Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Are We Still Underestimating Santorum?

Prior to the 2012 campaign, as Rick Santorum prepared to run for president few pundits (including this one) took his bid seriously. Nor did most Republican operatives think the former Pennsylvania senator’s campaign had a ghost of a chance to even survive until the votes started being counted in Iowa. Yet Santorum persisted and wound up winning a dozen caucuses and primaries on the way to being the unofficial runner-up for the nomination to eventual winner Mitt Romney. Though there are no silver medals handed out for finishing second in politics, it was still an amazing achievement for someone who had been left for dead politically after losing his 2006 re-election race by a landslide.

Given that strong showing, you might think Santorum would be treated as a viable candidate for 2016. Indeed, given the Republicans’ unofficial tradition of nominating for president the candidate who failed after a strong run in the previous competitive race (a list that includes Romney, John McCain, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan), you might think Santorum would be considered a first-tier contender for 2016, if not a frontrunner. But that isn’t the case. The consensus appears to be that with a much stronger field of prospective candidates than the party had in 2012—a group that includes Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and Scott Walker—Santorum hasn’t much of a chance. But that might be a mistake. As pieces in the Daily Beast and Politico published today point out, Santorum is not only back on the hustings in Iowa (where he outworked the other candidates last year); he has a hold on the affections of a crucial portion of the GOP electorate that none of those big names can claim. So long as no other Republican can establish themselves as the favorite of social conservatives or as one who cares about the working class, Santorum will be a factor in the presidential race.

Right now, political observers are focused—as we were before 2012—on the question of which Republican can best appeal to the Tea Party movement. That will be a major factor in the GOP race, but we forget that social conservatives remain a key Republican constituency. Though a single-minded focus on abortion or opposition to gay marriage would be a liability to the GOP in a general election, religious conservatives can’t be ignored in Republican primaries. Though all of the possible 2016 contenders are pro-life, none, save for Santorum, can be said to be particularly or exclusively devoted to their interests as he was, or as Mike Huckabee was in 2008. They were the factor that propelled Santorum to the first tier last year and could do the same for any of the contenders in the next contest.

Just as important is Santorum’s critique of the 2012 GOP campaign for ignoring the interests of working-class voters. Running an extremely wealthy candidate like Romney with no seeming connection to the concerns of ordinary middle-class voters was enough of a problem. But Santorum is on to something when he says that even the Republican National Convention’s attempt to exploit President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” gaffe was only directed toward business owners, not the people who labor in those businesses.

What Santorum is aiming at here is a GOP strategy that seeks to re-engage with what an earlier generation called “Reagan Democrats” or even the Ross Perot voters of the 1990s. They make up what Sean Trende identified in Real Clear Politics as the party’s “missing white voters” who could theoretically make up for their failure to connect with the growing Hispanic population.

None of this will necessarily make up for Santorum’s relative lack of star power compared with any in the upcoming class of GOP candidates. Christie’s ability to appeal to independents could make him a juggernaut, as could Paul’s growing libertarian faction. Moreover, it is entirely possible that a candidate like Ryan or Rubio could steal the Pennsylvanian’s thunder with religious voters and make him irrelevant in 2016. But anyone inclined to write off Santorum this far in advance is likely making a mistake.



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.