Santorum To Iowa Legislators: You, Too, Can Become Pariahs!

I am alternatively amused and puzzled by Rick Santorum’s apparent determination to run for president again. On the one hand, all sorts of cliches about GOP presidential politics are probably running around in his mind, luring him to get out the red sweater-vest and try again: he’s Next In Line as the last real (i.e., non-Ron Paul) challenger to Mitt Romney in 2012. He’s already done the painful spadework in Iowa–even did a 99-county tour that was widely mocked at the time–necessary to a viable Caucus campaign there. He actually won in Iowa, of course. The GOP is arguably moving in his direction on a lot of issues. And every year that goes by creates more distance from the crashing-and-burning of his Senate career in 2006.

On the other hand, however, the 2016 field is a lot stronger than its immediate predecessor, and Santorum’s social-conservative “lane” is very crowded, including the guy who would have almost certainly croaked him in Iowa if he’d run in 2012, 2008 Caucus winner Mike Huckabee; Senate firebrand Ted Cruz; the new-and-improved Rick Perry; grassroots favorite Ben Carson; and the ever-opportunistic Bobby Jindal. Some would include early sensation Scott Walker in that list of people conservative Christians might well prefer to Santorum.

More to the point, exactly how will Santorum distinguish himself from the right-wing crowd? Here’s a hint from an appearance he made before Iowa Republican legislators early this week, as described by Christian Right blogger Shane Vander Hart:

“I know you all as state legislators have seen what happened in Indiana and Arkansas. What happened there was the media creating a firestorm and leaders didn’t lead. I have been through that firestorm. I can go back 13 years when I was in the United States Senate and stood up and said if the Supreme Court decides a case this way (decided Federal RFRA law could not be applied broadly to states) then all of these bad things are going to start happening and I said we would have same-sex marriage in 10 years. I was wrong – it was five,” Santorum stated.

“I was put through a national wringer like no one had been put through and have been put through it over and over again because I am not going to back down from what I believe is the right course for our country. And you learn that the media can be brutal. It can be intimidating. It can be overwhelming, and you can look folks and say, ‘That is a stand-up person, they are going to stand-up tall. They are not going to back down when it gets tough.’ Then you realize, ‘Wow, that is not what I thought was going to happen.’ I share this with you because there is nothing… and this is what Walt (Rogers) was talking about… there is nothing that substitutes for experience, and particularly experience being in the middle of a vortex of a firestorm when your conservative principles and ideas are under the most intense scrutiny. And you’re being called everything you can possibly imagine and they’re trying to intimidate you from backing away from your position,” Santorum said this as an indirect criticism of Governors Mike Pence (R-IN) and Asa Hutchinson (R-AR), who backtracked from their original support of their state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Acts as originally written.

“That is when you find out if the person has what is necessary to stand up and lead through a difficult time and not back down, not run for the hills, not bail out, but actually stand-up in a positive and hopefully winsome way and make the arguments. I always say when it comes to religious liberty now or the marriage issue or a whole bunch of other things we are losing these arguments simply because we are not making them. We’re not making them because we are intimidated from making them. That’s just a… if that continues then life as we know it, particularly the family, is going to be on a very, very bad track in the world,” Santorum added.

Nothing mealy-mouthed about that approach to “religious liberty,” is there? Santorum’s challenging Iowa legislators to become as reviled as their counterparts in Indiana and Arkansas, whose governors he’s denouncing as wimps for failing to stand up not only to liberal criticism but to the active opposition of a business community that Republicans like Santorum are trying their best to engorge with profits!

To put it another way, Santorum is asking his fellow conservative Christians to climb up on the cross with him and invite the slings and arrows of derision and adversity.

I somehow think Scott Walker’s pledge of a quietly vicious destruction of the secular-socialist enemy, or even Mike Huckabee’s call for an angry uprising aimed at vengeance, will be more effective with these folk than a demand that they prove their ideological manhood via martyrdom. But I can understand Santorum’s need for a message that nobody else is likely to steal.

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.