Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Rick Santorum emphasizes his Christian roots, takes three States.


Verne Strickland Blogmaster / February 8, 2012

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum speaks to pastors during a meeting at Bella Donna Chapel at Adriatica in McKinney, Texas, on Feb. 8. | AP Photo/The Dallas Morning News, Vernon Bryant
Rick Santorum Wednesday presented himself as a 
Christian conservative champion. | AP Photo

MCKINNEY, Texas — After breaking out this week as a surprise conservative standard-bearer in a trio of Republican primaries, Rick Santorum returned Wednesday to the role that helped him build a national reputation in the first place: uncompromising Christian conservative champion.

Rather than following up his Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado wins with a trip to the next set of primary states — Arizona and Michigan — Santorum spoke before a group of Dallas-area pastors, casting himself firmly as the one reliable culture warrior in the 2012 field. He heads to Oklahoma tomorrow

For a candidate who has spent much of the last year trying to prove that he’s about more than just social issues, Santorum’s Texas trip may look like a strategic detour. While Santorum’s credibility on the Christian right helped him prevail in the Iowa caucuses, his stump speeches have often focused instead on revitalizing U.S. manufacturing, and the candidate has sounded most exercised talking about foreign policy and the threat of a nuclear Iran.
But with a series of political flare-ups — over the Komen foundation’s ties to Planned Parenthood, the White House’s regulation of religious hospitals and a judicial ruling striking down a gay marriage ban in California — bringing social issues to the political fore, Santorum’s ironclad cachet on the conservative right could suddenly become an invaluable asset.

“A few years after I started getting involved in the pro-life issue, my children, when they would read the paper, used to think my first name was ‘ultra,’” Santorum joked in Dallas, alluding to his reputation as an extreme ideologue in the Senate. “You could be the most conservative person ever, you can vote against everything, you can vote for no government, and you’re fine. But once you speak out on the moral issues, you now have your head above and out of the trench and you are going to be shot at.”

And as he seeks to permanently seize the role of the anti-Romney candidate, Santorum’s background as a foe of abortion and same-sex marriage and a full-throated proponent of conservative family values gives him a baseline level of national conservative support that no other candidate can match.

As he has done repeatedly in recent weeks, Santorum told his right-leaning audience Wednesday that he would stand up for their issues against a political elite that’s resistant, at its core, to rank-and-file religious conservatives.

That’s a group that has shifted its allegiance several times in the 2012 race, briefly thrilling to Rick Perry’s campaign before the Texas governor’s bid collapsed. The group has periodically entertained the idea of supporting Newt Gingrich, though he is a decidedly imperfect vessel for the evangelical cause.

“Our numbers were doing much better before this controversy came up. We’ve been talking about jobs and the importance of manufacturing and giving opportunity to people from the very bottom up,” Santorum said. “That’s what got us going across this country.”

Romney’s team has telegraphed its intention to go after Santorum, too, on a range of issues in the coming weeks, including his record on earmarks and the duration of his time in Washington, both as a senator and as an inside-the-Beltway consultant-for-hire.

The Romney campaign has only started making that case in relatively gentle terms, comparing Santorum to Gingrich in a press release titled: “On earmarks, Newt opened the door and Santorum walked right through it.” “Speaker Gingrich and Sen. Santorum have over half a century’s worth of time in Washington between them. They can’t fix our country’s spending problem because they helped create it,” said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul, blaming Santorum for “billions in pork-barrel spending."

It will be up to Santorum to show he can rebut those attacks as they intensify — and to return fire against Romney in a more effective way than past conservative upstarts, including Gingrich and Perry.

For the moment, it’s difficult to discern whether Santorum is merely basking in the glow of several unexpectedly powerful victories, or enjoying the start of a genuine national liftoff.

 More than a few prominent conservative voices clearly hope Santorum’s moment lasts. Conservative radio mega-talker Rush Limbaugh trumpeted Santorum’s three wins — in contests, not insignificantly, that carried no delegates with them — as a sign of activist resistance to a clueless, “insulated” Republican establishment.

 “They’re doing it because they genuinely have a problem with Romney,” Limbaugh said on his show, of the party base.

 “Our numbers were doing much better before this controversy came up. We’ve been talking about jobs and the importance of manufacturing and giving opportunity to people from the very bottom up,” Santorum said. “That’s what got us going across this country.”

 Romney’s team has telegraphed its intention to go after Santorum, too, on a range of issues in the coming weeks, including his record on earmarks and the duration of his time in Washington, both as a senator and as an inside-the-Beltway consultant-for-hire.


The Romney campaign has only started making that case in relatively gentle terms, comparing Santorum to Gingrich in a press release titled: “On earmarks, Newt opened the door and Santorum walked right through it.”

“Speaker Gingrich and Sen. Santorum have over half a century’s worth of time in Washington between them. They can’t fix our country’s spending problem because they helped create it,” said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul, blaming Santorum for “billions in pork-barrel spending.”

 It will be up to Santorum to show he can rebut those attacks as they intensify — and to return fire against Romney in a more effective way than past conservative upstarts, including Gingrich and Perry.

For the moment, it’s difficult to discern whether Santorum is merely basking in the glow of several unexpectedly powerful victories, or enjoying the start of a genuine national liftoff.

He’ll have another important opportunity to rally the right when he addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington later this week, along with Romney and Gingrich. CPAC has often been a friendlier forum for economic conservatives than culture-war candidates, so Santorum’s visit there is a chance to demonstrate that his appeal spans both groups.

 More than a few prominent conservative voices clearly hope Santorum’s moment lasts. Conservative radio mega-talker Rush Limbaugh trumpeted Santorum’s three wins — in contests, not insignificantly, that carried no delegates with them — as a sign of activist resistance to a clueless, “insulated” Republican establishment.

 “They’re doing it because they genuinely have a problem with Romney,” Limbaugh said on his show, of the party base.

“And they’re doing it because in Santorum’s case, as I’ve been saying the past couple of weeks, if you’re looking for a conservative who is the least corrupted, who has the least number of periods of wandering off the reservation, if you’re looking for a conservative who’s never sat down with Nancy Pelosi on the couch for any reason, you get Rick Santorum. And people know this.”