Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Will the Right Turn on Santorum?

Rick Santorum’s surge in Iowa can still be measured in terms of days rather than weeks, but even this late sign of life in a campaign that many had thought to be dead only a couple of weeks ago is prompting some on the right to turn on the right-to-life favorite as insufficiently conservative. In a race where it seems all are entitled to their moment only to be followed by a bitter backlash that cuts them down to size, the last minute nature of Santorum’s bubble won’t apparently deprive him of a few days of critical and somewhat nasty scrutiny. But the attack on Santorum from Red State’s Erick Erickson as an “earmarxist” and “pro-life statist” has got to be confusing for a liberal media for whom the former Pennsylvania senator is a symbol of everything they hate about conservatives.

Erickson’s posts (here and here) about Santorum the last couple of days has laid out the case that Santorum’s record in the House and the Senate as a “big government” conservative makes him a “co-conspirator” with liberals who defend the federal leviathan. For him, Santorum was, like former House Majority Leader Tom Delay, a major culprit in the K Street project in which Republicans enlisted lobbyists to further their own interests. But though I think Santorum has little chance of beating Barack Obama in a general election and agree with Erickson that no matter how well Santorum does in Iowa he can’t be nominated, the assault on this week’s flavor of the month is more than a bit unfair.

The Tea Party purist argument against Santorum that Erickson employs depicts him as an unredeemed big spender whose social conservative credentials shouldn’t deceive right-wingers into thinking he opposes big government. It is true that Santorum has sometimes voted for Republican spending sprees such as the prescription drug benefit and, yes, like so many other members of Congress, he acted sometimes as if his priority was to help Pennsylvania industries and projects via earmarks rather than to cut the budget and taxes.

But a fair look at his record shows that what Santorum did in his 12 years in the Senate and four years during which he was in the majority for almost all of it, was to try to govern. In a race where some, like Michele Bachmann, speak as if getting things done in Washington is merely a matter of asserting the correct policy and demanding that others bow to that dictate, Santorum is a man who understands how difficult it is to get anything done. Like the rest of the Republican Party during those years he may have made some mistakes. He is not, like Pat Toomey who now represents Pennsylvania in the Senate, a purist (and surely, one of Santorum’s worst mistakes for which some Pennsylvania conservatives have never forgiven him is his backing for Arlen Specter against Toomey in 2004) on the question of earmarks, taxes and spending. But to speak of him as part of the problem rather than someone who has genuinely sought to make a conservative difference is to distort the record.

Erickson is also wrong when he asserts that Santorum lost his race for re-election because of widespread disillusionment with Republican spending. It is true that the Jack Abramoff and other scandals played a big part in the 2006 GOP debacle. But in Santorum’s case, it would be a mistake to claim that Pennsylvanians rejected him because he brought home to the state too much bacon, even if I would agree that this wasn’t all that praiseworthy. Rather, Santorum’s problem was that in his second term in the Senate he allowed himself to become totally identified with social conservative issues–which was a mistake in a basically moderate state. His decision to highlight hard-line stances on abortion and gays and his prominence in the Terri Schiavo case made him look like an extremist.

The other reason he lost in a landslide was the war in Iraq. Santorum was a strong supporter of the war and bore the brunt for its unpopularity. Though the issue had little resonance at the time, Santorum also made concern about Iran and its nuclear program a prominent part of his campaign. His prescience on that issue is to his credit. Foreign policy is actually his greatest strength, even if he is better known for his uncompromising stances on social issues.

Santorum’s asset in Iowa is still his weakness in less conservative states. His identification with a strident social conservative agenda is such that it will make it difficult if not impossible for him to gain the votes of many independents or Democrats. But to put him down as insufficiently conservative on economics is a sign some conservatives are more interested in narrow ideological purity than anything else. Erickson sees Santorum’s rise as hurting Bachmann, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich, whom he seems to prefer. He’s right about that, but to view any in that trio as more electable than Santorum is absurd.



Join the discussion…

Are you a subscriber? Log in to comment »

Not a subscriber? Join the discussion today, subscribe to Commentary »





Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.