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Right Turn
Posted at 08:30 AM ET, 02/17/2012

Santorum is a divider, not a uniter

Despite the howls from the left punditocracy, the Tea Party was a unifying movement for the right. By focusing on economic issues and tying values (generational theft, obligation to our children, delayed gratification, etc.) to that discussion, the Tea Party movement put aside a raft of hot button issues that divided libertarians from conservatives and Republicans from Independents. As a result, the Republican Party rebuilt a center-right coalition focused on limited government, debt reduction, opposition to bailouts and renewal of free-market capitalism.

This week that effort was torn asunder, although much of the right media, obsessively shilling for anyone and any issue that could impair Mitt Romney’s chances for winning the nomination, barely noticed. In fact, many denied there was anything going on at all. Nothing to see. Just move along.

Allahpundit, however, noticed and wrote this important admonition, responding to the release of videos in which Santorum condemned contraception:

If you nominate [Rick] Santorum, you’re getting a guy who’s more willing to try to save people from themselves than the average “personal responsibility” conservative, which means you’d better prepare for occasional moral tutelage from the presidential podium and maybe some new morals regulations if he can cobble together a congressional majority for it. . . . Contraception issues are Santorum’s bread and butter, whether he wishes they were or not. He’ll be sidetracked endlessly with this stuff in the general election if he’s the nominee. Arguably that makes him a stronger candidate than Romney since, unlike Mitt, he’ll still have something to campaign on even if the economy recovers. Thing is, it won’t be just abortion questions that are thrown at him on the trail; it’ll be questions about contraception and online gambling and other things he considers vices as a way of teasing out how far his “there is no right to absolute freedom” reasoning extends in the interest of keeping people on the path to virtue.

It’s worse than that, actually. Santorum’s views on contraception and women seeking “affirmation” outside the home are way out of the mainstream of the Republican Party and miles out of step with the country as a whole. His talking about these things in a general election, whether the economy is good or bad, are dead bang losers for the Republican Party, making it near impossible for many women, swing voter, Jews, libertarians, young people and upscale suburban voters to support him. And within the conservative movement, it will once again open a chasm between conservatives and libertarians.

Moreover, we see how what was a winning issue on economic and religious liberty for the GOP — decrying the contraception mandate on the Catholic Church — can be turned into a divisive and unpopular stance (“contraception harms women”). It is not only Santorum’s views, but also his declared intention to get in our face about it that pose a significant problem for the GOP and risk turning an election about President Obama’s record into an assault on Santorum’s personal views, some of which are an anathema to the majority of voters.

Former Democratic congressman Artur Davis put it brilliantly:

On the plus side, he has proved resilient in reviving his career after it was all but destroyed: That kind of grit will be essential in the general. He is capable of the elegant, masterful speech he crafted on the night he won Iowa. He seems to know how to tap working-class anxieties in a way that Mitt Romney likely can’t.
But on the downside, he has a video trail on social issues that may be about to devour him. It’s no one thing, but a totality of them: the aversion to birth control even for married women, the skepticism of women at work, the evident fear that careerism is a feminist trap. Even on ground that a substantial number of Americans occupy, such as opposition to gay marriage, his mode of argument is often the most explosive available — in this case, that same-sex relationships are not much distinguishable from intra-family or polygamous arrangements. While a Chris Christie is adeptly resisting gay marriage in New Jersey by invoking the democratic value of voters’ choosing rather than politicians, Santorum is traveling a path the media and the Left will besiege, and that the Right will not necessarily embrace.
A conviction politician whose convictions don’t persuade is not who Republicans mean to nominate

Santorum is indeed the anti-Christie and also the anti-Bob McDonnell, two pro-life Republicans who won over Democrats, independents and suburban voters in non-red states in 2009 gubernatorial races by focusing like lasers on economic issues. Neither ran from their long-held social views, but they didn’t scare critical voters. We have every reason to expect that the opposite tactic by Santorum will lead to the opposite result in November in all but the reddest of states.

Now, Mitt Romney has his own problems, to be sure. But he has not set out to divide the party or to go to war with the overwhelming number of Americans on how they arrange their families. His critics doubt he is sincere, but he is trying to express what has been the mantra of the Tea Party for several years: focus on the economy, promote limited government and don’t pick winners and losers in the tax code. In other words, Santorum is intentionally hostile to a personal freedom (“There is no right to absolute freedom,” he declares); Romney is not. Romney may be insufficiently resolute for some conservatives, but he’s not going to cause libertarians and a great many others to run away from the party.

Some of Santorum’s fixed beliefs are without factual basis (e.g. he thinks women shouldn’t be in combat despite the military’s own view; he thinks there is some special magic about manufacturing, despite both left and right economists explanations to the contrary). He can convince himself of certain things that simply aren’t so. That’s a recipe (especially since he has few, if any, trusted policy advisers and has never run a business, military unit, charity, town or state) for policy chaos. But those are issues for a candidate once he gets to the Oval Office. This week Santorum made it infinitely more difficult for himself to get there.

By  |  08:30 AM ET, 02/17/2012

Categories:  2012 campaign, Conservative movement

 
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