Friday, January 06, 2012

Is Rick Santorum really the last conservative standing?

Regular readers of this blog know that I have little affinity for former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.

No, I don't know the man. No, he's never treated me badly. Yes, my opinion in large measure is based on his political opinions, which -- at least on paper -- are too far to the right for my taste. (You'll find plenty of people in this part of Pennsylvania who will agree and disagree with me.)

Setting my feelings aside, recognizing that Rick Santorum is the last conservative standing in this year's Republican presidential contest baffles me. I still haven't answered a question I began asking myself as I watched the television coverage of the Iowa Caucuses -- is Santorum's current position a reflection on his political acumen or dumb luck?

The conservatives who entered the presidential contest need not be listed here -- their names are familiar to you if you follow politics. And despite the quantity and (varying degrees of) quality of those candidates, Rick Santorum is now the lone conservative left?

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Brian O'Neill outlines how Santorum went from dead in the water to walking on it.

Of course, part of the difficulty in answering my question is that labeling Santorum "conservative" might be a mistake. Consider what the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review wrote about him.
Oh, indeed, the Virginian (ne Pennsylvanian) has the corner on the theological wing of the GOP. But Santorum is a disaster when it comes to economics. He's a recidivist big-government conservative all too prone to rationalizing his big-government proclivities.
Think the Medicare prescription-drug benefit (now with about $16 trillion in unfunded liabilities), No Child Left Behind and the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere," to name just a few pieces of Santorum's baggage. Think, too, of Santorum's fealty to industrial policy and his steadfast support of Arlen Specter.
I cannot imagine Santorum winning his party's presidential nomination. He lacks money, organization and overall name recognition, and those deficiencies are especially glaring when compared to Mitt Romney, who I believe remains the most likely GOP nominee.

For Santorum to remain a legitimate candidate, he's going to need three things to happen quickly: an infusion of money, a decent showing in next Tuesday's New Hampshire primary and sustained momentum heading into South Carolina's primary on Jan. 21.

Complicating Mr. Santorum's situation is that the media spotlight is shining brightly on his Congressional record. He'll have some explaining to do.




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