February 20th, 2012
05:21 PM ET
3 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. DianeRPCFL

    Santorum reminds me of my favorite H. L. Mencken quote who defined religious zealots of Santorum's ilk as demogogues. He said: "Demnogogues preach doctrines known to be untrue to those known to be idiots." Yep – that about sums up my opinion of Santorum and the members of lunatic-fringe base.

    February 21, 2012 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  2. hypatia

    Cultural warrior no. I think he fits more into the category of traitorous theocrat.

    February 21, 2012 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  3. MTATL67

    Mr. Santorum is neither compassionate or fiscally conservative. He was thrown out of the Senate by 18%. This weekend Mr. Santorum made very clear that if you do not believe as I do you are not a decent American or even a decent human being. I can picture this man planning to set up some sort of Ultra-Christian version of Iran.

    February 21, 2012 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  4. Anonymous

    Once Rick identifies a heretic what is the punishment these days? Burning, fines, blacklisting, or what?

    February 21, 2012 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  5. Loyal Rebulican

    Once Rick identifies a heretic what is the punishment these days? Burning, fines, blacklisting, or what? Do Jews get the special status? What about Mormons, Muslims, and atheists?

    February 21, 2012 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  6. Stacey

    It simple amazes me how fast the liberal media attack dogs go after the front runner, but this is embaaaaarasing! Is this the best they can do? Use the Culture Warrior trash to counter Obamas' Class Warrior status. Can't wait to see what total bull they are going to push on us in the next few months.

    Well what do you expect when we have some crazy, hair dragging troglodyte like Santorum spewing his nutty right-wing, facist garbage? Of course the media is gonna be on him. InSanetorum is finally being scrutinized as he should be. This dude is one scary teabagger for sure. Hopefully, he will bring all of the GOTP down with him. It could be decades before the GOTP ever takes back the White House.

    February 21, 2012 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  7. Henry Miller

    "Santorum, the culture warrior."

    The definition of American culture is not a proper concern of government. Government is there to protect the country, maintain the roads, and otherwise serve the people of the country. It's not there to tell people how to live their lives, which is a lot of what people like Santorum want to do.

    February 21, 2012 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  8. mrkusn

    I have to say that I was very skeptical about Santorum's chances of rising to the top of the GOP nomination process. The conclave in Texas during the South Carolina Primary is finally paying off – the decision of evangelical leaders to back Santorum in the race for the nomination. The EV Christian vote is still a force in the GOP. I think it will curb the primary elections but probably not the national. Rick is making some serious waves that concern moderates in the center – votes he will need in the general. The far-right doesn't want him to moderate his positions, and hence, the President will most likely keep his seat because there is too much risk in Santorum's views. But I have been worng many times before. We will see. It is the best reality show on TV.

    February 21, 2012 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  9. GI Joe.

    He brought up Rev Wright - but how about HIM? He pals around wth Pedophiles in his church.

    What a JERK.

    February 21, 2012 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  10. WDinDallas

    Santorum will beat Obama by 8 points.

    February 21, 2012 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  11. Katie

    This hypocrite gave his blessing to his wife's abortion – which was based on prenatal testing. Prenatal testing showed that his wife's pregnancy would result in the death of the baby and most likely the death of the mother and when her doctor recommended an abortion – at nineteen weeks (almost 4 1/2 months along), which is considered 'late-term' – Santorum gave his ok because "my children need their mother." Yet he feels no other woman, no other mother, no other children deserve the same consideration. HYPOCRITE! Wake up you conservative GOPs – WAKE UP!!!

    February 21, 2012 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  12. JIMMYJOHNNYBOY

    "Guess What
    Santorum may not compare obama to hitler, but I will. look at the comparisons and you will see that obama is just like hitler and if you look at the christian comparisons you can compare obama also to the anti-christ, so prove me wrong, because on comparisons and similarieties you cannot, haha, obama has been exposed"

    REad what this person said. This is the intelligence that is the base for the Republicans. And, 50% of the country which votes Republican.

    February 21, 2012 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  13. Jack R

    "…self-evident foundational truths and rights (are) given by God." – Did this radical-Talibanlike-fascistic-Christocrat actually say such a thing!!??!! Sounds like that horrible, racist, nazi doctrine from 1776: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal and endowed BY THEIR CREATOR with certain rights..." Scary! Really, really SCARY!

