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Right Turn
Posted at 11:34 AM ET, 02/24/2012

Women have Santorum pegged

I do not think it is coincidental that, like me, the three prominent conservative columnists to recently criticize Rick Santorum for sabotaging himself and undermining his electability are all women.

Noemie Emery writes about the “time-bombs” Santorum has left in the form of speeches and video clips:

For starters, Santorum said he “wanted to vomit” when he read John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech to the Baptist ministers in Houston, when he promised not to impose the creed of his church upon others.
Santorum compared gay marriage to “man-on-dog” bestiality, suggested pre-natal screening was bad as it led to abortion, and suggested there was too much freedom in modern society, which might be curtailed by the government, all, of course, for our own good.
He may be one of the best friends ever of the abortion rights movement, as he makes it easy for the movement to demonize enemies. He has been lately serving the Democrats’ purpose by switching the argument to contraception, and away from religious freedom, Obama’s record, his health care reform bill, and jobs.
“With Santorum launching one social issues bomb after the other, there is no time to talk about the economy,” said John Hinderaker of Powerline. “Is this the Democratic Party’s dream [issue] or what?”

Kim Strassel has similar concerns. While praising him as a “man of deep faith, which many Americans might admire,” she cautions:

Yet Mr. Santorum has left many Americans with the impression that he believes it is his job as president to revitalize these institutions. And he has done little to reassure voters that his personal views will not become policy. Quite the opposite. Mr. Santorum loves, for instance, to highlight his plans to triple the child tax credit—out-and-out social policy clearly rooted in his desire to increase childbirth. Voters will naturally wonder what other values he’d seek to institute via government.
All the more so, given Mr. Santorum’s unrefined method of delivering his social message. It is one thing to argue that the federal government has no right to force religious affiliates to pay for contraception; or to say that courts should not impose gay marriage; or to criticize policies that are biased against stay-at-home moms. All those statements appeal to basic liberty and are winners for the GOP.
It is quite another for Mr. Santorum to rail that contraception is “harmful” to women; to wax on about the “emotions” surrounding women on the front lines; to graphically inform the nation about his “problem with homosexual acts”; or to moan, as he did in his book, that too many women refuse to stay home with their kids but rather use “convenient” rationalizations to fool themselves into thinking “professional accomplishments are the key to happiness.”

As I did this week, she notes that this won’t help with the gender gap seen in some recent polling: “His finger-wagging on contraception and child-rearing and ‘homosexual acts’ disrespects the vast majority of couples who use birth control, or who refuse to believe that the emancipation of women, or society’s increasing tolerance of gays, signals the end of the Republic. It’s why a recent poll out of Arizona showed women favoring Mitt Romney over Rick Santorum by 2 to 1. And these are Republican women.”

And, finally, her colleague Dorothy Rabinowitz concurs that “it is that compendium of pronouncements on religious and social issues that testifies to a profound tone-deafness and haunts him now. To be sure, there’s another side to him—his incisive grasp of foreign policy, defense issues, and other strengths vital in a leader. But that side doesn’t stand much of a chance against the claims of the moral warrior in him—the side even now showing up to object to insurance coverage for prenatal tests like amniocentesis. The reason? His conviction that such testing results in more abortions.”

Well, there certainly is a gender-pundit gap, and there appears to be a gender voting gap in upcoming contests, when it comes to Santorum. Particularly among the pundits paying close attention, the obvious reason is that many of his pronouncements (e.g., prenatal testing, women in combat, working women, contraception) are directed at the 40 or 50 years of progress made by women in all facets of American society. When women hear this stuff, the alarm bells go off. And they understand just how off-putting this is all going to be to other women and to people (both men and women) whom they know in their neighborhood, schools, churches and synagogues where conservatism’s benefits are not intuitively apparent.

But there is something else as well that has to do with the experience of being a conservative woman journalist. I’ll share an anecdote. I was asked this week to appear on a cable news segment, the premise of which would be, “Wasn’t the Virginia sonogram statute one more instance of the GOP’s war on women?” (Honest. I couldn’t make this up.) Needless to say, I declined the invite.

To be blunt, conservative women have to do a lot of debunking and disabusing to explain why the GOP is not at war with women and why conservatism is not antithetical to the hopes and dreams of modern women. With Santorum it becomes impossible. A Santorum nomination would set back the efforts of the Republican Party to, pardon the expression, be more than the old, Southern white guys’ party. It would undermine the work of serious women social conservatives (all conservatives, actually) to have as their standard bearer a man who thinks women have been bamboozled by radical feminists into working outside the home. (The three journalists quoted above are among the least bamboozable women I can think of.) A Santorum nomination would trade in a serious, grass-roots movement based on personal responsibility, limited government and the free market for a three-ring circus in which the candidate’s views on gender and sex are the main act.

Republican voters, I think, will figure this out. (And eventually even the rest of the conservative media will clue in. ) At least I hope so, for I do not want to have my analysis proved correct by a landslide of epidemic proportions that would make 1964 seem like a minor bump in the road for the Republican Party. More to the point, I don't think the country or the West can take four more years of Barack Obama, so the Republicans had better find someone that doesn’t scare most of the electorate.

By  |  11:34 AM ET, 02/24/2012

Categories:  2012 campaign, Culture, Media

 
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