I had lunch with a conservative scholar and writer on Friday. Remarking on the rise of Rick Santorum, he exclaimed sarcastically, “Oh, swell, the Republicans have found a guy who’s a big spender AND an extremist on social issues!”An update she makes to the original post is simply devastating in its accuracy:
On one level it was a funny remark, symptomatic of the notion among many conservative curmudgeons that if there is a way to screw up an election the GOP will find it. On the other, it was an interesting statement that suggests that the Republicans, after winning a House majority in 2010 by stressing limited government and focusing much less on social issues, may undo their success by choosing a candidate with positions unpopular with a substantial majority of Americans — big government and excessive meddling in personal lives (having nothing to do with abortion, on which the GOP is virtually united and public opinion in general is at least evenly divided.)
These outside-the-mainstream views apply to areas such as working women, women in combat, contraception and gays in the military. On this last point, the AP notes, “A CBS News poll gave a 48-41 edge to supporters of gays serving openly in the military. Republicans who felt strongly about the issue were twice as likely to support gays in the military than to oppose them, however.” Moreover, Santorum insists on reinstating the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which even those who opposed dropping it may find ludicrously impractical.
Conservatives can bury their heads in the sand. They can point to theological and other high-minded critiques of the leftward drift of certain churches. But no president of the United States, seeking to lead a diverse country, can speak in such tones and not offended [sic], indeed horrify, large segments of the electorate. In addition, Santorum is uniquely stubborn in his insistence on talking about not simply run-of the-mill social issues (abortion), but notions that the vast majority of Americans reject.In a lengthy piece in RealClearPoitics (not exactly a hot bed of progressive politics), David Paul Kuhn asks "Is Santorum too socially conservative to defeat Obama?" He cannot give a definite answer, but he does discuss how Santorum's positions almost seem designed to alienate independent voters:
Average Americans are tolerant people, increasingly inclusive in their views about their fellow citizens with which they disagree, and when they hear this stuff they think “wacko” and “zealot.” It does no good to argue that the speech was in 2008; Santorum certainly isn’t going to apologize or retract his views, and the Obama campaign, the press and a large segment of the electorate will rightly conclude that such a divisive and didactic person is not electable and not fit for the presidency in 21st century America.
Santorum’s tone presents another problem. Reagan and George W. Bush were not culture warriors. Neither is Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a contemporary social conservative political leader. These men spoke, and speak, delicately about social issues. They choose phrases like “culture of life.” Reagan famously told social conservative leaders in Dallas, “I know that you can’t endorse me, but I only brought that up because I want you to know that I endorse you.”And just where does he stand? For starters:
Santorum does not merely endorse. He preaches. And, as with Mitt Romney’s comments about class, Democrats will spend millions informing Americans about those sermons should they face Santorum.
Santorum’s vulnerabilities, however, exceed controversial comments. Santorum’s issue is not that where he once sat undercuts where he now stands; his problem is where he stands.
"Santorum advocates abolishing abortion without exemptions for rape or incest."Yeah. That sounds reasonable. How extreme is he on that?
The majority of Republicans do believe that abortion should be legal under certain conditions, Gallup finds. But if Republicans felt strongly that some abortions must be legal, they’d likely be Democrats.I don't know that most Americans feel strongly about abortion, enpugh to make it a dealbreaker, at any rate. The problem is the pattern Santorum is setting:
Santorum’s problem arrives in the general election. The right traditionally rallies against the status quo on abortion. Santorum’s nomination would represent the polar dynamic. That might uniquely rile the left. It may also sever him from the center. Only a fifth of independent women and men believe abortion should be illegal under all circumstances.
Santorum has said contraception "can and should be available.” But he personally disapproves of its use. He told Fox News, “I’m not a believer in artificial birth control.”So sex is only for making babies? Where have I heard that one before? I'm not defending promiscuity by any stretch of the imagination, but God made sex pleasurable for a reason.
Santorum said in a 2011 interview that contraception is "a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be” and that “if you take one part out” -- that sex is “not for the purposes of procreation” -- then “you diminish this very special bond between men and women.”
Santorum cannot come up with a substantive reason why he opposes birth control, but by reducing sex to a strictly utilitarian function, it is Santorum who "diminish[es] this very special bond between men and women."
Only 15 percent of Americans, and less than a third of weekly churchgoers, believe using contraception is “morally wrong,” according to the Pew Research Center.
CNN recently asked Americans whether “using artificial means of birth control is wrong”; more than three in four Catholics, Republicans, conservative voters and men said it was not wrong, as did 85 percent of women and independents. The majority of independents also approve of requiring employer health care plans to cover birth control, according to a Fox News poll.