    February 21, 2012 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  14. John

    Rick Santorum is the face of evil. His black heart only serves to explain his true beliefs about Christianity and catholasizm. I am a roman catholic and I do make evert effort to be a good Christian.
    Santorum is so far away from the catholic religion he will probably never find his way home.
    PURE EVIL

    February 21, 2012 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  15. Not All Docs Play Golf

    What's most scary is that what he wants to impose on the rest of us is based on a delusional set of irrational beliefs.

    February 21, 2012 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  16. JP

    Why is it so difficult to find someone to be fiscally conservative but socially liberal?! This guy just scares the heck of out me. I could never vote for him and he brand of holier than thou extremism. He really believes that he is God's will to run this country. There is a reason why the founders wanted a separation of church and state. They were thinking of someone like Santorum. Like his reasoning for prenatal testing is so wack ... oh it causes more abortions ... um, by that reasoning so does going to a doctor. So is he going to outlaw women from seeing doctors now? And the line of "My beliefs will not affect my judgement" ... that is total bull! What WILL affect his judgement then? The weather? Extremes on both sides are just that ... EXTREME! It is interesting, I was having a conversation with my mom, who has voted rebublican ever since Reagan and is not a big fan of Obama ... she said, "if he gets the nomination I will wholeheartedly vote for Obama." That should tell these extremists what they are doing to their party and what this will do to this country.

    February 21, 2012 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  17. David

    Santorum is Latin for "of the Saints." This guy's surname has gone to his head. He apparently thinks he is God's representative on Earth. There has only been one of those, and he was executed by conservative politicians nearly 2000 years ago because he spoke out against the political establishment over the issue of predatory moneylending. Sadly, conservative politicians are the same today as they were then, having learned exactly NOTHING in two thousand years.

    No living man speaks for God. Not one. Not you. Not me. Not Jack Van Impe. Not Pat Robertson. Definitely not Rick Santorum.

    February 21, 2012 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  18. luvUamerica

    What Rick is basically is saying is that Obama, and the rest of Americans are sinners. We are non-believers. Just because we do not believe in Jesus they way he does. We are sinners, will go to hell, and that 70% of Americans are not Americans.

    All I can say is Rick and the Evangelicals, your rhetoric truely defines the word CULT. You should take a second look in the mirror.

    February 21, 2012 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  19. Reggie from LA

    @Guess What
    You know what? Only only one person was exposed in those comments and it ain't or hasn't been President Obama.
    What are you talking about? Get back to "False" news station right away!
    All those comments about the Inquisition, I can't believe it's come to that. Unfortunately, with Santorum, it's come to that.

    February 21, 2012 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  20. dc

    Those who fail to study history are doomed to sound like idiots when discussing it.

    "Washington is slowly taking our freedoms away...and the same thing happened in Europe." WHAT?!?!? He's either comparing it to the not-so-"bit by bit" Nazification of Germany in the 1930s or the actual invasions of Poland, France, the Balkans, etc prior to the US' entry into the war. In any case, it's the most ignorant analogy I've heard in a long time, and there is no way to rationally argue that he is not comparing Obama to Hitler in doing so.

    The Frothy One is a scary dude, my friends...

    February 21, 2012 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  21. cigarman

    Santorum is not even worth the energy to comment on, allthough I sure hope that he gets the Republican Nomination.

    February 21, 2012 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  22. Jose Canyusi

    Can't wait for the Pennsylvania primary, where Santorum will lose in his home state; he lost his 2006 re-election bid by 18%- – – -the largest margin of defeat for a republican in the history of the state.

    The rest of America should take a cue from PA. For this one time only.

    February 21, 2012 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  23. LDRP

    I am a woman, I am Catholic, and I will not vote for Rick Santorum. Period. I would prefer to vote Republican, but not him.

    February 21, 2012 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  24. Bushy Walrus

    If you want to set civil rights back 50 or 60 years, sure vote for Ricky..........

    February 21, 2012 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  25. dc

    The big dogs in the GOP are losing their minds right now over Santorum's inability to "stay on message" about the economy. Santorum is killing the GOP right now, which is why they are quietly looking for another candidate in the event that he effectively puts Romney and Gingrich out of the race. Won't surprise me if Romney grabs Joe Lieberman or Rudy Guiliani and runs as a moderate "common sense" Independent if Santorum gets the nomination.

    February 21, 2012 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
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