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. jdj

    The senator believes and says the right things. He stands for views on the social topics that most Americans believed for years and years. I hope he gets the nomination and wins in November.

    February 21, 2012 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  2. tstorm

    Santorum is your typical Republican extremist. He cares nothing about the economy and only about anrrow-minded social issues. A lot of my friends can't believe he's even re-visiting topics like a woman's right to birth control in this day and age. If this is Santorum's agenda he's done as a candidate. Romney may not be for the middle class but at least he lives in the 21st Century.

    February 21, 2012 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  3. John Q.

    Look Republicans, it's very simple. If you make Santorum your frontrunner, moderates and liberals will show up in droves to make sure he doesn't come within 100 miles of The White House. You however will do a great job of unifying moderates and liberals against you. This is the danger you will always face when you push an extremist to the front of the line (both right or left-wing).

    The worst part is when you get some push-back, you start bad-mouthing the liberals. If you didn't rule out some real contenders from even attending your debates you wouldn't be dealing with any of this. Buddy Roemer for example would even get my vote, and I'm a "tree-hugging liberal."

    Nothing will get done if you get someone far right or far left, you need someone who is willing to work and compromise with those on the other side of the police tape.

    February 21, 2012 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  4. Jose Canyusi

    @Veritas- – – –
    When you said:
    "When fascism comes to America, it will be draped in the flag, wearing a sweatervest and carrying a bible." – Sorta Sinclair Lewis- – – -You said it better than all the rest; the republican party- – -with the help from the Confederate South- – -has been trying their damnedest to bring fascism to America. This snotty twerp would make it the law of the land.

    February 21, 2012 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  5. Larry L

    @Truth and Nothing But the Truth

    "Santorum was CLEARLY referring to Obama's extreme ENVIRONMENTAL ideology when he spoke."
    ----------------------------------------------------
    By "extreme" do you mean more domestic oil production than ever? Do you mean trying to create renewable energy sources? Requiring environmental impact studies before installing a pipeline to carry low-grade oil – like the law requires? Maybe it's the President's understanding that the Earth really is older than 6000 years that has Santorum perplexed?

    It's of course a cheap attempt to question the President's religion. For all of your ranting and name-calling the outcome becomes clearer every day. The right-wing picked losers and the President's ratings are climbing at a steady rate. The radical right has driven independents and moderate Republicans away and those of you on the crazy fringe are left to whine and blame the media – as usual.

    February 21, 2012 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  6. Ann

    dc
    "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."

    I would actually hope for this move. If Republicans want to lose any credibility, they have to nominate Santorum.

    February 21, 2012 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  7. dc

    What's really sad is that since Santorum has become the front-runner for the nomination, he's starting to position himself as the "Christian" candidate by questioning Obama's beliefs and morality.

    So sad. So weak. So NOT what this country needs right now.

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

    Rick Santorum is what my grandaddy used to call a ding whacker.

    February 21, 2012 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  9. Mr. Turtle

    If Sanctum Santorum gets the nomination,
    You get four more years of Obama Nation.

    February 21, 2012 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  10. sf

    This guy's the male extreme version of Palin!

    February 21, 2012 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  11. Anonymous

    The Culture Warrior v. The Vulture Capitalist.

    February 21, 2012 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  12. rs

    About all Santotum needs to complete his insane talk about "theology" is a brown shirt.

    February 21, 2012 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  13. dc

    @Ann

    I'm not a huge Romney fan, but I'd vote Romeny/Guiliani in a heartbeat over the alternatives. Heaven forbid we elect people who actually have proven track records of accomplishing things while in office. Stronger economy, better healthcare, less crime, more jobs, better social services, balanced budgets, cleaner environment... Yeah, those things are awful!!

    February 21, 2012 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  14. dc

    "jdj

    The senator believes and says the right things. He stands for views on the social topics that most Americans believed for years and years. I hope he gets the nomination and wins in November."

    This quote brought to you from the year 1483. :)

    February 21, 2012 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  15. Gary, Hunt Valley, Md.

    Every time he opens his mouth, Santorum sends scores of people, mainly women (a fairly important part of the electorate), running in the other direction. If you need any further shred of proof that the Republican Party is in tatters and has completely lost touch with mainstream America, take a look at Ricky......with apologies to Bill Maher, he's the "little creep that could." Obama will carry 55 to 60 percent of the vote in November, whether he's opposed by The Creep or The Phony.

    February 21, 2012 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  16. JonDie

    Osama bin Santorum is just Osama bin Laden in a different body. Both men share the same soul.

    February 21, 2012 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  17. TRH

    VFERITS:

    "When fascism comes to America, it will be draped in the flag, wearing a sweater-vest and carrying a bible." – Sorta Sinclair Lewis.

    ROFLMFAO!!! With your permission, I'd like to use this in future....priceless update of Sinclair Lewis!

    February 21, 2012 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  18. GvilleT

    I'm a Christian, but I don't want the government all up in my business. ANYONE using their Christian faith for power, money or fame is not using it in the way God intended. It should be a personal thing. Also, as a Christian NO ONE should pass judgement on another. Isn't that the whole basis of Christianity...if someone says their Christian, then they are a Christian??? Why would someone question Obama or his beliefs, especially if he claims to be a Christian and he goes to church? Santorum is a FREAK! Talk about BIG GOVERNMENT! He's going to start telling us what church we can or can't go to from the oval office if he's elected. God help us all!!!

    February 21, 2012 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  19. A True Centrist

    After seeing one failure after another over these past three plus years, I vowed I could never vote for President Obama. However, Santorum is crazy people. That means if Santorum gets the nomination, for the first time in my life, I will not vote for the President of the United States.

    That's the state of politics today. One man a proven failure in the White House...the other man is certifiably crazy.

    February 21, 2012 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  20. Anonymous

    "I'm not a huge Romney fan, but I'd vote Romeny/Guiliani in a heartbeat over the alternatives."

    There is nothing moderate about those two bloodthirsty neocons (other than Rudy's views on abortion and gays). They are both 1%ers desperate to hang onto the power and money they've stolen from the rest of us.

    February 21, 2012 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  21. freelance

    I can understand why folks would vote for Romney. He may be a liar, flip-flopper and may not care about poor. But atleast he won't dictate your lives.. I just cannot comprehend folks voting for Santorum! I mean.. SANTORUM? REALLY? is this some kind of Joke GOP is pulling on us? come on man!!

    February 21, 2012 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  22. James Olsen

    I really hope the GOP nominates this fool, he will GIFT WRAP the election for Obama and the Dems, both houses will come under their control and we can finally clear the GOP stink out of Washington

    February 21, 2012 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  23. bookgirl

    Ask any Catholic and they will say theirs is the only true religion. Ask any Protestant and they will tell you that it is pagan to put a mortal man between them and their God. This is not a cultural war, it is a religious war. Throughout history, Catholics and Protestants have fought. This is just one more reason that religion must be kept out of government.

    February 21, 2012 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  24. Saboth

    GOP is so funny. Class warfare? That's a no-no. But cultural, racial, religious warfare? It's a-ok.

    February 21, 2012 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  25. KMC

    If you are looking for a moderate conservative to vote for – he's already there in the White House.

    If he wasn't ( in spite of what the Tbaggers and GOP try to label him ) , this would be no contest for a new Republican President .
    But thanks to the Tea Party & far right extremism , they have no-one to blame but themselves.

    Obama 2012

    February 21, 2012 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
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