The Chase 2012

Who is Rick Santorum?

As Rick Santorum steps onto the national stage, the mainstream media will tag him as an intolerant, right-wing radical who goes on social crusades. His Republican opponents will frame him as a big government Republican just like George W. Bush, addicted to pork barrel spending with a record of further entrenching the culture of crony capitalism.  But, there is more to the former senator from Pennsylvania.

Santorum will want voters to see him as Iowans saw him — as a blue collar economic populist who can unite social and economic conservatives in the primary and get independents and Reagan Democrats back into the Republican column in key rust belt swing states in the general election. And if voters are reminded of his past, Santorum would rather they know about his time in Congress in the 1990s, when he knocked off incumbent Democrats to win tough elections, was a part of the “Gang of 7” that called out corrupt Democrats in the House, and championed legislation on the floor of the Senate that got welfare reform passed.

Immediately after he finished eight votes shy of winning the Iowa caucus last week, Santorum said, “Game on,” echoing the words made famous by Sarah Palin, who spoke favorably of Santorum’s candidacy when he was at 5 percent in the polls, which prompted many social conservatives to give Santorum another look.

But as Santorum’s profile rises, the game will be on to define him, and Santorum must raise enough money and build an organization on the fly to enable him define himself before he gets defined by his opponents. In a campaign stop in South Carolina last week, John McCain, speaking at a Mitt Romney campaign rally, assailed Santorum for being an “earmarker.”

In Iowa, Santorum’s social conservatism, in addition to his blue collar economic message, resonated largely because his opponents did not take apart his record and club him with it because they did not see him as a threat until it was too late.  Santorum’s challenge, as he goes forward into the early primary states, will be to avoid being taken down like Gingrich was in Iowa.

Economic Plan

Santorum’s economic plan is designed to appeal to blue-collar voters by focusing on reviving America’s industrial bas, and making massive cuts in federal government revenue.

Santorum would cut and simplify personal income taxes by implementing two tax rates of 10% and 28%. He would also eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax and lower the capital gains and dividend tax rates to 12% and triple the personal deduction for each child.

Santorum would also retain deductions for charitable giving, home mortgage interest, and retirement savings.

He would cut the corporate income tax rate in half, from 35% to 17.5%. Furthermore, he would eliminate the corporate income tax completely for any business that manufactures in America, which he says will “spur middle-income job creation in the United States and will create a job multiplier effect for workers.”

Santorum would also eliminate the tax on repatriated taxable corporate income, reduce the corporate tax rate from 35% to 5.25% on other repatriated income and allow for 100% expensing for new business equipment.

Strong Families, Economies

On the stump, Santorum talks about how not having children until married is the best way to maximize the odds that a child will not grow up in poverty. He speaks about how America is exceptional because government is limited and how the breakdown of the nuclear family gives government reasons to expand, making America less exceptional in the process.

Santorum is also ardently pro-life and against gay marriage. He is a home-schooling advocate, having home-schooled his own children and is unafraid to be a cultural warrior, much in the way Pat Buchanan was during his runs for President. By connecting social and family issues to economic issues, Santorum hopes to gain the support of both social and economic conservatives, whose interests often do not seem to fall neatly in line.

Foreign Policy

Santorum spoke out against the Iranian nuclear threat before it became fashionable to do so. Lowman Henry, Chairman of the Lincoln Institute for Public Policy Research and a Pennsylvania political expert, said “Santorum was talking about the dangers of Iran way before anyone else.”

“He was dismissed at the time as a kook,” Henry said. “But it turns out he was 100% right about the threat that regime poses.”

Santorum has said during the campaign that if Iran were close to acquiring a nuclear weapon that he would be for attacking the nation to make sure it did not get one. That has allowed him to contrast himself with Ron Paul, whose more dovish views on Iran cost Paul support among Iowa Republican voters.

Career legislators, though, often find it difficult to ascend to the presidency because their records can often be used to tear them down.

The situation will not be very different for Santorum in the weeks ahead. Here are some of his votes and past actions his GOP opponents may use to attack him and that could eventually provide ammunition for Barack Obama.

