Rick Santorum? Really?

Rick Santorum now appears to be THE social conservative alternative to Mitt Romney.

With his strong second place finish in Iowa, Rick Santorum now appears to be the social conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann appear to be dropping out of the race soon, ending the three-way split. Newt Gingrich is pouting about the fact that nobody that knows him likes him and vowing to run a series of negative ads against Romney just for the hell of it. And Ron Paul is hoping to stretch out his latest 15 minutes of fame through New Hampshire.

For all intents and purposes, coming in 8 votes behind Romney is as good as a win for Santorum. Despite Romney’s technical win–which would ordinarily have been quite impressive, given that he didn’t campaign hard in Iowa until lately and seemed to be conceding until the last few days any chance of winning there–Santorum is now the story.

This is surprising in any number of ways.

First, Santorum has been near the bottom of the polls the entire 2012 cycle. Indeed, despite his late surge in Iowa, he was standing at 4.2 percent–behind Gingrich, Romney, Paul, Perry, and Bachmann–in the most recent RealClearPolitics average. (Granted, it includes only one poll taken since December 18 owing to the holidays.) Having lost big in his Senate re-election bid in 2006, and his name having literally become a joke in recent years, few gave him any chance to make a splash and most of us wondered why the hell he was even bothering to run. (Stacy McCain was one of the few outliers, predicting a Santorum surge way back on October 4. Most of us dismissed it as wishful thinking.)

Second, Santorum had essentially no money, no organization, and no positive name recognition prior to last night. He didn’t manage to qualify for the Virginia ballot despite having lived there for years. For someone who has been on the national stage for some two decades, that’s generally not good news.

Third, many of us simply find Santorum . . . creepy.

It’s the word that Joe Scarborough used this morning and it really fits. On the one hand, Santorum has a very interesting personal story. He’s a very strong family guy with blue collar roots. On the other, even in a country and political party that makes public proclamation of one’s Christian faith a virtual requirement for high public office, he comes across as devout to a bizarre level.

As Doug noted  recently, Santorum wants to outlaw birth control.

Then there’s the story, which resurfaced at the national level just this week, of the Santorum family’s unusual reaction to the death of their newborn baby. It’s simultaneously heartbreaking, endearing, and bizarre. Having recently lost my wife and having had the opposite instinct–never letting my young children see her body–I can’t fathom doing what the Santorums did. At the same time, I’m more inclined than ever to give people wide latitude in their handling of grief.

My sense is still that Romney will win the nomination. Despite all the incoming fire that will come his direction until Gingrich finally crawls back under his rock, he’s still best positioned to win New Hampshire and to deal with a fast-paced schedule. But Santorum may be able to make a race of it in a winnowed field.

But I wonder how many reliable Republican voters have the same reaction to Santorum that Scarborough and I do. Is his extreme religiosity a huge bonus as the race moves South? Or will too many find his extreme brand of Catholicism creepy and off-putting?

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Fiona says:

    While I don’t think Santorum will ultimately defeat Romney, I do think his brand of religion will play well in the South and other evangelical pockets of the country. Yeah, I find him kind of creepy (we call him Mr. Man-on-Dog Love around our house), but his speech last night was sincere and heart-warming. Gingrich–the only other likely challenger for the evangelical vote at this point–lacks the kind of connection to working-class, religious voters Santorum seems capable of making given his life story.

    Even when you factor out Mitt’s Mormonism and blatant pandering, there’s still something off-putting about the guy. It’s like he’s trying really hard to be human, but just can’t quite get there. I don’t know that his personality will play well in the general election. Even though Obama has his negatives, he still comes across as likeable (at least to those who don’t think he’s a Muslim socialist out to remake the country in the image of the USSR). I doubt Mitt can pull off the whole likeability thing.

