Let’s just say for the sake of argument that Rick Santorum has “grown” in the last year or two that he’s been running for president. Let’s say he’s right in whining about media coverage of his campaign–that reporters should focus on his not-terribly-unique message of wanting to cut taxes and spending, instead of the vastly more interesting things he was saying about the metaphysical order of the universe and the direction of human history way, way back in 2008, in the virtual infancy of his political career.

But if that’s how Santorum wants to play it, why is he going onto Glenn Beck’s show for a whole hour and saying stuff like this:

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said Thursday that President Obama wants more young adults to go to college so they can undergo “indoctrination” to a secular world view.

In an hour-long interview with conservative television host Glenn Beck, Santorum also defended his record on abortion and his vote in favor of President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind education law.

On the president’s efforts to boost college attendance, Santorum said, “I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because of their indoctrination mills, absolutely … The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country.”

He claimed that “62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it,” but declined to cite a source for the figure. And he floated the idea of requiring that universities that receive public funds have “intellectual diversity” on campus.

Hard to imagine, isn’t it, that anyone would think Santorum’s engaged in a culture war after reading comments like that! In one fell swoop, he’s accusing hundreds of higher education institutions of consciously warring against religion; accusing the president of the United States of consciously attempting to exercise mind control over millions of young people; accusing the parents of said young people of stupidly putting themselves into deep debt in order to secure the intellectual and moral corruption of their children; and proposing to end academic freedom in favor of some sort of vague “diversity” standards that he’d be denouncing if the subject was admission of minority students.

It is impossible to make any sense of Santorum’s thinking on higher education without going back to that Ave Maria speech–again, delivered just four years ago, not in prehistoric times–he doesn’t want us to look at, and reading this key passage:

This is not a political war at all. This is not a cultural war. This is a spiritual war. And the Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country – the United States of America. If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age….

He didn’t have much success in the early days. Our foundation was very strong, in fact, is very strong. But over time, that great, acidic quality of time corrodes even the strongest foundations. And Satan has done so by attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity, and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that has so deeply rooted in the American tradition.

He was successful. He attacks all of us and he attacks all of our institutions. The place where he was, in my mind, the most successful and first successful was in academia. He understood pride of smart people. He attacked them at their weakest, that they were, in fact, smarter than everybody else and could come up with something new and different. Pursue new truths, deny the existence of truth, play with it because they’re smart. And so academia, a long time ago, fell.

And you say “what could be the impact of academia falling?” Well, I would have the argument that the other structures that I’m going to talk about here had root of their destruction because of academia. Because what academia does is educate the elites in our society, educates the leaders in our society, particularly at the college level. And they were the first to fall.

So “long ago,” academia (other than brave enclaves like Ave Maria, and presumably evangelical fortresses like Liberty or Regents or Patrick Henry or Bob Jones) fell to Satan, is the platform from which Satan has also conquered mainline Protestantism and is besieging every other institution. Is it any wonder that Santorum is now suggesting that Barack Obama–again, a product of “academia” and a mainline Protestant–is utilizing Satan’s great American beachhead to further its infernal role of “indoctrinating” Americans in the “phony theology” of secularism? Or that Santorum sees what most of us consider “academic freedom” as nothing more than a license for evil to mock and subvert truth?

Seems pretty obvious that for all of Santorum’s imputations of hidden agendas and infernal motives to Barack Obama, he’s engaged in a not-so-hidden agenda based on a Christian Nationalist “worldview” that is, after all, hardly novel in conservative politics these days. Those of us who are contemplating the possibility of this man becoming President of the United States have a choice of willfully ignoring his “worldview” and blandly reporting the “message” he wants to send to voters who are not initiates in his very special way of understanding American history and current events–or taking Santorum seriously enough to think he says what he means and means what he says. But he cannot have it both ways, telling one group of voters he’s engaged in a millenia-old “spiritual war” against enemies deployed by Satan on battlegrounds from Congress and the White House to every “indoctrination” center on nearly every college campus–and then expect everyone else to accept that he’s just a nice, inoffensive pol who happens to think the federal government is too large and expensive.

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Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.