Specter, Romney

In 2004, Santorum burned bridges with many conservatives when he endorsed very liberal pro-choice incumbent Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter over conservative Pat Toomey in the Pennsylvania GOP senatorial primary. Santorum has said that he supported Specter because he felt Republicans needed to retain control of the Senate in order for two conservative Supreme Court justices to be confirmed. Those justices ended up being John Roberts and Sam Alito.

Before the 2010 elections, though, Specter switched parties when he realized he could not beat Toomey in another primary. Toomey won the general election against Joe Sestak, who defeated Specter in the Democratic primary. Specter also ended up casting the 60th vote for ObamaCare, further enraging conservatives.

Complicating matters even more during the 2008 GOP presidential primary, Santorum endorsed Romney, whose healthcare plan in Massachusetts many consider the blueprint for ObamaCare,. Santorum may now have a hard time peeling way supporters from a candidate he endorsed the last time.

Santorum also needs the anti-Romney, ObamaCare-hating conservatives to stick with him, but their enthusiasm for Santorum may wane if they are reminded that Santorum, by having endorsed Specter, may have been responsible for ObamaCare’s passage.

Questionable Votes

Many conservatives and those associated with the Tea Party movement cite No Child Left Behind and the Medicare prescription drug benefit passed by a Republican Congress and signed into law by a Republican President (George W. Bush) as having seeded the revolt against “big-government Republicanism.” Santorum voted for both measures. Many of the anti-establishment, anti-Romney voters may shy away from Santorum if reminded of these two votes that make Santorum look like the type of Republican the Tea Party was created to fight against.

For more on Santorum’s voting record from Erick Erickson, click here.

Labor

While in the Senate, Santorum voted for a 1996 amendment that said the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires federal contractors to pay all workers the prevailing wage in their local areas, should not be repealed and, according to an analysis done by Business Week, also voted against an amendment that would have curtailed its application in federal disaster areas. In right to work states such as South Carolina, which battled a National Labor Relations Board that was trying to prevent Boeing from relocating from Washington to South Carolina, those votes may come back to haunt Santorum.

Earmarks, K-Street

When he was in Congress, Santorum was associated with the infamous K-Street Project in which Republican leaders in Congress sought to keep lobbying and trade associations from hiring Democrats. The scandals associated with lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former associates of Tom DeLay played a large role in sweeping out Republicans during the 2006 midterm elections. In that election, Santorum lost to Bob Casey by a huge 18 percentage points.

Last week, Rick Perry attacked Santorum for supporting a host of earmarks such as the one for Alaska’s infamous “bridge to nowhere” while Santorum was in Congress. During his tenure in Congress, the liberal Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) tagged Santorum as one of the three most corrupt senators in 2005 and 2006, a report his opponents may also use against him.

In a cycle in which crony capitalism and the revolving door between lobbying and politics have been issues that have galvanized many in the conservative base, Santorum’s influence peddling after he was defeated in 2006 may also be used to attack him.

After he was defeated in 2006, Santorum got a job with the law firm Eckert Seamans, a Pennsylvania law firm with offices in Washington, D.C. As Reuters reported, Santorum got the job even though his law license had expired, which meant he was hired to do “government relations” work, which is most often a euphemism for lobbying.

This was the type of activity (especially the dealings with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) that Gingrich’s opponents used to define Gingrich negatively and tear him down.

Henry notes that it would be foolish to underestimate Santorum. He said that when Santorum first ran for Congress, he defeated entrenched incumbent Doug Walgren in a heavily Democratic district when nobody gave him money or a chance. When he first ran for Senate, Santorum challenged incumbent Democrat Harris Wofford and waged an impressive campaign to defeat him.

However, Henry said that Santorum is “unvetted on the national stage” and his opponents will seek to define him if they see him as a bigger threat.

Santorum does not have as much cash on hand as some of his more well-financed rivals. He also does not have any superPACS waiting in the wings to spend millions of dollars for him. And he lacks the resources for a strong national organization, as evidenced by his campaign’s failure to gather the signatures needed get on Virginia’s primary ballot.

If Santorum’s opponents pour in millions of dollars, as Henry suggested is likely, to negatively define him in the weeks ahead, Santorum will probably lack the resources, much like Gingrich, to defend himself.

This story was published as the cover story for the Jan. 9, 2012 issue of HUMAN EVENTS newspaper.

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