    That said: Jon Stewart has a good take on the Santorum-Romney contest: http://www.salon.com/2012/01/04/jon_stewarts_compelling_anti_santorum_argument/singleton/

  2. michael reynolds says:

    I am seriously contemplating sending Santorum a check. Unfortunately it would show up on Google searches and I wouldn’t want anyone to misunderstand. Go Rick! Go Newt! Can’t wait for the next debate.

  3. Rob in CT says:

    It’s like he’s trying really hard to be human, but just can’t quite get there.

    Uncanny valley.

    Santorum. Hah. That is all.

  4. Janis Gore says:

    Oh, yeah, the guy who thinks unmarried women shouldn’t be teachers. Go for it, R’s.

  5. PD Shaw says:

    Since Reagan, it seems like a representative of the cultural warrior group always mounts a challenge out of Iowa and dissapears. (Huckabee, Bauer, Buchanan, Robertson) Huckabee did the best, winning in 8 states, but at least a couple of these were after the press essentially called the election at the end of February. So, I’m guessing this will be over in 30 days.

  6. Gustopher says:

    All across America, millions of people are Googling, Binging and Yahooing “santorum” while having their morning coffee and bagel. What a wonderful world we live in.

    Pawlenty must be kicking himself for dropping out. It could have been him as the Not-Romney.

  7. MBunge says:

    “Newt Gingrich is pouting about the fact that nobody that knows him likes him and vowing to run a series of negative ads against Romney just for the hell of it.”

    If somebody spent millions of dollars trashing you on TV, what would your response be? That sort of ad warfare against cash-strapped opponents is exactly what made Romney the least popular guy on the campaign trail in 2008. If Newt doesn’t just accept being bitchslapped, I hardly think that’s a reason to criticize the guy.

    Mike

  8. Fiona says:

    @MBunge:

    If Newt doesn’t just accept being bitchslapped, I hardly think that’s a reason to criticize the guy.

    There are plenty of other reasons to criticize his Newtness, but he came across as the angry, condescending Dough Boy in his speech last night. Reminding everyone all over again just why it is they hate him.

  9. mattb says:

    Despite all the incoming fire that will come his direction until Gingrich finally crawls back under his rock, he’s still best positioned to win New Hampshire and to deal with a fast-paced schedule.

    I don’t think that one should discount the amount of damage that Newt can do to Romney. It may not be enough to cost him the nomination. But if Old Newt truly returns, and he makes this personal/goes scorched earth, there could be a LOT of damage in terms of the General Election.

    Right Wing Media is already picking up the “Romney, and his rich friends, destroyed Gingrich through spending” meme. So that’s not helping Romney. If Gingrich goes nuclear, beyond providing the Dem’s with more attack material, there’s a good chance he will also demoralize the base even further (essentially repeating 2008 and their disenchantment with McCain).

  10. Franklin says:

    Then there’s the story, which resurfaced at the national level just this week, of the Santorum family’s unusual reaction to the death of their newborn baby. It’s simultaneously heartbreaking, endearing, and bizarre.

    I hadn’t seen this, but it doesn’t seem bizarre to me. I know someone who did something similar (not quite to the same extent). I fully agree with your statement that people should be allowed a wide latitude in how they grieve. And by ‘allowed’, I don’t just mean legally, I mean not going on the Internet and proclaiming their behavior wrong. It’s not like the Santorums chopped up the remains and ate it. They just spent time pondering what could have been.

  11. mattb says:

    @MBunge:
    Everyone seems to be for keeping unlimited spending in political speech until they’re the victim of it.

    Truthfully, Newt does have reasons to be angry. But like the jade giant, people don’t tend to like him when he’s angry.

  12. DRS says:

    Can we stop calling Romney the “front runner” and start calling him the “front stumbler” now?

  13. mattb says:

    What’s personally scary to me is the number of right wing pundits waxing about how good a President Santorum would be and his electability.

    Frickin’ Rep. Steve King of Iowa said on NPR that he saw Romney and Santorum as equally qualified for the presidency and having equal national appeal.

