Donald Trump Is Rick Santorum 2.0 – Less Social Conservatism, But Economic Populism On Steroids

Former Republican presidential primary candidate Rick Santorum, siren of the white working classes back in 2012, ran a campaign which laid the groundwork for Donald Trump’s insurgency in 2016, and ultimately prophesied his victory

For several months now I have been waiting for somebody to make the connection between Rick Santorum‘s strong running in the 2012 Republican primaries and the playbook which took Donald Trump all the way to the White House.

Way back during the 2012 campaign, I noted that Santorum was singing a siren song to the “white working classes” of rust belt America, responding to their very real and valid concerns with reassuring but unrealistic promises that the tide of globalisation could (and should) be turned back, thus sparing them the need to adapt to the new America.

Back then I labelled Rick Santorum the “Pied Piper of Pennsylvania“, a reference to the way in which the former Pennsylvania senator accumulated a large, trusting and often sympathetic audience of followers, but whom he would ultimately lead off the edge of an economic cliff:

Barring certain specific exceptions, the manufacturing jobs that America has lost will simply never return.

And perhaps among all of the things that Rick Santorum says that rile me up, this one makes me the most angry. He is peddling a Pleasantville-style, black and white, 1950s vision of a country where once again it is possible to live a comfortable middle class lifestyle with a decent sized family home and a couple of cars, paid for by the wages earned from assembling televisions, or refrigerators, or cars. And Republican primary voters, many of whom are in the squeezed middle class and have been let down by successive administrations, are listening to Santorum’s claims and gaining hope, and voting for him, even though he cannot in actual fact turn the clock back fifty years, even if he does actually want to.

Whether he wins or loses the Republican primary and the general election, the persistence of this argument – and the belief that a few tweaks to the tax code and the drilling of a few more oil wells will spur a resurgence in unskilled and semiskilled manufacturing – simply dooms another generation of people to a life of stagnating or falling living standards.

People trust Santorum because, unlike the other main Republican candidates, he is so genuine. Why would he advocate policies that would hurt them, when he was one of them? And yet the policies that he proposes would either do little to bring back more unskilled or semiskilled manufacturing jobs, or would make the US population even less qualified to perform those jobs which already exist. And all the time that people hold out hope that a Rick Santorum or another politician like him can work this magic, it is time that they are not spending going back into training, or into college or university, and reskilling themselves for the jobs of tomorrow’s economy.

Rick Santorum says all of the things that the Republican Party’s blue collar base want to hear, but in many ways he is just a modern day Pied Piper, promising them a brighter future while marching them off a cliff.

Globalisation cannot be rolled back, nor should it be. The challenge – which falls hardest upon Republicans and small government, small-c conservatives like myself, who generally do not foresee an active role for central government in the lives of citizens – is to find a way of reaping the fruits of globalisation while bringing these disrupted communities with us instead of callously leaving them behind.

And we should be honest: conservatives are at a disadvantage here. Leftists have the luxury of simply waving their hands and promising new government programmes for the mass retraining of millions of people in new, higher value-added jobs and careers. But no matter how costly or inefficient those schemes may prove, those on the right have an even harder job persuading voters, and no one party or politician on either side of the Atlantic has yet arrived at a fully convincing solution.

The inability to satisfactorily answer these questions and convince enough people of his ability to deliver the fruits of globalisation with none of the adverse consequences -together with the establishment reluctantly falling firmly behind Mitt Romney – ultimately saw Rick Santorum fall by the wayside back in 2012. But four years later, Donald Trump came charging along with almost the exact same message, and stormed all the way to the White House. And during this extraordinary journey, none of his supporters seemed to realise or care that Trump has been every bit as unable as Rick Santorum was to answer the question of “how?”, beyond his usual barnstorming bluster and well-worn pledge to Make America Great Again.

Now Bill Powell from Newsweek magazine has also picked up on the similarity between the two men, with a new piece entitled “How Rick Santorum helped Donald Trump win the White House” in which he argues that to a large extent, Donald Trump merely honed and executed a playbook originally written by Santorum.

