenor of Perry’s statement.  While one can argue that a state has a right to do x, it does not follow that the state should be free from criticism.  This is similar to something that Rudy Giuliani said, and which I criticized last week.  All that federalism means is that individual states have wide latitude to formulate their own laws, free from interference by the federal government.  Federalism does not mean that citizens of other states cannot criticize these decisions.  This idea that federalism entails complete silence on the doings of other states is akin to those who hide behind the first amendment when they say something silly and earn public ridicule.  Just because you have the right to do something or say something it doesn’t mean that you should do something, and citizens of other locales absolutely have the right to speak out against these decisions and perhaps persuade the citizens of the state in question to change their mind.

That said, I have a slight issue with Santorum’s response:

That prompted a response from Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who tweeted overnight: “So Gov Perry, if a state wanted to allow polygamy or if they chose to deny heterosexuals the right to marry, would that be OK too?”

It’s not unfair to employ the logic of  a slippery slope argument.  There are already rumblings from polygamist groups who want to legalize polygamy now that the floodgates have opened.  That said, there are a couple of problems with this rhetorical strategy.  To me the slippery slope argument is the last refuge when all other arguments fail.  It doesn’t really address the actual issue at hand, and in fact there’s a subtle implication that the subject under consideration is not all that serious a concern.

I guess what bothers me about Santorum’s tweet is that it doesn’t tackle the issue of gay marriage head on.  I acknowledge that this is just a tweet, and Santorum has no doubt argued well on behalf of traditional marriage before.  But this smacks too much of a dodge, as though gay marriage isn’t that bad – but polygamy and the outlawing of heterosexual marriage, now that’s bad.  If the issue under discussion had been abortion, would Santorum have raised the specter of something semi-related?  I doubt it.

I’ll admit I might be nitpicking here, and that Santorum is simply mocking the absurdity(in his view) of Perry’s federalist stance.  Again, you’re not going to capture a lot of nuance in a single tweet – which says something about the nature of twitter, but that’s for another rant.  I just fear that too often defenders of traditional marriage rely upon the slippery slope argument too facilely.  If gay marriage is as bad for society as we think it is, we should argue against it on its own merits (or demerits) instead of attacking semi-related subjects.

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