February 20th, 2012
05:21 PM ET
2 years ago

Return of Rick Santorum, culture warrior?

(CNN) - Rick Santorum is sounding more fire and brimstone than a play-it-safe front-runner for the Republican nomination.

In the span of 48 hours, Santorum interrupted a slow holiday weekend news cycle with a series of thunderous claims that included his belief that the president's value system constitutes a "phony theology."

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"Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology, but no less a theology," Santorum said.

He also sharply criticized a federal requirement that health insurers cover prenatal care, saying it leads to more abortions.

"Prenatal testing, amniocentesis, does in fact, result more often than not in this country in abortions. That is a fact," Santorum said on CBS' Face the Nation.

The resulting national media narrative is that this is the return of Santorum, the culture warrior.

But top aides to the former Pennsylvania senator are pushing back hard on that narrative.

"He can separate his personal beliefs from public policy," Santorum spokesman Hogan Gidley told CNN. Gidley noted Santorum's personal opposition to contraception did not lead to the introduction of legislation seeking its criminalization in Congress.

"He never touched contraception," Gidley said.

Gidley wondered why reporters are focusing on Santorum's opposition to same sex marriage when President Obama and Mitt Romney take the same position.

"Why is it he's the only one who gets these questions," Gidley asked, referring to Santorum.

Part of that comes with the territory of a self-described "full spectrum conservative" whose own Twitter page states that "…self-evident foundational truths and rights (are) given by God."

Santorum's bio on his campaign website highlights the former Pennsylvania senator's Congressional record and touts his action on several issues that are critical to social conservatives.

"Senator Santorum wrote and championed legislation that outlawed the heinous procedure known as Partial Birth Abortion as well as the 'Born Alive Infants Protection Act,' the 'Unborn Victims of Violence Act,' the campaign bio states.

In 2005, Santorum led the Republican charge in Congress to intervene in the life of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who was living in a vegetative state and whose family was at war over whether to remove her feeding tube.

In other words, Santorum the culture warrior never went anywhere. He's always been here.

For now, the flamethrower rhetoric may be working with Republican voters. The latest Gallup daily tracking poll finds Santorum 10 points of Mitt Romney and well ahead of the rest of the field. Newt Gingrich is a distant third.

GOP strategists say Santorum's tough talk on the President is likely part of a larger strategy to appeal to voters who once backed the former Speaker.

"The opening they see is with conservative primary voters, such as those who had been leaning towards Gingrich. You can certainly see that in Arizona," former Republican National Committee spokesman Doug Heye said.

For Santorum, there is little down side in turning off moderate Republican voters. They are likely to back Romney anyway.

"It doesn't hurt him. Those aren't the voters he's targeting and not ones whose support he's likely to receive in the primary," Heye said.

Instead it's the battle for the lucrative anti-Romney vote. Gingrich once owned a sizable chunk of this GOP electorate with the rhetorical flourish that Mr. Obama is a "food stamp President."

Santorum resurrected one of his own controversial lines of attack over the weekend when he appeared to warn Americans against sitting idly by as the U.S. did in the years leading up to World War Two.

"After a while you find out some things about this guy over in Europe who's not so good of a guy after all," Santorum said Sunday.

Asked by reporters whether he was comparing the president to Adolph Hitler, Santorum responded, "No, of course not."

He added: "It's a War World II metaphor. It's one I've used a hundred times."

Gidley said it was a larger point about Washington.

"Whatever the issue, it seems Washington is taking our freedoms away, bit by bit by bit," Gidley told CNN.

"And the same thing happened to Europe," Gidley added.

Santorum's rise and rhetoric now have the attention of the President's re-election team, which now views the former Pennsylvania Senator as a serious contender.

"I think the idea Rick Santorum could be the nominee is a very real one. And obviously we're looking more at, at what Rick Santorum is talking about and what he's offering," Obama re-election spokesman Robert Gibbs said after an appearance on a Sunday talk show.

Also see:

Santorum clarifies 'theology' remark

Santorum rips Obama on social agenda

Gay sheriff resigns Romney role after allegations


Filed under: 2012 • Rick Santorum
soundoff (144 Responses)
  1. DaveC

    Rick, Mitt and Newt, tea party, religious right wing conservatives, are precisely the reason I abandoned the republican party after Bush Sr. lost the election in 2000. That is the year I became an independent voter. The republican party now is like the democratic party was in the 1980s; hijacked by every wing nut fringe group that pops up. The democratic party (and Clinton and Obama) purged those elements and now they look sane towards the republican party. Can you really vote for Mitt, Rick or Newt for President? Heck no.

    February 21, 2012 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  2. MeToo

    Ricky isn't about freedom. His "theology" is to opress gays and liberated women. His "theology" is to dismantle Government and legal protection of non-evangelicals. Ricky is not about "We the People...", he's all about, "Liberty and Justice...for me!"

