Rick Santorum had a huge night, perhaps fundamentally changing the course of the campaign, but at the very least opening a new chapter. He’ll be under great scrutiny and pressure, but there are 10 smart things he can do in the next couple of weeks.
First, deliver an uplifting, positive speech at CPAC that defines his own conservative agenda. Leave the attacks and the counterattacks to aides and surrogates. Wow the crowd by showing he can command the room. In other words, win over the base.
Second, hit again and again that his own genuine concern for the poor and targeted agenda to revive manufacturing doesn’t mean he is out of the mainstream of fiscal conservatism. Indeed, he has the most detailed conservative entitlement, spending and tax reform plan out there that adopts the mantra of low taxes, modest regulation and reduced spending. In other words, win over the supply siders and the business community.
Third, let his super PAC do the negative ads; have his own ads be about his economic agenda and record of getting conservative legislation through Congress. In other words, dispel the notion that he is a grumpy, hardliner.
Fourth, lead the effort to push back on the administration on its attack on the Catholic Church. Lead a march. Hold a multi-faith gathering. In other words, show he can lead and not simply give a good speech.
Fifth, lead on Iran. The president is downplaying the military option and seems to be urging we return to negotiations. This would be dangerous and delusional and is designed simply to get the president to Election Day without an “incident.” In other words, impress the hawks and show he’s a credible commander in chief.
Sixth, call out the president not for being a socialist but for being a coward on the greatest challenges of our time: entitlement reform and the debt. The president hasn’t followed his own commission and has never set out in concrete terms his own specific tax, entitlement and spending reform plans. That’s irresponsible in the extreme. In other words, show he can take the fight to President Obama.
Seventh, send Karen Santorum everywhere and have her on as many interview shows as possible. She will soften his image and be a positive surrogate. In other words, boost his standing with women, especially professional women.
Eighth, defend defense spending. Both Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry distinguished themselves by going after Obama for irresponsible defense cuts and by vowing to reverse the substantial cuts enacted by Obama. I n other words, challenge the president’s priorities.
Ninth, go after the bailouts and crony capitalism mentality. He needs to make the case why the cozy relationship between business and government is bad for both and for consumers. Unease about bailouts (specifically mortgage bailouts) was the origin of the Tea Party. In other words, reach out to fiscal conservatives and libertarians.
Tenth, come up with an affirmative, common-sense plan on immigration. He needs to be in favor of law and order, but he also will need to reiterate that the GOP is in favor of legal immigration. Perry was not skilled enough to make the case; Newt Gingrich was too nutty and unrealistic in his scheme. Santorum’s Catholic faith also gives him credibility on a range of issues with Hispanic communities. He should use that to make the case that the GOP is the school choice, pro-opportunity and pro-life party. In other words, expand his own base of support.
If Santorum can do some or all of these, he will be in good shape going into the next round of contests. It will be tempting to get in a brawl with his opponents, but if he’s smart he’ll stick to his own game plan and define who he is before his opponents do.