A colleague of mine is a devout Catholic — a family man that I highly respect. About four months ago before Santorum got any traction, I asked him what he and other Catholics thought of Santorum generally. His answer surprised me. He said, “Oh, most people I know see Santorum as really ‘out there’ and way too extreme — he makes a lot of people uncomfortable with his far right views.” I suspect his opinion is not that far off off that of other conservatives.
Even before Santorum’s latest utterances, he was considered not nearly as likely to beat Obama as Romney in a general election. Friday’s WSJ had two articles that pretty much state that if Santorum doesn’t alter his rhetoric, there is no way he will beat Obama. The first article is by Kimberly Strassel, titled Moralizer in Chief and the second is by Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Journal’s editorial board, titled Democrats Are Praying for a Santorum Nomination.
All voters should ask if they would want a President to impose his moral views on them using government.
Strassel begins her Op-Ed with a “baloney” comment:
Asked at the close of Wednesday’s Arizona debate what the biggest “misconception” about him is in this primary, Rick Santorum acknowledged voters worry he can’t “defeat Barack Obama.” Give the man credit for a little awareness.
Only it’s not a misconception, at least not now. The former senator has a potentially fatal general-election liability on social issues. His supporters may admire him for taking on this subject, and they may be swallowing his argument that this is nothing more than a media-conjured controversy. But that’s baloney.
General elections are not won on bases alone. They are won on the margins—with the votes of married, exurban women, of independents, of moderate men. Many of these voters are generally conservative. They are also generally open to, even reassured by, candidates of faith. They are not 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.
Ronald Reagan’s success in creating his coalition was highlighting the common desires of both social and economic conservatives. Grover Norquist famously termed it the “Leave Us Alone Coalition.” Reagan assured cultural conservatives that he would keep the federal government out of their homes, out of their faith, away from their guns. This dovetailed with his promise to free-marketers and libertarians of a more limited government. It was a great formula, rooted in liberty. It allowed Republicans to highlight their own social conservatism—an issue that plays well—even as they reassured voters that they, unlike liberals, wouldn’t use government to impose their worldview.
Yet Mr. Santorum has left many Americans with the impression that he believes it his job as president to revitalize these institutions. And he has done little to reassure voters that his personal views will not become policy. Quite the opposite. Mr. Santorum loves, for instance, to highlight his plans to triple the child tax credit—out-and-out social policy clearly rooted in his desire to increase childbirth. Voters will naturally wonder what other values he’d seek to institute via government.
All the more so, given Mr. Santorum’s unrefined method of delivering his social message. It is one thing to argue that the federal government has no right to force religious affiliates to pay for contraception; or to say that courts should not impose gay marriage; or to criticize policies that are biased against stay-at-home moms. All those statements appeal to basic liberty and are winners for the GOP.
It is quite another for Mr. Santorum to rail that contraception is “harmful” to women; to wax on about the “emotions” surrounding women on the front lines; to graphically inform the nation about his “problem with homosexual acts”; or to moan, as he did in his book, that too many women refuse to stay home with their kids but rather use “convenient” rationalizations to fool themselves into thinking “professional accomplishments are the key to happiness.”
Those statements are rooted in a fervent moral view, one that many general-election voters will fear Mr. Santorum wants to impose on them. They will reject it, and not just because they won’t risk a president who might legislate values. They will reject it because it will offend them. Reagan’s success was in respecting cultural conservatives’ right to live their lives as they saw fit. Mr. Santorum’s mistake is in telling people how to live.
His 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. It’s why a recent poll out of Arizona showed women favoring Mitt Romney over Rick Santorum by 2 to 1. And these are Republican women.
…But if he wants the White House, he’ll have to convince a lot of people that he doesn’t intend to govern as Moralizer in Chief.
Ms. Rabinowitz’s piece begins with:
These have been good days for Rick Santorum, buoyed as he campaigns by conservative Republicans cheering their newly anointed hope. Still, it will occur to at least some of his supporters that their hope is destined to be short-lived, that their candidate’s particular baggage would sink any presidential candidacy. Especially his.