    Li'l Rick is a modern day Pharisee.

    February 21, 2012 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  3. Tony

    Does the US president talk about religion or science and technology which has made this country so prosperous? It is very scary to have another Hiler born in the USA – the land of freedom and democracy. I do not think great presidents or candidates representing Republican party ever expressed such scary radicalism. Somebody is trying to capitalize the theology into political vested interest.

    February 21, 2012 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  4. Taran

    There is more than a little irony attached to the Obama administration's determination to pursue socialist, EU-style "solutions" to America's problems, even as the European Union is coming to grips with the bitter realities such socialism produces. And while Greece and its financial problems receive some media coverage in the United States, there is a much bigger story flying under the mainstream media radar: in Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron has introduced a bill seeking to partially privatize the National Health Service (NHS). Why? Because the British government is "hoping to avoid a Greek-style financial meltdown."

    February 21, 2012 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  5. Phil in KC

    Rick Santorum is no different that the mullahs in the middle east, except that he wants a Christian theocracy instead of a muslim theocracy. He wants to legislate his religious agenda and do away with 2 amendment rights to freedom of religion. The guy is dangerous.

    February 21, 2012 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  6. Jose

    Good old Police State Santorum. All hail the great inquisitor. (Hey Torquemada what do you say...just got back from the auto de fe...The auto de fe, what's the auto de fe. It's what you ought not to do, but you do it anyway.)

    February 21, 2012 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  7. i want a mega rich Mormon who hides money overseas, and a master tax evader as president

    Yonkies have lost their flipping mind. Is that all you got?, jeez. We have 9 more months of this crap. No more news for me.

    February 21, 2012 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  8. Me

    The really scary thing about Rick Santorum–and there are so many to pick from–is that his flame-throwing cultural attacks actually attract certain types of voter and have garnered him enough support to keep him viable in the primares. That one man spouts that sort of intolerance is hardly exceptional, but that enough voters buy into it to keep him in the race–that's scary.

    February 21, 2012 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  9. Cindy

    If Santorum, a religious zealot, is the best they can do, the GOP doesn't have a chance. We would live in a world ruled by the Catholic church, where we would be disallowed to believe in science, cannot us birth control, no ultrasounds, no stem cell research, put women back in the kitchen and we must all go forth and multiply.

    February 21, 2012 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  10. Iconoclast

    Romney personifies greed and lust for power, Gingrich personifies arrogance and lust for power and Santorum is into false piety and lust for power. I can't imagine voting for any of these people but have to say Santorum creeps me out the most, simply because sanctimomius piety tends to hide the worst humanity has to offer. As far as I'm concerned the GOP is just totally lost in their shorts and I can't wait for them to promote Baron Von Schnittzendoodle as their next poster boy. Come to think of it a little Prussian discipline just might help these lost souls we call republicans.

    February 21, 2012 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  11. Thatguy371

    This chump has floated near the top because of the ultra right wing evangelicals who seem to think we're going to let them legislate morality en masse. Won't happen.

    February 21, 2012 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  12. indyreader

    I'm glad Santorum is making his religious noise. It makes it that much easier for more people to see how dangerous he is to the American ideal of equality for everyone of any religion. This guy shouldn't have the authority of a dog-catcher, let alone President, and it's breathtaking and a little bit sickening that he's even gotten the attention he has. I guess after the rest of the clowns had their turn in the Republican spotlight and faded, there's enough momentum left in the system to lift him up for a while.

    February 21, 2012 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  13. mbjrp36

    This man is unamerican, I have never heard a presidential candidate so opposed to the values of our founders or the american people.

    February 21, 2012 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  14. indyreader

    Also, having a religions is like having a wang. It's fine to have one. It's even fine to be proud of it and celebrate it in private with people who are also interested in it. Whatever. Just don't wave it around in public or try to shove it down MY throat.

    February 21, 2012 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  15. i want a mega rich Mormon who hides money overseas, and a master tax evader as president

    Is this the same nutjob that like to take his recently deceased baby home to meet the rest of the family nutjobs?, wow. I almost feel bad for the gop.

    February 21, 2012 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  16. cp125

    Is there a more screwed-up right-wing nut case running around than Santorum?
    People, get a grip!

    February 21, 2012 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  17. The Cat

    I just cannot understand why Rick "The Dick" has so much support! It makes no sense whatsoever. This person could potentially send the US back into the 19th century with his bass-ackward beliefs! It's really enough to make at least consider the possibility of moving to another country should the US actually vote this moron into office.

    February 21, 2012 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  18. ms

    I wonder how long Santorum would be in office before he started burning women at the stake for witch craft...

    February 21, 2012 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  19. mbjrp36

    This is how it starts," the left have betrayed us the trade unions have siezed control", then comes the rallies and the marches.

    February 21, 2012 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
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