    I understand there’s drinkin’ the kool-aide, but at somepoint you wish people would stop calling a tail a leg.

  14. James Joyner says:

    @MBunge: Frankly, Newt got a taste of his own medicine. This was all straight out of the Gingrich 1994 playbook. The bottom line is that he lost and lost big and Romney is the odds-on favorite to win the nomination at this point. Instead of being a whiny child, he should step aside and not do anything to hurt the party in the general election fight.

    @Franklin: In the particular case of people running for high public office, especially the presidency, we have a right to take things like this into account in our assessments. I don’t blame the man for how he handled the tragedy but I’m a bit weirded out by it and it reinforces my sense that he’s just too extreme in his religion for my comfort.

  15. If you still needed proof that the Tea Party’s “small government” talk is complete bullshit, I give you the Iowa Caucus results.

  16. WR says:

    @Fiona: ” his speech last night was sincere and heart-warming”

    Yes, I was particularly moved by his claim that Obama was trying to implement Mussolini-style Fascism in America.

  17. James in LA says:

    Nominate Rick Santorum, the actual conservative. Let’s have an open debate regarding his ideas, which many people still support. Let’s have it all out in the open so it can be voted down by the same 18% (or more) that Santorum lost his last Senate election. Let us formally decide that his ways are not the ways of the future. Let it be clear, and let the 25% hear the word NO.

    Flip Flopney provides only anti-clarity, and the President has many dollars to ensure we all hear about it. But it won’t be an election about ideas. It will be only about money.

  18. ponce says:

    I listened to all the Republican candidates’ post-Iowa speeches on NPR…except for Romney’s.

    I’d forgotten what a grating bore he is, had to change the channel.

    No wonder a bigoted clown like Santorum did so well against him.

  19. michael reynolds says:

    @WR:
    Yep, he was doing well right up until Il Duce.

  20. Alex says:

    Santorum still has a major liability that hasn’t been aired on the national stage. Google for “Western Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School” along with “Santorum” to see the details.

    It was this issue (soaking a rural PA school district for private school tuition while dollars he was actually resident in VA), more than anything else, that sunk him in his 2006 Senate race. And of course, we all saw how whiny he got when he felt ignored on the debate stage – he got even more whiny when attacked on this issue in 2006 and it really turned off voters.

    If Santorum starts polling well in SC, expect to see this skeleton come lurching out of the closet. If he can’t react to it with more equanimity than he did during his Senate race, this could be the thing that kills his candidacy.

  21. Fiona says:

    @WR:

    Yes, I was particularly moved by his claim that Obama was trying to implement Mussolini-style Fascism in America.

    +1

    Yeah, that kind of nonsense annoys me, but they all said pretty much the same thing. They all talk about “taking back America” as if Obama swooped down and stole the election from McCain or was some kind of alien transplant on the body public.

    I normally find Santorum to be odious, but the parts of his speech where he was talking about his family and their American dream did come across as sincere and there were a couple of times where he showed a genuine sense of humor. Romney can’t fake sincerity or humor when it comes to his public persona. He comes across as smarmy. I do think there may well be a core of decency there somewhere (he’s not a complete douche like Gingrich), but I surely don’t see it when he speaks or debates. I think he’ll have an uphill battle against Obama.

  22. MBunge says:

    @James Joyner: “Frankly, Newt got a taste of his own medicine.”

    Yeah, you don’t like Newt. We get it. The reality is that he was outspent by Romney 10 to 1 in Super Pac money in Iowa and virtually all of that went to attack ads against Newt while he ran an almost entirely positive campaign. No matter what else you think is wrong with the guy, he can’t be faulted for getting pissed off at that and lashing back.

    Mike

  23. James Joyner says:

    @MBunge: I’m not saying Gingrich deserved the attack ads, I’m saying that he pioneered much of the tactics used against him. And I’m not blaming him for being PO’d at the ads, I’m blaming him for being unprofessional and whining about his chief opponent for the presidential nomination running tough ads against him.

