GOP Elites' Problem With Santorum

GrassTopsUSA Exclusive CommentaryBy Don Feder 02/27/2012

Memo to social conservatives: In trying to understand RINO revulsion for former Senator Rick Santorum, remember that while leftists who run the Democratic Party loath you, the GOP/fiscal-conservative elite only has withering contempt for you. Isn’t that comforting?

One of my inside-the-Beltway friends is a businessman who moves comfortably in establishment conservative circles. When he tells colleagues that he’s a values conservative, he’s met with looks of incredulity that suggest they’re thinking: “But, wait a minute, you’re wearing shoes and your teeth aren’t crooked. My God, man, you have a post-graduate degree in the humanities. You’re not clutching rosary beads and your speech isn’t punctuated with ‘praise the lord!’”

Wall Street Republicans in effect are telling pro-lifers, family-values activists and the rest of us that in their proverbial big tent, there’s a tiny corner reserved for us where we’re expected to sit quietly with our hands folded in our laps, until it’s time to come out and work our tails off for whichever clueless candidate – Ford, George H.W. Bush, Dole, McCain – they choose as the GOP standard-bearer.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal last week, Kimberley A. Strassel dubbed Santorum the “moralizer in chief.” GOP candidates are allowed occasionally to express pro-morality views as throwaway lines – at least during the primary season. What infuriates the Republican elite is that Santorum says them with conviction.

This will alienate the vast mushy middle, Strassel insists. “Exurbanites,” career women, soccer-dads and Bill Maher fans “are not so thrilled by the recent trend in the social-conservative movement toward using government to impose a particular morality – a trend that Mr. Santorum would seem to highlight.”

Impose a particular morality – like requiring Catholic institutions to provide contraceptives through their insurance plans, imposing gay marriage on the 30 states whose voters have resoundingly rejected it by referendum, subjecting school children to diversity indoctrination, funding Planned Parenthood, and providing public decapitation for those who commit “hate crimes”?

As I’ve tried to explain many times to the philosophically unwashed, every law is based on someone’s concept of right and wrong. It’s impossible to legislate without legislating morality. Apparently, it’s also impossible to be too dumb to write for the Journal.

Santorum stands accused of promising to “revitalize religious communities and families.” Strassel says voters like faith and family, they just don’t like candidates who talk about reviving them. Voters (who? where?) are also offended by Santorum’s tendency to “wax on about the ‘emotions’ surrounding women on the front lines,” his “problem with homosexual acts” and his suggestion that perhaps women who have children should take the time to raise them, instead of consigning the cherubs to paid caregivers.

Those who don’t have a problem with women in combat have a problem with reality. The riot of emotions provoked by PMS aside, you don’t have to be a traditional Catholic to wonder about how well a 120-pound woman is going to hold up in battle after carrying 60-pounds of equipment for 20 miles.

Santorum’s “finger-wagging on contraception and child-rearing and ‘homosexual acts’ disrespects the vast majority of couples who use birth control, or who refuse to believe that the emancipation of women, or society’s increasing tolerance of gays, signals the end of the Republic,” Strassel huffs.

Citing the ultimate authority, the Journal writer claims that Ronald Reagan forged a successful coalition of economic and social conservatives by focusing exclusively on the desire of each group to be free of government interference – a piece of historical revisionism of breathtaking scope. Where does government leaving us alone leave the 1.2 million children who are aborted in this country each year?

It’s fascinating the way Wall Street Republicans can separate the inconsequential (life issues, marriage, child-rearing) from the really important stuff – marginal tax rates and the national debt.

When he called for a “truce” on social issues (moving values to the “back burner”) in 2010, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels said nothing must distract voters – who clearly are incapable of holding two thoughts simultaneously – from the national debt, “that the republic is mortally threatened… by this one overriding problem we have built ourselves.”

But astronomical deficits and a runaway debt careening toward the abyss can’t be separated from America’s moral collapse – reflected in abortion stats, the out-of-wedlock birthrate, the increasing obsolescence of marriage for the young and judges who’ve made a fetish of equality. A nation with a moral compass that works doesn’t let its politicians steer it to a $15.4 trillion national debt and $1 trillion-plus annual deficits. Daniels’ call went over so well that his once-likely presidential candidacy blew up on the launch pad.

The thing that really galls The Jane Austen Book Club Republicans is how well social issues work. After the 2010 mid-term election, The Polling Company found that 30% of voters said abortion affected their choice. Of those, 22% backed pro-life candidates and 8% picked pro-aborts – giving candidates who support the right to life an almost three-to-one advantage.

Since 1998, 30 states have enacted constitutional amendments limiting marriage to couples with complementary equipment, all by constitutional amendment. Natural marriage won by a high of 81% in Alabama and Tennessee to a low of 52% in California and South Dakota. The average was over 60%. If Ohio hadn’t had a marriage amendment on its 2004 ballot – drawing out barefooted voters without dental plans – Bush would likely have lost the state and with it the election.

I love it when the Strassel-wing of the Republican Party cites the Gipper on the value of downplaying social issues. Ronald Reagan was a culture warrior before the expression was in vogue.

“The real question today is not when human life begins,” our 40th president observed: “But what is the value of human life? The abortionist who reassembles the arms and legs of a tiny baby to make sure all of its parts have been torn from its mother’s body can hardly doubt whether it is a human being. The real question for him and for all of us is whether that tiny human life has a God-given right to be protected by the law – the same as we have.”

Reaching previously unheard of heights of finger-wagging, moralizing and disrespect for the vast majority of couples who blah-blah-blah, during the 1980 campaign, Reagan addressed 15,000 evangelical leaders in Dallas. With him on the stage were figures reviled by self-styled moderate Republicans – including Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, D. James Kennedy, Bailey Smith, James Robison and Phyllis Schlafly.

The line most quoted from Reagan’s speech was when he told Christian leaders, “I know you can’t endorse me…but I want you to know that I endorse you and what you are doing.” Less well known are his statements that America needed “that old-time religion” to become “a shining city on a hill,” that the Bible contained the answer to all of the problems confronting the nation, and that he endorsed teaching creationism in the public schools.

Could there be a connection between Reagan’s moral worldview and an administration that cut taxes, brought back prosperity after Carter-era stagflation and stopped Soviet communism dead in its tracks? This is a rhetorical question.

Despite aspiring to be “moralizer in chief,” Reagan won a plurality of women’s votes in a three-way race in 1980 (49% to 44% for Carter) and a solid majority when he ran for reelection in 1984 (55% to 45% for Mondale). He did even better among men – due to the Democrats’ problem appealing to male voters.

With shock bordering on bewilderment, on February 23, The Washington Post reported that after weeks of having “waded into controversies that risk alienating half of the 2012 electorate – women,” over the past few weeks, Santorum has gained 13 percentage points among Republican women nationwide. Now, 57% hold a favorable view of the finger-wager, only slightly less than Romney’s favorability (61%) among the same demographic, while his unfavorables are substantially lower than the Governor’s (18% to 28%).

Strassel argues that elections are “not won on bases alone,” but “on the margins.” Wrong. They’re won by candidates who can solidify and electrify the base, which will then take their message beyond the base.

The electorate hungers for authenticity, from-the-heart passion and moral clarity, which is why Romney can't close the deal, despite his uber-fundraising, organizational advantage and slew of prominent endorsements.

He may not be the nominee, but Rick Santorum has given many of us a reason to believe in the Republican Party again.

Don Feder is a former Boston Herald writer who is now a political/communications consultant. He also maintains his own website, DonFeder.com.