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Right Turn
Posted at 05:00 PM ET, 09/26/2011

Did Santorum bring down Perry?

Whatever problems Texas Gov. Rick Perry faces are his own doing. He debated poorly, failed to advance a specific agenda and stubbornly stuck to extreme ideas in a book that contains ideas unacceptable even to GOP primary voters. But the instrument of his downfall may have been Rick Santorum.

It was Santorum who boxed him about the ears in successive debates on mandatory HPV vaccinations and in-state tuition breaks to illegal immigrants. Coming at Perry from the right, his criticisms were particularly effective.

I asked Gary Bauer, one of the most influential of the Christian conservative leaders, about Santorum. He told me, “He has been impressive in the debates. Eventually one person will emerge as the alternative to Romney. I think Santorum could easily become that alternative, and many social conservatives would agree.”

Santorum can see he’s making headway with the sort of voters who dominate the Iowa caucuses and the South Carolina primary. Santorum is now seizing on Perry’s stubborn pronouncement in the debate that he is not moving “one inch” from his positions in the book. This raises not only the Social Security question (he promotes devolution to the states in his book) but also his repeated admonitions that states should be allowed to determine for themselves gay marriage and pot legalization. His stances on both are entirely consistent with his 10th Amendment adoration.

However, these views are anathema to many primary voters, especially the segment that Perry must rely on for support. He therefore felt compelled to try to walk back his views on gay marriage in an interview with Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. But now is he back to embracing the views in his book?

I asked spokesman Mark Miner if Perry still held held to his view that states should be allowed to decide the issue of gay marriage. He said, “Governor Perry is personally opposed to gay marriage, and worked in Texas to pass a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Governor Perry supports a federal Defense of Marriage amendment, but until that passes, Governor Perry support states’ ability to protect themselves with laws that define marriage between a man and women. Most importantly, Governor Perry believes we cannot support gay marriage being imported to other states against their will — where those states are forced to recognize gay marriages licensed in other states. That’s why a federal amendment — which requires a majority of states to ratify — is in order.”

There are two problems with that. First, Perry said in his book that he’d support states’ ability to pass gay marriage; now he’s saying he’d support their desire to protect themselves against it. And second, in his book and in statements at the Aspen Institute, he never referred to a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. In fact, he suggested that it was a positive thing in and of itself to allow states to choose rules for themselves. This answer, if not challenged, may fly. But Santorum will no doubt be ready to pounce in the next debate.

I also asked Miner about the legalization of marijuana. On this, we went around and around. I’ll repeat the exchange. I began by asking if Perry still favored state legalization of drugs. He answered, “The Governor is opposed to the legalizing of drugs.” But does he still favor what he says in the book, letting states legalize marijuana? “He is opposed to legalizing marijuana.” Is that a change from the book or not? “He has been opposed. [Update II (5:25 (p.m.)]: Miner sent me further clarification: “The Governor does not support legalizing any drug. The Governor supports federal drug laws where appropriate. And while the Governor is personally opposed to legalizing the use of medical marijuana, if states want to allow doctor prescribed medical marijuana, it seems to him that under the 10th amendment, they have the right to do so.” Oh my.]

UPDATE (5:20 p.m.): Santorum isn’t waiting or the next debate. His spokesman Hogan Gidley emails me in response to Mark Miners comments: “Senator Santorum is certainly an advocate for states’ rights, but he believes as Abraham Lincoln – that states do not have the right to legalize moral wrongs. The Senator has been clear and consistent - and he believes that marriage is and can only be: between one man and one woman.” As for the remarks in his book, Gidley writes, “Governor Perry was quite clear too in his recently published book, that the definition of marriage should be left up to 50 different state interpretations. It’s certainly Gov. Perry right to believe marriage can be redefined at the state level, that marijuana can be legalized and that tax dollars should be used to give illegal aliens special college tuition rates, but that’s completely out of touch with what most Americans believe.” And, not surprisingly, he says both Perry and Mitt Romney “are busy saying, ‘Trust me I’ve flip flopped fewer times than the other guy’ while Senator Santorum is busy emerging as the one full-spectrum consistent conservative who can lead this country back to greatness. Anyone who consistently changes positions on the important issues facing this county gives voters pause, and rightly so.” Ouch.

By  |  05:00 PM ET, 09/26/2011

Categories:  2012 campaign

 
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