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Right Turn
Posted at 03:35 PM ET, 01/04/2012

Santorum is no ‘big government conservative’

While in Iowa, Texas Gov. Rick Perry tried to begin a line of attack on Rick Santorum claiming that the former Pennsylvania senator is a big-government conservative. That attack seems poorly thought through (shocking, I know from such a meticulous campaign) for several reasons.

First, Santorum is to the right of Perry in some important ways. Santorum opposed the Troubled Assets Relief Program; Perry wrote a letter on the day of the Senate vote urging Congress to pass legislation to avert a meltdown. Santorum, as we saw in the debates, is likewise to the right of Perry (and Newt Gingrich, for that matter) on immigration.

Indeed, Santorum’s supposed deviations from conservative orthodoxy are similar those of his rivals. He voted for earmarks and highway funds. Gov. Perry took the money. Santorum voted for Medicare Part D; Gingrich lobbied for it, and Perry said in a debate that he wouldn’t repeal it.

Second, Perry risks seeming to be for big government too, so long as it is for his supporters and donors. His problems with state-based crony capitalism, his use of taxpayer funds for personal travel and rental of a mansion, and his endemic patronage suggest that he’s not the poster boy for the free market or for fiscal prudence. As Jonah Goldberg wrote today, “The simple fact is that none of these candidates are ideal and nearly everyone not writing-in Calvin Coolidge is compromising. The problem is people don’t want to admit they’re compromising. And so they create ideological theories and narratives about tainted motives to explain why the other guys are compromising and why their own candidate is purer than pure. They are all compromise candidates. All of them.”

And finally, Santorum has put together an aggressive spending reduction plan. He’s for the balanced-budget amendment. He’s embraced Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform plan. He’s in favor of Social Security reform, against energy subsidies, for privatizing Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, and in favor of repealing Obamacare. The guy is no liberal when it comes to spending taxpayer money. Is he to the right of Gingrich? Yes. To the left of Ron Paul? Yes. But so are most GOP voters.

What Santorum “lacks” is the bomb-throwing rhetoric and contempt for government that oozes from Perry. He doesn’t suggest that the Fed chairman is a traitor. He’s not planning to arrest judges like Newt Gingrich. He’s not advocated a goofy scheme to devolve Social Security to the states. He didn’t urge Congress to refuse to raise the debt limit. In a word, he doesn’t disdain governing.

Even the stringently anti-tax and anti-spending Club for Growth gave him fairly good marks for his record. (“In the last two years of his Senate career, he had an average Club for Growth rating of 77%, compared to an average of 73% for all Senate Republicans over that same time period. In the previous thirteen years before the Club had a scorecard, Santorum accumulated an average score of 76% on the National Taxpayers Union scorecard. This compares to a 71% average among all Republicans.”) Not perfect but pretty good.

In sum, Santorum is not going to steal votes from Ron Paul libertarians looking to uproot most of the federal government. But considering the competition, he’s certainly fits comfortably within the field as a less-government, lower-taxes conservative.

By  |  03:35 PM ET, 01/04/2012

Categories:  2012 campaign, Conservative movement

 
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