  24. anjin-san says:

    Third, many of us simply find Santorum . . . creepy.

    James, you really need to wake up. 97% of the GOP is creepy.

  25. @MBunge:

    Having seen most of the “negative” ads that Newt got so upset about at one point or another, I have to say that there was nothing in there that was untrue.

    Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with “negative campaigning” as long as what is being said about the opposing candidate is accurate.

  26. Fiona says:

    The reality is that he was outspent by Romney 10 to 1 in Super Pac money in Iowa and virtually all of that went to attack ads against Newt while he ran an almost entirely positive campaign.

    Romney simply reminded voters of Newt’s many liabilities. Paul ran some pretty devastating ads against him as well. It’s all well and good that the Newster decided to be “positive” this go round, and save his vicious lying attacks for Obama, but given his role in creating the scorched earth politics that now dominates Washington, it seems a lot like poetic justice that he be taken down by his own tactics.

  27. anjin-san says:

    So let’s see, we have Newt, a man who dropped 500K at Tiffany’s & who has a net worth somewhere between 10-20 million, a guy who is famous for being an asshole, whining that the rich guy was mean to him?

    And people take this guy seriously. Wow. We really are on the decline…

  28. James Joyner says:

    @anjin-san: I think the party’s clearly going through an identity crisis and there’s a real possibility that the inmates have taken over the asylum at the grassroots level. But some 35-40 percent of Americans are Republicans are reliably Republican leaning; it’s just too simplistic to dismiss them as mostly creeps and weirdos.

    The likely nominee is still Mitt Romney. That would follow John McCain, George W. Bush (twice), Bob Dole, George H. W. Bush (twice), and Ronald Reagan (twice) in my political lifetime. I don’t think any of those guys qualify as “creeps.”

    The party is, of late, much harder to defend on the local level. But that’s a function of a really bad media culture and the institutional nature of the nominating process.

  29. ponce says:

    But some 35-40 percent of Americans are Republicans are reliably Republican leaning; it’s just too simplistic to dismiss them as mostly creeps and weirdos.

    Poll: Majority Of GOP Believes Obama Sympathizes With Islamic Fundamentalism, Wants Worldwide Islamic Law

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/30/obama-islamic-fundamentalist-gop-polled-majority-says_n_699883.html

  30. MBunge says:

    @James Joyner: “I’m blaming him for being unprofessional and whining about his chief opponent for the presidential nomination running tough ads against him.”

    1. Every single candidate who’s been massively outspent and barraged with negative ads has whined about it. Every. Single. One. To castigate Newt for reacting the exact same way is ludicrous.

    2. If it was perfectly okay for Romney to trash Newt, there’s no reason he shouldn’t respond in kind. Romney isn’t yet the nominee and, if you really are a conservative, I’m not sure why you’d want his path to the nomination cleared in any way.

    3. If every time you posted here, Doug Mataconis would make 10 posts not only arguing with everything you said but bringing up and rehashing every stupid or unwise word you’ve ever written or spoken, how long would it take for you to start whining about that?

    Mike

  31. PD Shaw says:

    @MBunge: I’ve not seen as many ads as Doug, but I’ve not been shocked by negativity, and certainly not seen anything untrue. It comes across as Newt ducking the issues by pleading special relief from “nice” Iowans, and “nice” Iowans think Santorum is the nice one, so it didn’t help and it will work less.

  32. anjin-san says:

    it’s just too simplistic to dismiss them as mostly creeps and weirdos.

    Perhaps they are not all creeps as individuals, but they have chosen to associate themselves with something that is definitely creepy. Can you explain to me why so many people who trumpet themselves as “values voters” support a party with so many leaders who trophy wives on their arms?

