Now that Rick Santorum is ahead in the polls, many bloggers and pundits have come out and said that the GOP would be committing suicide by nominating a social conservative like him. For example, the usually reliable John Hinderacker posted an article, referring to the Santorum candidacy, titled, “Are There Republicans Who Think This Is a Good Idea? Seriously?”
Seriously, do you really think that the GOP can nominate Mitt Romney and not have his wealth and his Mormonism become the primary issues? Poll after poll have shown that while conservatives are inclined to overlook Romney’s religion, liberals and independents are not. Further, Obama and his team have already made the 2012 election about class warfare. With this in mind, how does Romney’s candidacy make any sense at all?
Seriously, do you really think that the GOP can nominate Newt Gingrich and not have his adulteries and erratic behavior become the primary issues? Already, my liberal Facebook friends have been posting messages talking about how, compared to Gingrich, Obama is the moral, Christian choice, if for no other reason than he has stayed married to the same woman for all these years. And when even many conservatives who have worked with Gingrich or followed his career over the years have sincere doubts about his character and stability, how do you think liberals and independents feel about the man?
Seriously, if you feel that either Gingrich or Romney will have an easier row to hoe in the 2012 election than Santorum, you are truly deluded. None is all that more electable than the other, so while electability is an issue, we should also be looking at all who we think will be a better president, who we would rather see in the White House, and who we think would run a better campaign against Obama.
Part of the hostility towards Santorum comes from people who see the only issue in the campaign as being the economy. They keep saying, “It’s the economy, stupid!” However, it is stupid to not see a basic weakness with this viewpoint: The economy may be getting better by election day, and then where will the GOP be?
It is true that Bill Clinton won in 1992, and he made the economy the central issue. However, conservatives have drawn the wrong lessons from this. George H. W. Bush lost the election in 1992 not just because of the economy, but because he and his team had made light of the economic troubles that people were going through, because he offered no compelling reason for people to vote for him (the “vision thing” as he liked to call it), and because he gave people plenty of reasons not to vote for him. The obverse was true about Clinton. Clinton may have run on the economy, but he gave people a reason to vote for him besides just the economy. In the same way, for the GOP to win this year, it must offer up a competing vision for America, and not just base its campaign on the slogan, “Vote for us: We’re not as bad as the other guys!”
Which brings us to the central issue, and the reason why Santorum may have an edge over Romney and Gingrich–he actually stands for something. People are drawn to character vision, and authenticity. Santorum has these things, while his opponents do not.
Throughout the early part of the campaign, conservatives were whining that they wanted to have a candidate that had authenticity and character. Yet, now that such a candidate has emerged, it is the same old story that has always been true with social conservatives: We are effectively being ordered, by people who should know better, to “just sit in the corner and shut the hell up!” We are supposed to be silent partners in the conservative coalition–to give our unqualified support for whatever mediocre fruit the other conservatives decide upon, and not complain or say anything when we we get the shaft.
Somehow, it is OK for a libertarian like Ron Paul to spout off nutty conspiracy theories and say that the US should unilaterally disarm and withdraw from the world, but heaven help us if a candidate says that he is against abortion and for Christian values, and actually means it. And let’s be honest here: Santorum has offered plenty to talk about insofar as economic plans, budgeting, and national defense, and on many of these issues his platform is not all that different from Romney and Gingrich’s. Indeed, even on social issues, there is little daylight between his positions and that of his main opponents. So what is the difference? Why is Santorum so objectionable while Romney and Gingrich are not?
Well, it is clear from his record that Santorum believes and will do as he says, while it is clear that Romney and Gingrich do not. If you want to have a president who will nominate Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade, then Santorum is the only candidate left in the race whom you can be certain of. With both Romney and Gingrich, there is no telling what they will do, if elected.
This all comes down to the electability argument, once again. Essentially, we are being told that a true social conservative is unelectable. However, opinion polls show that the majority of Americans are in favor of socially conservative values, so the real issue is the discomfort many pundits, politicians, sugar daddies, and political operatives feel about social issues, and their unwillingness to give substantive support to issues which they purportedly are in favor of.
For as long as I can remember in my adult life, social conservatives have been told “Not now–Wait!” First, it was wait until we get a majority. But then we had a majority, and nothing was done. Then, it was wait until the election is over, as we do not want to make this an issue. Well, elections come and go, and nothing has ever been done. Finally, it is let’s deal with the economy first. Well, the economy swells and recedes like the ocean, but still nothing is ever done.
To social conservatives, abortion, Christian values, and religious freedom are the central issues. Yes, the economy is important, as are jobs and gas prices. Yes, something must be done on any myriad of other issues (and indeed, Santorum has talked until he is blue in the face on all of these points). However, in the end, what does it profit a nation if it gains the whole world, but loses its own soul?
Ultimately, this election is about the soul of America. Most Americans know this, even if they may need reminding. Any candidate who makes this election simply about the economy, but who does not offer a vision of how America can be restored is not worthy of our support. Further, he cannot win. Santorum has offered this vision, and a compelling reason to vote for him. Romney and Gingrich have not.