Why Rick Santorum Matters

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Earlier today, Rick Santorum declared his candidacy for President of the United States. Santorum lost his re-election bid for the Senate in Pennsylvania in 2006. He has not held office since. There are a lot of people who wonder why Rick Santorum thinks he has a chance and why he is running. That reason comes from his debate performance in Mesa, AZ on February 22, 2012. I remember being at that venue for CNN. And I remember the crowd response to Santorum with just one answer. That answer lingered in the days after the debate.

Santorum had said something that baffled people about contraception and John King asked Santorum about it. Their exchange is captured in this transcript, but you need to hear Santorum’s voice on the relevant part. I’ve included the sound here. Here is the key part:

What we’re seeing is a problem in our culture with respect to children being raised by children, children being raised out of wedlock, and the impact on society economically, the impact on society with respect to drug use and all — a host of other things when children have children.

And so, yes, I was talking about these very serious issues. And, in fact, as I mentioned before, two days ago on the front page of “The New York Times”, they’re talking about the same thing. The bottom line is we have a problem in this country, and the family is fracturing.

Over 40 percent of children born in America are born out of wedlock. How can a country survive if children are being raised in homes where it’s so much harder to succeed economically? It’s five times the rate of poverty in single-parent households than it is in two-parent homes. We can have limited government, lower tax — we hear this all the time, cut spending, limit the government, everything will be fine. No, everything’s not going to be fine.

There are bigger problems at stake in America. And someone has got to go out there — I will — and talk about the things.

And you know what? Here’s the difference.

The left gets all upset. “Oh, look at him talking about these things.” You know, here’s the difference between me and the left, and they don’t get this. Just because I’m talking about it doesn’t mean I want a government program to fix it.

That’s what they do. That’s not what we do.

Cruz is the candidate of conservatives. Huckabee is making a play as the evangelical’s choice. Santorum is the guy who talks about the plight of collapsing families in a collapsed economy whose jobs are getting outsourced or taken by lower paid workers. He has been talking about this issue for years. He knows how to talk about the issue and he talks about it in a way that resonates with Americans, not just Republicans.

But there is a problem for Santorum here. He was Mike Huckabee’s replacement in 2012 — a proxy for a campaign that could have been. Huckabee is here now. And unlike Huckabee, Santorum could not win re-election in his home state of Pennsylvania and I highly doubt he could win it in 2016. Like Al Gore losing Tennessee and Mitt Romney losing Massachusetts, the odds are against Santorum, even with Pat Toomey predicted to win in 2016.

Likewise, Santorum is not the only candidate this time to address those issues and connect them to larger areas. Cruz talks about them. Huckabee talks about them. Jindal talks about them. Perry talks about them. Rubio talks about them. Walker talks about them. Bush talks about them. . . . You get the idea.

Santorum was a voice in the wilderness in 2012. Now he is one of many. He has to try to stand up and speak louder and more boldly than the others. Today, when he announced his campaign, he showed he got that. He was quite forceful and bold. Unfortunately for Santorum, his campaign last time became the evangelical/social-conservative campaign to stop Mitt Romney. Santorum’s star only rose after every other Romney alternative had risen, crested, and collapsed.

There’s no Mitt Romney this time for Santorum to run against. On top of that, Cruz, Rubio, Paul, Walker, and several of the other candidates have what Romney never did — their own cults of personality not readily willing to gravitate to Santorum to stop a Romney or a Bush. Santorum will need a different path, but he already has the message. As importantly, he also has the force of conviction in how he delivers his message. Authenticity counts on this particular issue and Santorum conveys in both tone and demeanor that he believes what he says on the collapse of the family.

Rick Santorum matters because of these family issues. But he does not matter in 2016 like he mattered in 2012. That just might be fatal to his candidacy.

About the author

Erick Erickson
By Erick Erickson

Erick Erickson

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