Mitt Romney outperformed Santorum by large margins among women and men in Arizona, according to exit polls. But in Michigan, Santorum lost women to Romney by five percentage points, an edge that provided the former Massachusetts governor with his narrow margin there.
Although Santorum sought to spin the Michigan results as a tie, it is clear that the contest revealed a significant challenge for him. He has been outspoken about contraception, abortion and his wife’s decision to leave her career as a lawyer to home-school their seven children.
Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, seemed to recognize the problem even before the final results were tallied in Michigan, and in at least three speeches in recent days, he has made appeals to women, recalling not only his wife’s career, but also that of his 93-year-old mother. On Wednesday, in Tennessee, he described his daughter Elizabeth as “one of the great women” in his life. That was a subtle shift from what used to be a routine introduction of his eldest child, who often travels with him.
This adjustment is one born of necessity, but the damage repair effort comes with several downsides.
First, the effort is defensive and may only serve to highlight his views on contraception and women in combat. At a time when he should be going on the offensive and pitching his blue-collar economic plan, he’s essentially reduced to arguing, “I don’t think women should just stay home and raise the kids.”
Second, there is his book. He is aided by a lazy press corps in which a significant majority of reporters and pundits have not read “It Takes a Family.” But as Right Turn has reported, the message and specific language in the book are very different from his current message. These are not words of praise for working women:
Children of two parents who are working don’t need more things. They need us! In far too many families with young children, both parents are working, when, if they really took an honest look at the budget, they might confess that both of them don’t really need to, or at least may not need to work as much as they do. Some are working because they think they must buy their kids and themselves more things they “need” — instead of giving themselves to their children. And for some parents, the purported need to provide things for their children simply provides a convenient rationalization for pursuing a gratifying career outside the home. But in this world, at a time when it is increasingly difficult to raise children well, we should recognize that our kids need fewer things and more mom and dad.
Many women have told me, and surveys have shown, that they find it easier, more “professionally” gratifying, and certainly more socially affirming to work outside the home than to give up careers to take care of children. Think about that for a moment. What happened in America so that mothers and fathers who leave the care of their children to someone else — or worse yet, home alone after school between three and six in the afternoon — find themselves more affirmed by society? Here we can thank the influence of radical feminism, one of the core philosophies of the village elders [his term for liberal elites]. It’s ironic. Radical feminists have been making the pitch that justice demands that men and women be given equal opportunity to make it to the top.
Nowhere does he extol his mother or the professional accomplishments of his wife. Perhaps the book was meant to flatter and bond with stay-at-home moms and his fans in the social conservative base. But the words are jarring and not consistent in tone or substance with what he is saying now. That’s problematic, or it would be if the media actually asked him to explain what he wrote in detail.
And finally, as Post reporters Nia-Malika Henderson and Sandhya Somashekhar point out, “Yet in working to shed his image as a hidebound conservative on women’s issues, Santorum risks alienating the network of home-schoolers, evangelical Christians and ‘values voters’ who have powered his rise, first in Iowa and then in a string of February contests.” These voters are used to the Santorum of “It Takes a Family” and not the one waxing poetically about parents who juggle work and kids. Santorum has presented himself as more authentic than Romney, but his most loyal voters may find there is something not quite genuine about the guy who once chastised women for wanting too many “things” now praising his mom for making “more money than her husband.”
Santorum has learned the hard way that there is a big difference between running for president and playing armchair sociologist and family counselor. Whether this bogs down his campaign remains to be seen. But perhaps if he had forked over money for a pollster or a few focus groups (“the team doesn’t plan to hire a pollster or conduct any focus groups or message-testing, preferring that the candidate take his cues from his audiences and speak from his gut”) and not have relied entirely on his own self-assessment he would have corrected course earlier on, maybe in time to have saved Michigan.