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Right Turn
Posted at 02:36 PM ET, 01/02/2012

Santorum is no extremist

At the start of the primary season, when politicial pundits and insiders thought about Rick Santorum (which was infrequently), they considered him to be a hardliner, a sort of Michele Bachmann from the 1990’s. But the reality, once his record was recounted and the debates unfolded, proved to be something else. And, moreover, in comparison to his opponents, he has come to be seen as a practical politician rather than an ideological zealot.

As Santorum has pointed out, he did work with Democrats in the Senate. He collaborated on welfare reform, Iran sanctions, and partial birth abortion. During the debt ceiling debate this summer he scolded Bachmann and others for her determination not to raise the debt ceiling, noting the gargantuan cuts such a move would require. His determined stance against gay marriage is not shared by many youger Republicans and by more libertarian elements in the party, but it is well within the GOP mainstream and in its essential elements is identical to Romney’s stance. In debates he’s stressed the need to compromise while holding fast to principles. His Iran policy, while emphatic that the military option must remain viable, contains a call for increased sanctions and other measures before the U.S. resorts to force.

He’s being slammed for supporting Mitt Romney for president in 2008 and Sen.Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) in 2004. But he was then, as he is now, a loyal Republican who had to choose from available alternatives. Then, as now, Romney is to the right of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on a slew of issues, including cap-and-trade and the use of enhanced interrogation techniques.

Santorum also has resisted Newt Gingrich’s call to subpoena and arrest judges. He’s made clear in his social agenda which actions require a constitutional amendment, and not merely the president’s order. On foreign aid, he has resisted the call by Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry to zero out foreign aid, a silly idea meant to ingratiate his two rivals with the isolationist element in the party. He’s cautioned against breaking ties with Pakistan, showing a more nuanced unerstanding of the difficult realtionship between the two countries.

Frankly, were Santorum in the Senate today, one suspects he’d be right in the middle of the GOP caucus, pushing for the best cosnervative deals but unwilling to wreck havoc to get there.

In sum, those who wrote off Santorum early on didn’t appreciate that in the Tea Party era he, as a conservative warning against desperation moves and foregoing hysterical rhetoric, could emerge as sober and knowledgable voice. The contrast to the other “not-Romney” opponents has helped him greatly. And unlike Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), voters beyond Iowa might actually find him a viable and reasonable choice. Iowa voters seem to think so.

By  |  02:36 PM ET, 01/02/2012

Categories:  2012 campaign

 
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