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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Getting To Know Ricky Santorum

As my last two posts indicate, I think Mitt Romney’s nomination is finally “inevitable” (though it did not have to be that way, and conservatives have nobody but themselves to blame for having to accept a nominee they really don’t much trust or like). Yes, the nomination campaign will continue for a while, probably through Florida on January 31, or perhaps longer, at least formally (it will take Mitt a while to actually win a majority of delegates; Ron Paul, and perhaps Newt Gingrich, won’t get out until the bitter end). And so long as there is some doubt about the outcome–and in a cycle like this one, it would not be prudent to ignore such doubts–progressives will richly enjoy the hijinks of Mitt’s rivals, who are either a bit unhinged to begin with, or will put on the clown costume in order to posture for the Tea Party crowd.
The spectacle of Ron Paul and Rick Santorum becoming Mitt’s most serious rivals is especially wonderful. Paul’s long history of obnoxious and bizarre beliefs and utterances, of which the desire to destroy the entire New Deal/Great Society legacy is by no means the most objectionable, is becoming well-known all over again, largely shaming into silence those leftbent folk who warmed to him for his anti-interventionist foreign policy views or his opposition to violations of civil liberties (those, that is, which do not involve a woman’s right to choose).
But a lot of folks don’t know much about Ricky Santorum, aside from his eternal fame in inspiring a a sexual neologism. In some respects, Ricky is kind of the new version of Pat Buchanan, without the old falangist’s isolationist or borderline anti-semitic tendencies. He draws on a rich if disreputable tradition of right-wing European Catholic social and political thinking, which often moves him towards positions of support for reactionary government activism that dismay more conventional conservatives. TDS Co-Editor William Galston penned a fine review of Santorum’s book It Takes a Family for the Washington Monthly back in 2005, and it (the review, not the book!) is well worth a fresh read during Ricky’s fifteen minutes of national prominence.
But philosophy aside, Santorum had distinguished himself most prominently as among the hardest of hard-core social conservatives. Aside from his attacks on GLBT rights that earned him his neologism, Santorum has regularly walked the far boundaries of the anti-choice movement, which he made his signature during his Iowa campaign even as the other anti-choicers in the race (i.e., the entire field) talked more about limited government or the economy. And he really can’t stop himself from making sure no one is to his right on these issues: even as he basked in new attention after running even with Romney in the caucuses, Santorum chose to let it be known that it was aces with him if states sought to outlaw contraception.
If that’s all there was to him, Ricky might be dismissed as a misguided but honest crank like some of his supporters. But Santorum also has his really nasty side, beyond his interest in using government to regulate everyone else’s sex life. It’s been largely forgotten now, but Ricky was the guy in charge of the legendary K Street Project, the sinister Bush-era scheme to force lobbying organizations to fire employees who were not solid Republicans in order to create jobs for former congressmen and staffers and create a monolithic money machine for the GOP. It was at about that time Ricky reportedly started seeing the Next President of the United States in his bathroom mirror every morning, and dutifully published the book which Galston reviewed. But a disastrous re-election defeat in 2006 put that plan on hold until the current cycle.
The man is an all-around piece of work, and I’d be a bit frightened of him if I thought he had a serious chance at the Republican nomination. Unless Mitt Romney develops a sudden case of the stupids, or the conservative movement gets behind Santorum en masse, it ain’t happening. But it says a lot about the 2012 Republican field that social conservatives in Iowa wound up having to choose between Ricky and the truly deranged Michele Bachmann as their champion–and chose Santorum.

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