Is Rick Santorum running for president of the United States, or isn't he?
I caught him by phone on a people mover at Dulles Airport and posed the question: He's not running, then again, he's not NOT running.
En route to South Carolina on Tuesday to stump for gubernatorial candidate and Republican Rep. Gresham Barrett, Santorum wasn't being cagey, just practical. Whether the former Pennsylvania senator can raise the millions needed for a presidential bid remains to be seen.
In the meantime, he has some things to say. For starters: "I have no great burning desire to be president, but I have a burning desire to have a different president of the United States."
Santorum doesn't see anyone in his party who energizes the three legs of the stool, as Ronald Reagan described the Republican issue clusters -- the economy, national security and social conservatism.
Santorum is no mystery man. He left deep footprints on Capitol Hill, where he served 16 years -- 12 in the Senate -- before being defeated in 2006. Since then, he has been at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, primarily pumping out op-eds on national security and terrorism.
In fact, Santorum's "Gathering Storm" e-blasts to journalists and others at one time were so frequent that they began to feel like Chicken Little or Cassandra warnings of doom. You can leap for cover only so many times before you grab an umbrella and say, "I'll take my chances."
Though he has tempered the pace of his caveats, Santorum is still deadly serious about growing threats to America's security, the greatest of which, he says, is Iran: "Afghanistan is important, but Iran is more important and we're fumbling."
President Obama, he says, doesn't have a plan other than talking, the consequences of which will be much more dire than a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
While in the Senate, Santorum authored the Iran Freedom and Support Act, which called for $10 million to support groups opposed to the Tehran government. The bill passed but was never funded. Consequently, says Santorum, "When the revolution did come, we had done no spadework and had no way to support them other than to open up Twitter channels. We didn't do the work that could have made a huge difference."
Santorum is equally critical of Obama's handling of the Honduran constitutional crisis and his hail-fellow-well-met attitude toward Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez. Although the public isn't focused on these concerns now, all may change in two years when, Santorum predicts, the economy will be better and Iran may be exporting a nuclear weapon.
"You never know what the important issues are going to be, and you better have someone who is prepared on all fronts," he says.