Powell writes:

In the spring of 2015, [Trump] was talking to a few family members and confidantes about running for president. And he wanted to get in touch with a former Republican senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum, who had served two terms before losing big in 2006. In 2012, he was the runner-up to Mitt Romney in the Republican presidential primaries. Ensconced since then in a Washington, D.C., law firm, Santorum had written a book that attracted little attention: Blue Collar Conservatives, Recommitting to an America That Works. But Trump had read the book, very carefully, in fact, and was intrigued. He called Santorum and asked if he would come to Trump Tower for a visit. Santorum was a bit surprised by the invitation but said yes.

Santorum didn’t know what to expect. He had never met Trump and, like millions of Americans, knew of him only from his long-running NBC reality show, The Apprentice. Trump got right to the point. He had loved Santorum’s book and believed it could unlock the White House for a GOP candidate who ran a campaign based on reaching the working-class voters throughout the industrial Midwest that, Trump said, Democrats take for granted.

Santorum agreed, of course—he was thinking of making another run at the White House, using that playbook. (He did, but got bum-rushed early in the primaries.) Trump then surprised Santorum even more by questioning him on details of his book and economic policy in general. What could be done with trade policy to help the working class? Was there any way to turn around the massive bilateral trade imbalance with Beijing? Could the White House be used as a bully pulpit to pressure American companies to stop sending manufacturing offshore? On and on they went, and Santorum left the meeting wondering what might happen if you mixed the power of celebrity with a blue-collar tent revival.

We now know the answer. Trump’s improbable run to the presidency—which was nearly derailed on several occasions by his lack of discipline—was guided by a conviction that he could, as political consultant and longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone said last year, “rewrite the [electoral] map” by smashing the “great blue wall” of Midwestern Democratic states. And smash it he did.

Something happened (or continued to happen) between 2012 and 2016 which made more people receptive to the Santorum message of economic populism and protectionism, and the failure of the Obama administration to change the economic trajectory of those people already  suffering the fallout from globalisation (or nervously waiting for it to impact their industry and their jobs) clearly played a large part.

But even then, Trump’s victory could probably have been prevented had prominent Democrats like Hillary Clinton and President Obama not been so blasé about the economic challenge facing millions of Americans while they were campaigning. Hillary Clinton in particular took every opportunity to criticise Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, neglecting to consider that from many people’s perspective, America is only as great as their own present circumstances. But while sanctimoniously lecturing Donald Trump and his supporters that “America is already great” may have been factually true, it also felt a lot like the establishment dismissing the legitimate concerns of suffering people.

Sure, America is pretty darn awesome if you are one of the Wall Street bankers to whom Hillary Clinton loved to give speeches, one of the celebrities attending her fundraisers or just a prosperous coastal professional whose job and career is not about to be eradicated through automation or outsourcing. But if you do not fall into one of these categories, America can feel a lot more precarious than great. And having the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee continually insisting that everything is wonderful and that anyone with concerns or complaints is somehow “deplorable” was about the most stupid and politically tone-deaf way for a candidate to behave.

And of course we all know the outcome:

The Trump high-command members knew then they had an opening. The crowds Trump was drawing were enormous, and even before [FBI director James] Comey’s announcement [about the reopening of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server], their internal polls said the race was tightening, but not enough to make many of them believe he would win. Now, though, they thought they had a shot. Trump remained focused, and the campaign laid on rally after rally—up to five per day in the last days of the race. Trump went back to Pennsylvania and Michigan and Wisconsin again and again. He even made a trip to Minnesota, the bluest of blue states, because—stunningly—polling had him drawing close even there. The Santorum strategy was playing out just as Trump had bet it would so many months before.

[..] “Those states—Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin—were the targets,” [Trump campaign manager Kellyanne] Conway would later say. “[Trump] had a `theory of the race,’ and when it became clear that he had tapped into something very big, he rode it. And that is what good candidates do.”

