Adam Graham
January 27, 2012
Letter to conservatives #5: Santorum's faults
By Adam Graham

Dear Conservatives,

In the last three letters, I've taken a look at how I see Rick Santorum being able to win the presidency, his vision for America, and his steadfastness. In this section, I take an honest look at some of the concerns that have been raised about Senator Santorum.

There is no candidate with which I can agree 100 percent of the time. The question that must be asked is how important those disagreements are. Usually when fly-by-night opponents offer up these attacks on a candidate, the attacks are presented ripped from context — both the context of the issues and what motivated the votes, and the greater context of what the problems with other candidates are.

In the case of Rick Santorum, the issues with his record are either: a) not relevant to the main problem facing this country, and/or b) his opponents have similar or worse problems. I believe Senator Santorum not only has the best qualifications, but far less negatives than other candidates.

Of course, there are some things that will be considered faults by others that I won't consider problems. For example, Senator Santorum is opposed by some under a thinly veiled cloak of anti-Christianity and anti-Catholicism by radical secularists on both the right and the left, as has happened with several other candidates in recent years. I obviously don't consider his faith and defense of the family to be a negative.

Some supporters of Congressman Ron Paul take issue to the fact that Santorum said the U.S. should not have objected to Mossad killing an Iranian nuclear scientist who was helping to develop a nuclear program that threatened Israel and the stability of the world. Quite frankly, the job of the President of the United States is to keep us safe, not to keep safe terrorists who threaten the lives of millions.

The issue of earmarks has been raised against Senator Santorum. Senator Santorum did request earmarks (which funds specific local projects) in appropriations bills.

It must be noted that Congressman Paul has also requested earmarks and Speaker Gingrich began the process of the massive growth of earmark requests during his speakership as a way to help members get re-elected. Governor Romney in Massachusetts sought federal funding through earmarks for his state.

Earmarks are a concern because there are many wasteful and corrupt earmarks (i.e. "pork"). However, as a portion of the federal budget, they amount to 0.5%. That's not what's bankrupting us. What's bankrupting us is the high cost of entitlements, and entitlement spending is an area that Santorum has been a stalwart on. In addition, looking at broader fiscal issues, during Santorum 12 years in the Senate, he received an "A" rating from the National Taxpayers Union seven years, a B+ rating three times, and a "B" rating twice. This indicates a very fiscally-conservative voting record on issues of taxes and spending.

Another issue that has been raised is Senator Santorum's opposition to a national right-to-work bill while he was a member of the Senate. Senator Santorum made clear that the reason he opposed this was because it would impose right to work on every state in the union and he was representing the interests of the State of Pennsylvania, which does not have a right-to-work law and doesn't want to be forced to have one by the federal government. Santorum said if he were president, he would sign such a bill.

If we're truthful, right to work is not the big issue facing our country at the moment. What could be a big issue is if Santorum were a minion of big labor as has been alleged by those who have tried to take this vote and extrapolate that Santorum was beholden to the interests of Big Labor. One commenter suggested that Santorum was a "Union Social Con." In reality, Santorum had a career AFL-CIO rating of 13%. For comparison, through 2009, Ron Paul had a career rating of 19%. If Rick Santorum is beholden to big labor, then Ron Paul must be Jimmy Hoffa.

The fact of the matter is that Rick Santorum is a strong fiscal and social conservative. The record shows that clearly from ratings and actual votes in context.

The issue of Senator Santorum's endorsement of the re-election campaign of Senior Senator Arlen Specter in 2004 has come under attack. Specter was being challenged by a conservative congressman named Pat Toomey, who six years later succeeded Specter — but with Santorum and President Bush endorsing Specter in 2004, Specter won renomination by a 51-49% margin in the GOP primary and then went on to win the general election.

The context of this endorsement was that Senator Santorum was concerned about Toomey's prospects to win a general election. He was rightly concerned that one or more Supreme Court justices would retire (as indeed they did.) At the time of the 2004 elections, the GOP held a 51-49 margin in the U.S. Senate. Even with a Bush win, successful presidential candidates often offer no coattails for the Senate. In Reagan's 1984 landslide, for example, Republicans lost a seat in the Senate. With other liberal GOP senators such as Lincoln Chafee being even less likely to support a conservative judge for the high court, Santorum believed that Republicans could not spare a seat and could not risk nominating Toomey.

While Santorum admits that endorsing Specter was a mistake, he may have been right about Toomey's inability to win in 2004. In the greatest GOP congressional victory in two generations, Toomey managed to eek out a 51-49% win in 2010, illustrating the challenges conservatives face in Pennsylvania. In 2004, the odds would have been far less favorable for him, and he probably would have lost given the power and influence of big labor in that state. On the other hand, Santorum was wrong about the need to keep Specter. Even if Toomey had lost, the GOP picked up four Senate seats and would have been able to move its judicial nominees anyway.

While Santorum's endorsement wasn't one I agree with, it was not out of the ordinary. Santorum endorsed a fellow senator of his own party for re-election in home state. Compare this to Newt Gingrich's strident campaigning for liberal Republican Dede Scozzafava, with bitter attacks on conservatives who supported conservative Doug Hoffman. Gingrich, like Romney, could have stayed out of race as the Georgian's involvement was hardly required in an upstate New York House race. For the record, in that race, Santorum endorsed Hoffman.

Finally, there's the issue of Santorum's big re-election loss in 2006. Santorum had won as a fairly conservative member in a Blue District in the House and then in a Blue State. However, a perfect storm came together in 2006. Santorum had been a strong supporter of President Bush on issues like Social Security and the War on Terror, and the President was quite unpopular in Pennsylvania. 2006 was an incredible year for Democrats, and many conservatives were sore over Santorum's endorsement of Specter, so money and resources didn't come as freely. In addition, even Republicans who may have wanted to come to Santorum's aide were challenged by the numerous Republican incumbents in trouble who appeared to have a better chance of survival than Santorum.

In the fall, Santorum faced the son of a famous and well-regarded state political family who apparently shared Senator Santorum's pro-life views and picked up a quarter of pro-life voters. To top that all off, the full force of organized labor came out against him, and Senator Santorum lost by a wide margin.

However, he wasn't the only one to go down in a landslide in 2006. In Massachusetts, where Republicans had held the Governor's Mansion for sixteen years, Mitt Romney endorsed his own Lieutenant Governor to succeed him. She lost by twenty-two points, which may be suggestive of the opinion the people of Massachusetts held of her boss.

Of course, making extrapolations from one of the most anti-Republican elections in history about viability in national election is unwise and unfair. The one election Santorum lost in the midst of a perfect storm in favor of his opponent should not cause us to forget how he was able to survive and thrive in a political environment that was very difficult for a conservative Republican.

Every candidate will have negatives and issues that we disagree with them on, but we ultimately must weight positive and negatives to render a fair judgment on a candidate — not only with Senator Santorum, but others in this race. In the next letter, we turn our attention to the former Speaker of the House and the question of character.

© Adam Graham

 

The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Adam Graham

Adam Graham was Montana State Coordinator for the Alan Keyes campaign in 2000, and in 2004 was a candidate for the Republican nomination for the Idaho State House... (more)

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