It’s not only that a certain body of Santorum pronouncements on social issues exists, and that they’re of a sort that large sectors of the American electorate find unpalatable, to put it mildly. Or that he continues to add to them.
By the time Democratic researchers apply themselves to this compendium of Mr. Santorum’s views—in the unlikely event that he becomes the Republican nominee—it’s size will have doubled, at the least. The Republicans have already provided President Obama with high-value gifts this election year, but none nearly as delectable as the prospect of a run against Mr. Santorum.
Among the candidate’s noteworthy declarations, we can count his address to a New Hampshire audience last October, in which he described his upset after reading the text of John F. Kennedy’s landmark 1960 speech dedicated to the separation of church and state. “I almost threw up,” he told his listeners. Kennedy, he announced, “threw his faith under the bus in that speech.”
That an American candidate’s commitment to the separation of church and state made Mr. Santorum want to vomit—and that this fact was something in which he took pride, and wanted to share with an audience—is telling. What it tells isn’t something the citizenry tends to find endearing.
Also noteworthy, and rapidly getting around, is his promise last October to “talk about things no president has talked about,” like contraception. “It’s not okay,” Mr. Santorum declared, because “it’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is contrary to how things are supposed to be.” Earlier, in his 2005 book, “It Takes a Family,” he opined that contraception is “harmful to women.”
Mr. Santorum’s views of license in the sexual realm can be interestingly detailed. In 2002, he blamed Boston and its culture for the sex-abuse scandal involving Catholic priests. It is, he wrote in a piece for Catholic Online, “no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm.” He would also tell the Associated Press a year later, “I have no problem with homosexuality. I have a problem with homosexual acts.” A remark that will require some translation in a campaign year. Good luck with that.
In Ohio on Saturday, Mr. Santorum proclaimed the American public school system an anachronism made up of “big factories” that were the product of the industrial revolution and don’t give children what they need, which is a customized education. An education, he argues, that should be run largely by parents—as in home-schooling. As most of the civilized world by now knows, thanks to an unstinting flow of reminders, Mr. Santorum is the father of seven children and they’re all being home-schooled.
It will come as news to the countless millions educated in America’s public schools—those places in which generations of Americans, the children of impoverished immigrants not least among them, learned to read and write, and which rescued them from ignorance and introduced them to books—that they were merely “big factories.”
Some who have followed his history may recall the difficulties that arose over the schooling of Mr. Santorum’s own children. They take on a certain flavor in light of candidate Santorum’s charges, made again last weekend, that schools today are too concerned with academics (one of those high-class problems countless parents would give a lot to have) and not enough with the teaching of right and wrong.
In November 2004, the local press discovered that since 2001 five of Mr. Santorum’s children had been enrolled in an online charter school in Beaver County, Pa. The trouble was that the Santorums had throughout this period been living in Virginia while claiming residency in Pennsylvania. This led to a scandal because Pennsylvania taxpayers had been left to foot the bill, including costs for expensive Internet fees—$100,000, according to the local school board.
But it is that compendium of pronouncements on religious and social issues that testifies to a profound tone-deafness and haunts him now. To be sure, there’s another side to him—his incisive grasp of foreign policy, defense issues, and other strengths vital in a leader. But that side doesn’t stand much of a chance against the claims of the moral warrior in him—the side even now showing up to object to insurance coverage for prenatal tests like amniocentesis. The reason? His conviction that such testing results in more abortions.
Things change, of course. Mr. Romney, in good form at Wednesday night’s debate, may recover his standing. Mr. Gingrich, also strong at the debate, may yet rise again. And Mr. Santorum may come perilously close to winning the nomination—in which case all hell will break loose and a great hopelessness will settle in on Republicans, all of it entirely justified.
“Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.” — Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar for 1894
“The world is full of fools and faint hearts; and yet everyone has courage enough to bear the misfortunes, and wisdom enough to manage the affairs, of his neighbor.” –Benjamin Franklin