Bill Powell is right – to a large extent, Donald Trump picked up the mantle from Rick Santorum, amending it by ditching some of the niche social conservatism (an integral part of Santorum’s Catholic traditionalism) and ramping up the economic populism even further.

While Santorum spoke of the pain of those whose manufacturing jobs were disappearing and promised help through the corporate tax code, Donald Trump identified a specific bogeyman in the form of China and other countries who supposedly always get the better of America, and then promised to confront these foreign economic enemies. While Rick Santorum railed against the coastal intellectual elites and dismissed aspiring to go to college as “snobbery”, Donald Trump insulted and belittled those Ivy League experts and elites day after day.

In many ways, watching Donald Trump on the campaign trail was like watching an incredibly vulgar, amoral and less eloquent version of Rick Santorum, with the brightness and volume dial turned up to max. And it worked. The economic message that Santorum road-tested in his 2012 campaign and in “Blue Collar Conservatives” was a beguiling one, as I acknowledged four years ago. But when it was hitched to a television celebrity phenomenon and fuelled by a combustible blend of identity politics backlash and the Democratic Party’s seeming disdain for middle America, it became immensely powerful.

Of course, this leaves President-elect Trump in a far worse place than Rick Santorum. Santorum was able to rack up Republican primary votes and victories against Mitt Romney, but his ultimate defeat saved him from having to make good on his campaign rhetoric and unrealistic promises to insulate middle America from the negative consequences of globalisation. Donald Trump has made it all the way to the White House, and the people who put him there will now expect him to deliver.

Which means that it falls to Donald Trump – of all the unlikely people – to do something that no right-wing politician anywhere in the world has successfully achieved: find a way to reap the benefits of globalisation while mitigating the negative side effects.

My gut feeling: assuming that Trump even tries to address this challenge, it will only be by enacting economically ruinous levels of protectionism or by abandoning any pretence of conservatism and embracing some kind of mass worker retraining program, either in a massive expansion of the federal government or else delivered by the states through federal block grants. And given the dynamics in Congress, it is by no means certain that any such measure would pass.

Make America Great Again – so easy to say, so hard to deliver for millions of struggling Americans.

 

Rick Santorum

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Sarah Palin Lurks

The political zombies from previous failed Republican campaigns simply refuse to go quietly into the night.

First we had Rick Santorum maintaining his moral crusader profile and penning articles for conspiracy “news” site World Net Daily as he treads water waiting for 2016.

Then we had Rick Perry announcing his intention to stand down from the Texas governorship after his current term expires, and floating the hilarious possibility of a second presidential run.

And now it is the turn of everyone’s favourite reality TV star, Sarah Palin, to publicly float her future political intentions. Yes. The person who makes Michele Bachmann look cerebral and wise.

The lady with the uncontrollable facial tick thinks that she would make a good US senator.
The lady with the uncontrollable facial tick thinks that she would make a good US senator.

RealClearPolitics reports on a recent appearance by Palin on Sean Hannity’s radio show:

SEAN HANNITY: There’s been talk that you might run for Senator in Alaska. Have you considered that at all?

SARAH PALIN: I’ve considered it because people have requested me to consider it. But, I’m still waiting to see what the lineup will be and hoping that — there again, there will be some new blood, new energy, not just kind of picking from the same old politicians in the state that come from political families, that have sort of reigned up there for so many years because too many of them have been part of the problem.

I’m glad you brought that up because Senator Mark Begich has got to be replaced. He has not done what he has promised to do for the people of Alaska, and that was to represent what it is that the nation needs in terms of energy development and so many other natural resources — development issues that are near and dear to Alaskans hearts because he is on the wrong side of the aisle he has to go along to get along with his Democrat leadership. And that is a shame. That is a waste of opportunity for our nation.

HANNITY: If you think that whoever is running doesn’t have the ability to win, and you think you could, would that propel you into the race you think?

