The Santorum Threat

Rick Santorum

You would be forgiven for thinking that Rick Santorum disappeared back into the political wilderness with the end of the 2012 presidential campaign, destined only to pop up occasionally on Fox News to wring his hands about the private sex lives of his neighbours, or to pen wacky columns for World Net Daily.

But you would be wrong.

The great and the good of the Republican Party (and Mark Sanford) have been showing up at the annual Faith & Freedom Coalition conference this past week, to stroke the egos of the evangelical “Christians” and “moral majority” Bible-thumpers therein assembled. Featured prominently among the speakers, none other than Rick Santorum.

Politico reports his speech in the context of Santorum’s implicit criticism of the Mitt Romney 2012 campaign, specifically the focus on the “You Didn’t Build That” theme:

The former Pennsylvania senator recalled all the business owners who spoke at the Republican National Convention.

“One after another, they talked about the business they had built. But not a single—not a single —factory worker went out there,” Santorum told a few hundred conservative activists at an “after-hours session” of the Faith & Freedom Coalition conference in Washington. “Not a single janitor, waitress or person who worked in that company! We didn’t care about them. You know what? They built that company too! And we should have had them on that stage.

Rick Santorum is dangerous, because he alone (with the partial exception of Ron Paul’s principled candidacy) instinctively gets something about the American electorate that is all but completely lost on all of the other past and potential Republican presidential candidates over the past two election cycles.

He understands that – as we saw with the recent Bilderberg Meeting protests – an increasing number of people are becoming disenchanted with the status quo system of economic and financial governance, and are losing faith in the American dream and any hope of regaining the middle class lifestyles that they once took for granted. And he understands the undercurrent of resentment resulting from this realisation, and the corrosive effect on Mitt Romney’s base of support.

The article continues:

Santorum did not mention Romney, whom he challenged in the primaries, by name during a 21-minute speech in a dim ballroom at the Marriott (a company on whose board Romney sits). But there was no doubt who he was talking about.

“When all you do is talk to people who are owners, talk to folks who are Type A’s who want to succeed economically, we’re talking to a very small group of people,” he said. “No wonder they don’t think we care about them. No wonder they don’t think we understand them. Folks, if we’re going to win, you just need to think about who you talk to in your life.”

Trying to carve out a role as a leading populist in the 2016 field, Santorum insisted that Republicans must “talk to the folks who are worried about the next paycheck,” not the CEOs.

This really gets to the rub of the problem, and is an exact restatement of my recent arguments against the secretive Bilderberg group. The Bilderberg attendees meet in secret with other highly successful people just like themselves, and presume to prescribe policies and solutions for the entire world based on their extraordinarily narrow range of experience. Similarly, the majority of GOP presidential candidates wouldn’t spend a moment of their lives in the company of someone who couldn’t write them a fat campaign cheque at the end of the day, but instinctively understand the preoccupations and concerns of business owners and rich financiers. And based on this narrow set of acquaintances they presume to create solutions “for the good of the country”.

Rick Santorum stands out among a sorry crowd of potential Republican contenders as someone who can not only talk to the “47 percent”, but also speak up for them.

Never mind that the solutions that he proposes – more protectionism, propping up inefficient, declining American industries and preventing the inevitable and needed transition toward a more knowledge-based economy – would actually harm this constituency so dear to his heart, as I explained last year when I dubbed him the “Pied Piper of Pennsylvania”. By virtue of the fact that he actually takes the time to understand and advocate for this group of downtrodden Americans, he will inevitably pick up a lot of support should he choose to enter the 2016 Republican presidential primary race.

Unfortunately, by voting for Rick Santorum not only do you get his special nostalgic, doomed-to-failure (but very populist) economic policy, you also get the basket of socially regressive and (in some cases) out-and-out bigoted policies for which he proudly and unapologetically stands. Hence the danger.

Yes, it is slightly ridiculous to be thinking about 2016 already. But at the present time, there is only one Republican who really gets it when it comes to the economic frustrations of the American middle and working class. And the danger – the Santorum Threat – is that if the economic outlook has not significantly improved by the time of the next election, and if the rest of the Republican field remains incapable of sympathising with anyone other than hedge fund managers and “job creators”, the man who lost out to Mitt Romney in 2012 could steal the nomination in three years’ time.