Posted at 01:53 PM ET, 02/27/2012

Santorum not the only GOP hopeful to take aim at college ‘snobs’

Former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) may have been the latest Republican presidential contender to pit the college-educated against the non-college-educated as he woos working-class voters – but he’s far from the only one.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) – a former college professor who, like Santorum, holds two advanced degrees -- has also taken aim at college-educated “snobs” on the campaign trail.

From a Concord Monitor report on a Gingrich event in New Hampshire last August:

“Our elites in the colleges, and our elites in the news media and our elites in the government said, ‘We don’t need manufacturing,’ “ Gingrich, now a presidential candidate, told about 75 residents and staffers at the Presidential Oaks retirement and assisted living facility in Concord yesterday.
Those elites allowed a system of taxes, regulations and bureaucracy that stifled manufacturing, he said.
“You can go back and find all sorts of articles that said, ‘Oh it’s fine for the Chinese to take over manufacturing; we’ll do really smart things,’ “ Gingrich said.
“Well, that’s baloney,” he said. “If you can’t manufacture anything, you can’t sustain your military power. If you can’t manufacture anything, you don’t have any jobs for people who are regular, everyday folks,” Gingrich said.
“We’re not all going to end up being tenured professors at Harvard,” he said.
“So you had basically a snob effect,” Gingrich said.

Gingrich – who earned a B.A. from Emory University in 1965, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Tulane University in 1967 and 1971, respectively – wasn’t making exactly the same point as Santorum.

Santorum had argued that President Obama is a “snob” for his proposals to encourage more Americans to attend college or vocational school.

Gingrich, meanwhile, seemed to be suggesting that college-educated “snobs” were to blame for the loss of manufacturing jobs through over-regulation and over-taxation.

What the arguments by Gingrich and Santorum do appear to have in common is that they are both pitting the college-educated against the non-college educated. Both contenders also make a point of noting that not all Americans plan to attend college.

As National Journal’s Jill Lawrence notes, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) – who holds a B.A. from Brigham Young University and an M.B.A. and J.D. from Harvard University -- has also hopped on the anti-college bandwagon on occasion.

“Like his colleagues in the faculty lounge who think they know better, President Obama demonizes and denigrates almost every sector of our economy,” Romney said in his Nevada primary victory speech earlier this month. “I will instead make America the most attractive place in the world for entrepreneurs, for innovators, and for job creators. And by the way, unlike the other people running for president, I know how to do that.”

(Romney has previously blasted Obama for taking advice from the “Harvard faculty lounge” – an attack the Boston Globe’s Glen Johnson points out is something of an odd one coming from a Harvard graduate, three of whose sons also attended Harvard Business School.)

Why would it make sense for the GOP field to make the anti-college argument?

For one thing, it’s a way to appeal to working-class voters in down-and-out states hit by the country’s economic downtown. Many of those voters – in Ohio, Michigan and elsewhere – may be Democrats or independents who have supported candidates of both parties in the past. (Interviews with voters at Santorum events in small towns in Ohio and Michigan over the last week suggest that there’s a sizeable number of such voters out there up for grabs.)

For another, it’s a way to galvanize GOP primary voters against Obama, who received a B.A. from Columbia University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School and later went on to teach constitutional law at the University of Chicago.

It’s a similar argument to the one Massachusetts Republicans are making against Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic Senate hopeful vying to unseat Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.); Brown’s statements often refer to Warren, a former Harvard Law School professor, as “Professor Warren” and take aim at her Harvard ties.

As we’ve noted before, in politics perception is often reality – and even if the messengers are as highly-educated (if not more so) than the candidate they’re taking aim at, their populist message appears to be strongly resonating with GOP primary voters in economically-depressed states.

The anti-college message isn’t an argument without risk, however. And the broader backlash to Santorum’s most recent “What a snob!” comment (not necessarily among primary voters) suggests that some of the candidates’ words could come back to haunt them in the general election.

By  |  01:53 PM ET, 02/27/2012

 
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