April 14, 2012

 

                                                                  By:   Ralph Reed
Date:   April 13, 2012
Source:   Washington Post

History, we are assured, is written by the winners. But when it comes to   American presidential politics, the losers have plenty of say.

Rick Santorum’s exit from the Republican presidential   contest this past week cleared the way for Mitt Romney to win the party’s nomination. But over the   course of a low-budget campaign that relied almost entirely on volunteers and   was met with disdain by the GOP establishment, Santorum won more than 3   million votes and 11 state primaries — the most by a conservative insurgent   candidate since Ronald Reagan challenged President Gerald Ford in 1976.

Santorum has been denounced as a sore loser, a religious extremist, a crank.   MSNBC host Martin Bashir referred to him as a theocratic version of Stalin.   One columnist alleged in the Daily Beast that Santorum would use the   power of the presidency to impose “his ideal of a Christian America” on the   nation. The New Yorker compared him to Islamic extremists who seek to execute   their opponents, adding that we need separation of church and state so that   “Santorum and his party can’t impose dominion of one narrow, sectarian,   Bible-based idea of the public good.”But Santorum and his supporters may have   the last laugh. From John C. Fremont to William Jennings Bryan in the 19th   century to Barry Goldwater, Gene McCarthy, George McGovern and Ronald Reagan   in our time, losing presidential candidates have previewed the ideological   trajectory of their parties — and often of the nation.

Romney would be wise to remember this in his general-election campaign. Of   course he can’t neglect independents, or women, or Hispanics, or other   nontraditional Republican constituencies. But his immediate task is to   consolidate conservative support and unify the party. The best way to do that   is to appropriate the best parts of Santorum’s message.

Santorum follows the trailblazing evangelical candidates Pat Robertson and   Mike Huckabee, who personified the rise and the maturation of social   conservatives as a critical component of the Republican coalition.

In the Democratic Party, Howard Dean — his candidacy fueled by fiery online   enthusiasm for his antiwar views — signaled the decline of the centrist New   Democrats, foreshadowing the emergence four years later of a freshman U.S.   senator from Illinois named Barack Obama. Today Obama governs as the most   left-of-center president in history, while the Democratic Leadership Council   is shuttered.

In the primaries, Santorum outperformed Romney among two key demographic   groups, one religious and cultural, the other socioeconomic — and Romney   needs both to win in November.

The first group was evangelicals and tea party voters; there is remarkable   overlap between them. According to the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s analysis   of network exit polls, more than half of voters who cast a ballot in a   Republican presidential primary or caucus through mid-March were   self-identified evangelicals. In 2008, they made up 23 percent of all voters   in the general election. Romney will need them to turn out in even larger   numbers to defeat Obama. (He already has a running start; Romney won almost a   third of the evangelical vote during the primaries and a majority of tea party   voters in Florida and other critical states.)

The Republican presidential contest has been incorrectly depicted as a battle   between Romney’s economy-focused message and Santorum’s emphasis on social   issues and family values. That is a false dichotomy. Social scientists have   long noted the social pathologies that underlie chronic poverty. According to   the U.S. Census Bureau, for instance, more than half of Americans living in   extreme poverty are children in households headed by a single parent.

This link between economic and social policy was a unique theme of Santorum’s   campaign, an innovation that broadened his appeal. On the stump, he often   cited a 2009 Brookings Institution study that found that   Americans who failed to complete high school, did not work full time and had   children out of wedlock had a 76 percent chance of living in poverty. By   contrast, those who earned a high school diploma, had a full-time job and   waited until marriage to have kids had only a 2 percent chance of living in   poverty.

There is no way to restore America’s economic prosperity, Santorum argued,   without strengthening marriage and family. “It’s a huge, huge opportunity for   us,” he said when he described the findings in a January   presidential debate in South Carolina, drawing big applause from the crowd.

Rather than causing tension within the GOP coalition, the party’s pro-family   and pro-growth messages work together. Romney must run a general election   campaign in which the cultural agenda and the fiscal one reinforce each   other.

He must also avoid retreating from his defense of unborn life, the   institution of marriage, and the right of religious organizations and   charities to be free from the Obamacare mandate governing their health-care   coverage. Otherwise, he will confirm the worst fears of those faith-based   voters who wonder if his positions are based on convenience, not conviction.   He need not lead with these issues; but when they arise, he should lean into   them and forthrightly state his views. (Think John McCain at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Civil Forum in 2008.)

As he works to close the gender gap with Obama, Romney and his team must keep   in mind that the largest chasm in the electorate is actually the “marriage gap,” in which Republican presidential   candidates have historically won married voters with children by wide   margins. As the kerfuffle this past week over a liberal pundit’s comments   about women who work at home amply demonstrated, the gender gap can be   narrowed by appealing to women who value their family and children as much as   they value their careers outside the home.

The second group with which Santorum performed extremely well was voters who   did not graduate from college and who earn less than $100,000 a year.   Working-class voters in battleground states such as Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin   and Iowa will be a key vulnerability for Obama in the general election.   Romney needs them. Carrying only college-educated voters making more than   $100,000 a year is a recipe for electoral death for the Grand Old Party.

On the night of the Iowa caucuses (which he would only later learn he had   won), Santorum spoke movingly of his Italian immigrant   grandfather, who came to America as a young man and worked in the coal mines   of western Pennsylvania until the age of 72. Santorum also called for   revitalizing the U.S. manufacturing base by cutting federal taxes on those   companies to zero. Whatever one thinks of his policy prescriptions, he   auditioned a compelling theme for Romney’s general-election campaign — one   that could combine the details of Romney’s father’s humble beginnings with a   plan for economic renewal based on lower taxes and fewer regulations, not on   Obama-style bailouts.

Predicting vice presidential selections is a little like playing fantasy   football on a Ouija board. But whether it is Marco Rubio, Nikki Haley, Paul   Ryan, Mike Huckabee or yes, even Rick Santorum, Romney would be wise to   select a well-qualified running mate who can energize evangelicals, faithful   Roman Catholics and conservatives, while also appealing to women and   independents.

His choice will be subjected to an all-out assault — just ask Dan Quayle,   Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin. But adding a compelling running mate who can   help drive a winning message about economic prosperity and stronger families   would serve Romney well in his battle against Obama’s well-funded attack   machine.

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