  33. @James Joyner:

    The problem is that all those local level people eventually become the next generation of national level people.

  34. Hey Norm says:

    @ MBunge…
    I gotta go with James on this…but for a reason not yet mentioned. Newt supported the Citizens United decision. Now he has fallen victim to it. Hard to feel bad for him given that.
    Just the same, I do want to see him un-load on Romney. No one has to date.
    Grab the popcorn.
    Meep-Meep.

  35. Moosebreath says:

    James,

    “Frankly, Newt got a taste of his own medicine. This was all straight out of the Gingrich 1994 playbook.”

    I’ll agree. I might add that the person who hyped the case of a woman (who was the step-daughter of a GOP local official) who killed her own children to attack Democrats deserves far worse than the attack ads he received.

  36. michael reynolds says:

    I thought Barney Frank summarized the parties perfectly. (This may not be verbatim.)

    “We’re not perfect, but they’re nuts.” That should be our bumper sticker.

  37. PJ says:

    This isn’t about Santorum. This is about how a very large share of the GOP really doesn’t want Romney, they are grasping at anything that’s not Romney. And the current flavor, thanks to Gingrich dropping in the polls was Santorum.

    Sure, if they get a call from a pollster, they will pick Romney, that’s easy, doesn’t take a lot of time. But how many of them will be willing to spend time it would take actually voting for him? A candidate they really don’t want? That remains to be seen.

  38. de stijl says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    If you still needed proof that the Tea Party’s “small government” talk is complete bullshit, I give you the Iowa Caucus results.

    I don’t understand what you mean here. That a vote for Romney, Santorum or Paul is a vote for “big government”?

  39. b-psycho says:

    @de stijl: Paul was the obvious “small government” choice, yet self-identified Tea Party types broke more for Santorum, w/ Paul in a tie with Romney among them. Voting for Santorum if your priority is limiting government makes no sense, but if your priority is injecting more Gawd into it…

  40. Neil Hudelson says:

    but his speech last night was sincere

    I think this is the very reason people find Santorum ‘creepy.’

    I’m used to politicians saying whatever it is they think voters want to hear–not matter how extreme or creepy–to win an election. I expect it. Heck, sometimes I criticize them for not doing it.

    When Santorum says something batsh!t crazy, it scares me because he is sincere.

  41. Murray says:

    I will vote for the candidate who doesn’t worry about offending someone or a small minority of a minority (“pc”), has a clear set of morals and beliefs, will renounce socialism, and promise to eliminate and dismantle socialist – giveaway federal programs – such as Obama healthcare LBJ welfare, and corporate welfare.

  42. mantis says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    When Santorum says something batsh!t crazy, it scares me because he is sincere.

    That’s the crux of it. He’s not pandering. He’s serious about this crazy shit.

  43. de stijl says:

    @b-psycho:

    There are exit polls out yet, but I found this in a Wapo article about the entrance poll from yesterday:

    Tea party backers made up about two-thirds of Iowa caucus-goers, and they broke 29 percent for Santorum to 19 percent each for Romney and Paul. Among the 1 in 10 voters who opposed the tea party, Romney led with 43 percent of the vote.

    Actually, I would consider that Huntsman would be the go-to guy for Tea Party types, but he made the cardinal sin of actually serving his country during Obama’s presidency, so he’s a persona non grata for Republicans. Paul is just a hard money, states’ rights, isolationist crank. Republicans don’t much cotton to isolationists nowadays.

    Santorum surged solely because he was the last non-Romney / non-Paul.

    But the Tea Party was always an excuse to bash Obama gussied up in a tri-corner.

  44. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James in LA:

    But it won’t be an election about ideas. It will be only about money.

    Thanx to Citizens United, that is exactly what elections are about: The money.

  45. @de stijl:

    Santorum has explicitly made himself the anti-libertarian candidate. The fact he’s the Tea Party’s darling says all you need to know about the sincerity of their commitment to smaller government. They were big government supporters all through the Bush admin, and the second the GOP controls the White House again, you’ll not here another word about reducing the size of government from them.

