Santorum’s Interesting Omission

It was a bit of the same-old same-old when Rick Santorum argued at a campaign stop in Washington State today that Republicans need to nominate him because Americans just hate moderates:

“We want a conservative nominee because that’s our best chance of winning. Look at the races in the last 30 years, we nominated a moderate: [John] McCain, [Bob] Dole, Gerald Ford. When George [H.W.] Bush ran for re-election back in 1992, after raising taxes and increasing spending. They all ran as moderates. We all lost,” Santorum said.

“Every time we’ve run as a conservative, we’ve won,” the candidate continued. “Why? Because Americans want a choice. If it’s a difference between somebody, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, you know what, this country is going to probably going to stick with the person they know. We need to have a sharp contrast. Someone who paints a very different vision for America.”

It’s the ancient cry of the ideologue, left or right, captured most memorably by the title of Phyllis Schlafly’s famous book on behalf of Goldwater in 1964, A Choice Not An Echo. I guess you could call it Rick Santorum’s tribute to the announced retirement of Olympia Snowe.

But it was interesting that Santorum did not include in his litany of failed moderates another name: George W. Bush. It’s true, of course, that W. never lost an election, but it’s become conservative gospel in recent years that W.’s big-spending non-conservative ways doomed the GOP in 2008. It’s also true that W. ran in 2000 as the designated candidate of the conservative movement, and was treated as a world-historical colossus, and the Liberator of Iraq, by most conservatives when he ran for re-election in 2004. But that love faded very quickly.

The most relevant fact is that Santorum is having to struggle 24-7 in this campaign against constant claims from Romney and Gingrich and Paul that he is no “real conservative” because he supported two of George W. Bush’s major domestic policy initiatives: No Child Left Behind, and the Medicare Rx drug initiative. Rick’s even apologized for the former vote, in the course of suggesting that neither the feds nor the states have a legitimate role in education policy.

But like John McCain in 2008, Santorum’s become a victim of a rightward lurch in the GOP that’s been breathtaking in its speed and scope. Yesterday’s good solid conservative policy is today’s socialism. Mitt Romney gets to pretend he wouldn’t have supported W.’s horrifying heresies against conservatism because he wasn’t in Congress and didn’t have to take a position on them. Gingrich, ironically, earned a pass from complicity in Big Government Republicanism during the decade that began with W.’s election because he had been forced from office in disgrace. And Ron Paul, bless his pointy head, did indeed vote against all of it, though he probably didn’t really know he was representing the Wave of the Future in all those lonely votes he cast.

But you couldn’t blame Rick if at the end of litany of losers the mental addition: “You, too, W!”

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.