THE RIGHT TARGETS THE EXISTENCE OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS…. A few weeks ago, CNSNews’ Terry Jeffrey, reflecting on the labor dispute in Wisconsin, argued, “It is time to drive public schools out of business.” It’s not an uncommon sentiment on the right.

To be sure, Jeffrey, despite being a regular contributor to CNN, isn’t exactly an influential powerhouse in conservative circles. What’s interesting, though, is that he’s not the only one making comments like these. Townhall columnist Chuck Norris has begun calling public schools “indoctrination camps.” Townhall columnist Bill Murchison argued this week that the American middle class has pulled its support for public education.

And campaigning in New Hampshire, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, who’s homeschooled his seven kids, wasn’t subtle about his disdain for the American institution.

…Santorum took a swipe at public schools. “Just call them what they are. Public schools? That’s a nice way of putting it. These are government-run schools,” he said.

Santorum added that the Head Start program is a Democratic conspiracy to bring “more children out of the household” in order to brainwash and “socialize” them. (By most modern standards, these are the kind of remarks that would bring a presidential campaign to a humiliating end, but by today’s GOP standards, it’s just Tuesday.)

Regardless, all of this comes against the backdrop of Republican governors slashing funds for public schools, and even the reinvigoration of the school voucher movement, which has been largely dormant for years.

Given all of this, conservatives in general, and the Republican Party in specific, is positioning itself as being actively hostile to public schools, which the Americans mainstream still holds in high regard. If Dems are lucky, this will become an even bigger issue leading up to the 2012 elections.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.