Is Rick Santorum Pitting Social Conservatives Against the GOP Itself?

The national Republican Party may be looking to modernize itself, but former Pennsylvania senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum seems to have other ideas.

“An alliance of political consultants and unprincipled politicians want to throw social conservatives like you and me out of the Republican Party,” he wrote by email to supporters of Patriot Voices, the conservative nonprofit Santorum founded with his wife, Karen, after coming in second place in the 2012 Republican primary.

“They say that social conservatives and our commitment to defending the right to life and standing up for traditional families are costing the Republican Party elections,” he continues. “They say the GOP would be better off without us.”

Here’s why you should potentially care about this. If the writing on the wall is clear, Rick Santorum will run for president again in 2016. He’s been visiting Iowa pretty regularly since his 2012 loss.

And when he files to run, he’ll do so in the midst of the Republican establishment’s likely attempt to update its brand — its better-late-than-never quest to stop being, as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal put it post-election, “the stupid party.”

In a PW cover story about Santorum’s candidacy last year, I noted that common wisdom would find the former Pennsylvania senator in a good position to run for president again in 2016 — and potentially win. After all, Republicans often nominate the candidate who’s run the gauntlet before and come in second place. It happened with both Sen. John McCain and former Massachusettes Gov. Mitt Romney.

But Santorum is different. His candidacy came totally out of left field. He was branded early as a product of the early-to-mid 2000s with too much baggage. And it wasn’t until the perfect time, right before the Iowa caucuses, that the social conservative’s star peaked.

In a Friday story in the Philadelphia Daily News, reporter Chris Brennan spoke with senior Santorum strategist John Brabender, who put Santorum’s chances at a 2016 run “better than 50/50 for sure” and called the GOP’s recent efforts to modernize — and its lack of enthusiasm for Santorum — a symptom of the “shiny new toy theory.” In this case, the shiny new toys are Sens. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, only one of whom is literally shiny. And in that context, it’s interesting that, in the months since Jindal made that remark criticizing the GOP, his approval ratings in Louisiana have tanked.

And so, Santorum is back up to his old tricks.

“I’m sure you could go back and read stories, oh, you know, ‘The Republican party’s going to change. This is the future.’ Obviously that didn’t happen,” he recently told the Des Moines Register, with regard to stories written in the 60s and 70s about the GOP potentially embracing abortion rights.

“I think you’re going to see the same stories written now [about gay marriage] and it’s not going to happen,” he said. “The Republican party’s not going to change on this issue. In my opinion it would be suicidal if it did.”

Let’s say Santorum manages to become to the standard-bearer for social conservatives heading toward the next election. That could mean trouble for the Republican Party — especially as some slowly begin coming out for LGBT rights. Because the Tea Partiers, even though their time in the spotlight may be running out, aren’t ready to leave quietly, either. And when you’ve got one wing of the party making its 21st-century statement in Revolutionary War get-up, and another still fighting to outlaw of abortion and gay marriage, the third, more moderate wing may find there’s more than just a little “updating” to be had. Our advice for 2016: popcorn, and lots of it.

Follow Randy on Twitter: @RandyLoBasso

One Response to “ Is Rick Santorum Pitting Social Conservatives Against the GOP Itself? ”

  1. Alessandra says:

    Social conservatives need to consider forming a third party. RINOs hate socons? Perhaps there are some important political objectives to be gained by splitting.

    Santorum has to spend more time and energy fighting RINOs and Republican sexuality pigs than he has fighting liberals.

    There’s something very wrong with this picture.

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