Rick Santorum lost his last race for Senate by 18 points in 2006. He hasn’t held elective office since then, and a great number of voters likely don’t know much about him. To lift himself into presidential contention he needs to make a splash. One way is to make himself the darling of the Christian conservatives who play a critical role in Iowa. But both he and Mike Huckabee (who already has a strong base of support) will try to elevate social issues. But, as a savvy Republican insider puts it, in the era of the Tea Party that is “sooo 1990s.” The other obvious gambit is to attack the nominal front-runner. Politico reports that Santorum was in Massachusetts “smacking the former governor for implementing near-universal health care.”

He dubbed RomneyCare a “failure” and boasted that he was “a consistent conservative . . . who believes not in mandates, not in government control of the health care system, but in a patient-centered approach to health care.” But wait a minute. He endorsed Mitt Romney in 2008 and became a high-profile surrogate for the governor. Now, Santorum claims that was just a matter of political expediency since he believed Romney was the more viable candidate. Well, gosh, that’s not very principled conservatism, is it?

Santorum is also claiming to have an advantage over former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, asserting that although both won important offices twice, Santorum “ran as a full-spectrum, solid conservative, not wishy-washy on any of the issues.” He contends that is a contrast with Pawlenty (who, by the way, avoided a RomneyCare-type health care, cut taxes, reduced spending and favored school choice).

Political gall is not a scare commodity, so we shouldn’t be surprised that Santorum will endorse or attack based on his principled evaluation of which way the wind is blowing. As a Republican strategist put it, “It seems Santorum would quite literally say and do anything in a desperate attempt to resuscitate his failed political career.”

As for Romney, he’d be silly to respond to Santorum, and he’s not a silly man. However the problem still remains: What should he do about RomneyCare. The Republican insider muses, “Maybe he thinks it was a huge mistake but can’t admit it?” Hard to say, or to know what Romney’s core beliefs really are.