But wait! That's not all! There is his well-documented issues with homosexuals:
At first blush, Santorum’s stances on gay rights are unremarkable among Republicans. He opposes same-sex marriage and civil unions. So do most Republicans. But less than a third of independents agree. About six in 10 independents believe “marriages between same-sex couples” should be “valid” under the law, according to Gallup.Santorum's social position on homosexuals is bigoted and reprehensible. His legal position on the "precedent" that would be set by gay marriage, as I have mentioned before, is absurd.
Santorum’s opposition to allowing gays to serve openly in the military is also not unique among Republicans. But it too distances him from the center. At least six in 10 Americans and independents, multiple polls show, believe gay soldiers should not have to hide their sexuality.
Conservatives generally lose when the debate over homosexuality shifts from rights to tolerance. And here’s where Santorum stands alone among the GOP contenders.
In 2003, he said in an extended interview on the matter that he supported anti-sodomy laws. “I have no problem with homosexuality. I have a problem with homosexual acts,” he explained. He further compared gay relations with “man on child, man on dog or whatever the case may be.” In recent months, Santorum has expressed concern that homosexual activity could be seen as “equal” to heterosexual activity.
Independents are not with Santorum here either. Gallup finds a record 64 percent of Americans believe gay relations should be legal today and, importantly, three in four independents agree.
The very damning stand Santorum takes, for me and I suspect many, many others, is on gender roles, specifically the role of women:
Santorum, like Newt Gingrich, has been an outspoken supporter of the military’s ban on women serving on the front lines. Santorum caused a stir recently when he awkwardly phrased that position in a CNN interview. He said that female soldiers on the front lines “could be a very compromising situation” because “of emotions that are involved.” He later said he was talking about men’s emotional desire to protect women.I'd call that a "stick save," except it isn't. I inferred he was referring to the emotion of women in combat situations, at least as he stereotypes them. Might want to talk to the Israelis about what "problems" women have caused in combat. Very few, from what I've seen.
The phrasing itself was perilous for any presidential contender. The public is also not with Santorum on the substance of his point. Two-thirds of Americans and independents support “allowing women in the military to serve in ground units that engage in close combat,” according to a Quinnipiac poll. And there is no gap between the sexes.It's more than that. Rigidly-defined gender roles limit freedom. Rick Santorum thinks women should do certain things and men should do certain things, whether it's their personal choice or not. That I categorically oppose. With his position on gay marriage, he has shown a willingnes to use the law to enforce his definition of those roles. Who says it will stop with gay marriage once he's POTUS?
Santorum gains some measure of political cover by deferring to the military’s official position -- which prohibits women from units engaged in direct ground combat. But, taken with other comments about women’s roles, Santorum stands on tenuous electoral ground.
Santorum’s 2005 book, “It Takes a Family,” suggests -- but never explicitly states -- that society would be better off if women took care of their families full time. He suggests that materialism brings too many women into the workforce. “For some parents,” he wrote, “the purported need to provide things for their children simply provides a convenient rationalization for pursuing a gratifying career outside the home.”
Santorum’s potential problem is not that he’s picked fights with feminists. It’s that he appears perilously similar to the archetypal male prig lecturing women on their behavior. That too is a likability issue.
His broader obstacle is that independent voters generally are fiscally conservative and socially liberal.Indeed. Yet the GOP can never seem to come out with a candidate who fits these criteria, partly because many Republicans don't believe that most of the country is socially liberal, partly because many Republicans don't care -- even if most of the country is socially liberal, social liberalism is wrong and should be corrected by force of law if necessary. In this respect, Santorum and his ilk are no different than today's far left.
Look at the pattern Santorum has set with his social positions, on abortion, contraception, homosexuality and gender roles. Taken together, it's the town in Footloose.
Kuhn's conclusion is ominous for Republicans:
Social conservative politicians can thread that needle on the national stage if they speak about values more tactfully than abrasively. Is Santorum more the former or the latter?Like I said before, I'm a Republican, though more and more I wonder why, in large part because of people like Rick Santorum, who not only do not like me and people like me, but are actively hostile and proud of it. Because defense and foreign policy are so important, right now I would still vote for Rick Santorum over Barack Obama, though it would not be not so much holding my nose to vote for Santorum as it would be removing my nose entirely.
A certain irony does shield him. Santorum ascended as a social conservative. Yet he would, as the GOP nominee, benefit from the economy placing social issues on the backburner.
He also would shift a modern electoral paradigm. Republicans have traditionally, and usually to their benefit, framed most presidential campaigns as mainstream (conservatives) vs. extreme (liberals). Santorum’s primary victory would allow Democrats to turn the GOP’s playbook against them. That’s when even backburner social issues will begin to burn Republicans.
Why does it have to be like this? With a lousy economy, no budget, a malevolent EPA, emaciated defense and feeble foreign policy, it should be realtively simple to defeat Obama. Why does the GOP have to make it so difficult by putting out there candidates with such reprehensible policy positions as Santorum and Ron Paul?So if taken in isolation, he's relatively safe here.