PALIN: Well, I think any American with a heart for service has to always have in the back of their mind that they would do anything, everything that they could to help the cause, even if perhaps it doesn’t look necessarily appealing or necessarily fitting in with a conventional plan that they tried to orchestrate for themselves or their family. I, along with anybody, would have to say that I would do whatever I could to help. If that was part of that help, then it would have to be considered. (Sean Hannity Show, July 9, 2013)

Of course, this declaration of intent is couched in the usual “reluctant saviour” terms that Palin and others love to use, i.e. they very much enjoy being private citizens, but are reluctantly considering returning to public office because they are being urged by so many people to do so. Because the one thing that the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body (ha!) lacks at present is the wisdom, experience and political conviction of Sarah Palin.

God help us all.

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.

Santorum Lurks

Rick Santorum

In case anyone was worried that Rick Santorum had taken his Republican primary election loss, or the GOP’s presidential election blow-out too much to heart, they need fear no longer.

RealClearPolitics reports that, undeterred by the now undeniable shift away from his socially regressive, paternalistic, authoritarian positions on just about all social issues, he is laying the groundwork to run for the Republican nomination once again in 2016.

Scott Conroy from RealClearPolitics writes:

The main event during Santorum’s impending return to Iowa will be his keynote speech in Urbandale at the annual spring fundraising dinner for the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, a Christian conservative group that holds deep influence among evangelical caucus-goers in the state. He also is slated to participate in a Des Moines luncheon on behalf of a pro-life medical research group.

In both appearances, Santorum is expected to defend what he has called the “soul of the Republican Party” against forces within it that are increasingly eager to downplay or reconsider longstanding aspects of its platform.

His eagerness to remain on the front lines of this intra-party fight comes after Santorum spent much of the 2012 campaign defending his hard-line positions on social issues while also aiming to expand his appeal by touting his blue-collar credentials and economic populism.

Apparently, Rick Santorum is particularly eager to ensure that the GOP does not follow in the footsteps of Senator Rob Portman and others, and continue to “evolve” on those social issues where they are increasingly at odds with public sentiment:

But well before the 2016 GOP field begins to take shape, Santorum’s paramount political priority is to push back against the winds of change within the party. In particular, he’s focused on a de-emphasis — and in some cases an evolution — of stances on social issues in order to attract more moderate voters in general elections and acknowledge shifts in the broader electorate’s views.

In an interview with the Des Moines Register this week that set the stage for his upcoming visit, Santorum was asked about the recent avowals of support for gay marriage made by Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Mark Kirk of Illinois.

Santorum dismissed the growing notion that further movement within the GOP on the issue is inevitable, given polls showing a majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage.

“The Republican Party’s not going to change on this issue,” he said. “In my opinion, it would be suicidal if it did.”

I suppose one must admire Santorum’s consistency. He doesn’t believe that the GOP should evolve politically in terms of their stance on gay marriage, just as he rejects the notion of biological evolution in nature.

Two universal truths of politics in the United States of America – Iowa will continue to play a disproportionately large role in vetting and selecting presidential candidates given it’s sparse population and lack of relative real importance in the union; and Rick Santorum will remain thoroughly uncompromising on all matters social and “moral”.

Fundamentalist, Self-Righteous Moron Needs To Shut Up

Not to be outdone by Newt Gingrich, the other candidate running to be the first High Priest of the new American theocracy was also out with a new television campaign commercial, inviting us to imagine the dystopian world that will exist in two years if Obama is re-elected:

 

That’s right, a terrible dystopian land where big government decides what women can do with their bodies and employers can chop and change your healthcare, denying you critical coverage based on their own…oh wait, no that’s the dystopia that we want if we are Republicans today.

Dylan Byers from Politico also notes:

In addition to all the other scary things that happen in this new Rick Santorum ad, which was released today, you’ll notice that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad morphs into U.S. president Barack Obama right about the time the narrator says “sworn American enemy.”

Pay close attention and you will see how President Obama’s face is briefly superimposed over that of Iranian President Ahmedinejad, as the words “sworn American enemy” are uttered.

Keep it classy, Rick Santorum.

Fundamentalist, self-righteous moron needs to shut up.

That is all.