  46. anjin-san says:

    there’s a real possibility that the inmates have taken over the asylum at the grassroots level

    Yea, and what about other levels – say the US House of Representatives? Don’t fool yourself that this is just a bunch of rednecks out in the boonies that don’t know any better.

  47. Davebo says:

    I think the my party’s clearly going through an identity crisis and there’s a real possibility that the inmates have taken over the asylum at the grassroots level.

    Seriously James. Calling your base “the inmates”?

    Perhaps they’ll toe the line and vote for Romney but when you lie down with dogs.

    Reaping harvests and all….

  48. James Joyner says:

    @Davebo: Historically, the elites have run the parties while pandering to the masses. The Democrats largely still do that. The Republicans seem now to have the tail wagging the dog. It’s arguably more democratic but not a healthy way to govern.

  49. PJ says:

    Rick Santorum? Really?

    One only has to count the number of posts attacking Santorum on the OTB front page to get the answer to that question…

  50. Bill Jempty says:

    James,

    My wife and I lost our only child almost nine years ago to this date. I don’t find what the Santorums did bizarre. They lost a child.

    After Daniel was born, me, Leonita, my mother-in-law, had six hours with my son’s body. My sister-in-law and her close friend jjoined us. So did a priest friend and a few other people. The whole time was spent in my wife’s hospital room. She wasn’t strong enough to go home. Leonita had just spent 2 months on hospital bedrest.

    Other than the 14.5 hours was alive with tubes stuck in him plus his being intubated, those 6 hours were the only time we had with him. I wish to this day we had held him longer..

    I’m very disappointed at your calling what the Santorums did as bizarre. After what you were recently through, I think you know better. Grief is very personal, and we shouldn’t criticize how parents conducted themselves after the loss of a child.

  51. James Joyner says:

    @Bill Jempty: Bill, so sorry to hear of your loss even after all these years.

    People have different reactions to tragedy in general and death in particular. For my part, I really never looked back at my wife’s body once she was pronounced dead. Even when I had to go identify the body after the autopsy a few days later, I stayed with it the few seconds necessary to do my duty and no longer. For me, it was just the empty container for a person who was no longer with me. I may well be an extreme outlier in this regard.

    Instinctively, there’s a difference between wanting some time at the hospital to say one’s peace and obtain closure and taking the body home for visiting. But I’m not sure why that is or where the line should be drawn.

  52. michael reynolds says:

    I really despise Santorum. But what the man did to deal with the death of a child is not something I can criticize. I think it’s one of those things where if you didn’t experience it yourself you probably need to shut up. Under those circumstances almost any behavior is normal.

  53. Montanareddog says:

    @Bill Jempty:

    Dear Bill (and James), my wife and I went through something similar 6 months ago. The pregnancy was problematic (for the child) and my wife was in the neo-natal intensive care unit from the 29th week so that our son would have the best possible medical care from the moment of his birth. He was born at 34 weeks but only lived for 8 hours. The medical staff, who by the nature of their specialisation, are as experienced as can be with this kind of situation, allowed us to stay with him at the NNICU until he died; they then helped us bathe him and dress him, returned us to the room and provided us with a refrigeration unit for the cot and allowed us to sleep their with him in the cot by our sides, for two days. The undertaker was also a specialist in children’s funerals and advised us to receive our son at home one day before the funeral to take our leave (which we did) and he too provided a refrigeration unit for his burial basket.

    So, naturally, I do not find what the Santorum’s did, or what your family did at all bizarre. In fact, it appears to be the norm nowadays (at least in the country where we live – I cannot comment on the States) in handling the loss of a child.

    I believe Alan Colmes has apologised to the Santorums as he should have. He had no right to even criticise them for what they did and trying to politicise it was unconscionable.