The case for Rick Santorum

at 03:45 PM ET, 04/14/2011


Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R) speaks at the Spartanburg County GOP Convention in South Carolina on Saturday. (AP Photo/Spartanburg Herald-Journal, Alex Hicks Jr.)
They say there are no second acts in politics, but Rick Santorum doesn’t have much regard for ‘them.’

The former Pennsylvania GOP senator, just more than four years removed from an 18-point reelection loss, announced Wednesday that he will be forming an exploratory committee for president, doing so in an altogether unceremonious way: on a cable news show … after 10 p.m. (when certain members of The Fix team were already fast asleep).

In an age full of detailed and carefully guarded rollouts, Santorum’s was neither of those things. And that reflects an unhappy reality about his campaign: few people are paying attention to him right now or giving him much of a chance. And nobody is getting all that excited about Rick Santorum testing the presidential waters.

That’s OK with Santorum, and he makes no bones about the fact that he needs to see if the support and money are out there for him to run. (On that note, be sure to check out Post colleague Karen Tumulty’s great profile of the senator from September.)

With all that in mind, we thought it a good time to take a look at why he is worth keeping an eye on – the case for Santorum. Tomorrow, we look at why he isn’t – the case against him.

First, though, the case for…

* Social conservatives: Those who discount the importance of social issues in the Iowa caucuses do so at their own peril. And nobody can get to Santorum’s right on these issues — a fact reinforced by some other candidates toying with the idea of a social issues “truce.” Even while other candidates may have voted the right way on these issues, Santorum has more often than not been at the head of the spear. He has earned plenty of bad press for using the words “man on dog” while describing homosexuality, and more recently suggesting that President Obama, as a black man, shouldn’t be defining what is and isn’t a person – a reference to slavery. But while these comments may not play well in the media, to a significant portion of the primary electorate in states like Iowa, they are not outlandish. And the more the media beats up on Santorum for such things, the more street cred he gets with these voters, who don’t have much regard for the Washington echo chamber.

* Star quality: We may not remember it now, but Santorum was the up-and-coming Republican before his defeat in 2006. Elected to the Senate in 1994 at the tender age of 36, he was elected to the House four years earlier after knocking on 25,000 doors. Two years later, he won 61 percent of the vote even as President George H.W. Bush lost his district by 22 points — an astounding result, really. While in the House, he played a key role in uncovering the House bank scandal. In the Senate, he crusaded for a balanced budget amendment and partial-birth abortion ban and built an outsized reputation for a junior senator. His loss in 2006 to now-Sen. Bob Casey (D) has deeply damaged his political brand, but what people forget is that 2006 was a very tough year to be a Republican in Pennsylvania, where the Casey name also happens to be sacrosanct. It was a huge loss, to be sure, but it became a much bigger loss after it appeared all was lost and national Republicans abandoned Santorum.

* Full-spectrum conservative: While perhaps best-known as a social conservative, Santorum has bona fides in all areas of conservative philosophy — economics, foreign policy, etc. Put simply, he’s versatile. And in a field that will likely have no other senators and correspondingly limited foreign policy experience, Santorum can point to his eight years on the Senate Armed Services committee as proof that he will be prepared to handle an uncertain situation in the Middle East from day one. While other candidates may have tax increases in their past as governor or have not always been hard-line on social issues, it will be tough to paint Santorum as insufficiently conservative in any facet of his record. And he can point to specific evidence of his conservatism no matter what the issue du jour is.

* The fighter: Put simply, almost nobody is more willing to engage in a political fight than Santorum. He’s already mixing things up in the GOP primary, hitting Mitt Romney for the health care bill that Romney signed as governor of Massachusetts and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels for his social issues “truce.”. And in a day where the Republican base will be looking for the most anti-Obama candidate out there, Santorum is trying to position himself as that guy. Santorum rarely minces words and generally isn’t afraid of being painted as too conservative, and that means a lot in a primary where the major candidates will have at least one eye trained on the general election. Debates can be the great equalizer for Santorum, so look for him to do his best to stand out on stage.

 
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