Why Santorum Won’t Fade

rick santorumMuch to the surprise of just about everyone, including this writer, former Senator Rick Santorum is leading in the polls, both nationally and in state polls for imminent primaries for the Republican presidential nomination. This is despite the fact that he lost his Senate seat in a landslide in 2006, and has languished in single digits for most of the campaign to date. And what’s weirdest of all in this weirdest of all primary seasons, is that Santorum has a better chance of winning than any of the earlier anti-Romneys (Bachmann, Perry, Cain, and Gingrich).

[As an aside, I wrote an earlier piece for LA Progressive, during Gingrich’s ascendancy, bemoaning how bad Pennsylvania looks with James Buchanan as our only president, and the prospect of Newt. It has subsequently come to my attention that Ron Paul was also born in the Keystone State. And now we have Santorum! Kidneysone State, indeed. Just wait: this too will pass.]

The Republican primary electorate is predominantly reactionary, far-right-wing, on both economic and social issues, so it should not be so surprising that they are warming to Santorum. What may have kept a lot of people away earlier is that they want someone who can beat Obama, and the conventional wisdom is that Santorum is not that man. The conventionally wise have been saying all along that Romney is the one who can do it, and until recently the polls have backed him up: Romney consistently ran better than his competitors against Obama, even beating him in some polls—until recently.

Even when Perry or Gingrich were ahead of Romney among Republicans, even when Gingrich won South Carolina decisively, Romney could say that he was still the only one who could actually take Obama. But that case is getting harder to make. As Obama’s stock goes up, the idea emerges that he actually could defeat any of the Republicans, including Romney. And Romney’s doesn’t do materially better than Santorum in the latest polls.

So Republican voters may now feel freer to vote their hearts rather than their heads. Mitt has not been able to convince anything close to a majority of Republicans that he’s conservative enough to represent them. Rick Santorum doesn’t have that problem: the reason he lost his reelection battle in Pennsylvania was that he was much too conservative for that state, and absolutely refused to trim his sails when he might have saved himself by moving toward the center. The man has principles, in stark contrast not only with Mitt Romney but also with all the other major Republican candidates.

His principles will undo him in the general election, if he gets that far. He may win the Republican primary in Michigan, but how’s he going to tell tens of thousands of auto workers that Obama’s bailout of the industry was wrong? How will he explain his opposition to women in combat in terms of their inherent incapacity to act appropriately in such an environment? How will he tell 99% of American women that contraception of any kind is wrong? How will he explain home-schooling his many kids with public school money while working to undermine the public schools and subsidize religious schools? I could go on, but you get the idea.

john peelerSantorum’s rise is a sign that the Republican base sees victory slipping away. At least they can vote for someone they can believe in. And Santorum? He’d rather be Right than be President.

John Peeler

Published by the LA Progressive on February 15, 2012
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About John Peeler

John Peeler is a retired professor of political science at Bucknell University, specializing in Latin American and international affairs. His op-ed essays have appeared in The Christian Science Monitor and USA Today, as well as many in local papers in central Pennsylvania where he lives. He has had letters published in both the New York Times and the Washington Post.