When asked about gay marriage at “the College Convention, a conference organized by New England College to allow students to interact with candidates” just after the Iowa caucuses, Rick Santorum first offered a rather innocuous response, saying, in Philip Klein’s words that “the onus was on those who are proposing to change the law to explain why it should be legalized, rather than on him to explain why he opposed it.” He added the couples could write contracts allowing for visitation rights.
As the college audience peppered him with questions, instead of allowing that he had said his piece on the topic, the former Pennsylvania Senator instead of “ending it there,” as Klein put it, chose to continue the conversation on gay marriage. Perhaps if this had been a forum on social issues and Mr. Santorum were offering one conservative view, we might appreciate his determination to keep the focus on this one issues, but this was a forum on the presidential election; gay marriage is only one — and clearly not the most significant (not even close) — of concern to Republican voters.
And Rick Santorum continues to dwell on social issues. Indeed, he has even said that, as president, he will talk about the “dangers of contraception“.* Now, maybe there really are dangers to contraception, moral and physical, but the job of talking about those dangers would belong, respectively, to religious leaders and medical professionals. With a sluggish recovery, trillion-dollar deficits and entitlements facing insolvency, we need a chief executive who intends to focus on our fiscal plight.
Rick, however, just can’t help himself; he really wants to talk about social issues. And that extended conversation leads our friends in the mainstream media to focus on such issues when covering his candidacy. When he, for example, appeared on “Face the Nation” this past Sunday, he seemed to relish this focus — even if it did make him seem out of touch with the mainstream of America.
Watching him on that Sunday morning talk show, Jennifer Rubin found that “his controversial stances on social issues” crowded out “other topics (there wasn’t time to discuss the economy after giving him time to untangle himself from a series of comments)”. (She provides the video and does a nice job critiquing him point by point.
And it wasn’t just Bob Schieffer’s questions. Santorum could have tried to change the topic, saying something like this, “Bob, you might want to focus on my position on contraception and gay marriage, but the American people want to know about my plans to address the coming insolvency of entitlements, reform the tax code, reduce regulation, increase energy development and promote other policies to help small business and create jobs.”
But, he didn’t do that.
Rubin is not the only one criticizing Santorum for his focus. Even Rush Limbaugh has questioned some of Santorum’s comments, remarking, for example, that the Senator’s 2008 contention that Satan is targeting the United States is “just not the kind of stuff you hear a presidential candidate talk about. It’s not ordinary in that sense.” (Via Hot Air.)
Like Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum has a discipline problem, but one of an entirely different nature. Newt lets you know his every feeling, tells you his every idea. Santorum just can’t stop himself from talking about social issues. And in an election when the focus is going to be on the anemic economic recovery and the every growing burdens of Obama’s Nanny State, that’s not a place where we want the GOP nominee to be.
*Had read the transcript over the weekend, but the link to the actual video comes from Jennifer Rubin.
FROM THE COMMENTS: Jimmy nails it:
The problem is that even if Santorum isn’t the one bringing up social issues, Santorum will start talking about it. He needs to pick his battles and starve the narrative because if he simply responds every time a social issue is brought up, then his enemy will quickly learn that if Rick will fight every battle then they can choose the battles he fights and pick ones that make him the loser.
And as a previous commentary said, it isn’t about telling social conservatives to shut up and disavow their beliefs. This is about not letting Obama distract people from his enormous failures on the economy and spending. The more time our candidates spend talking about women in the military, the less time our candidate is talking about Obama’s record of failure.
Emphasis added. A good politician knows he needs to pick his battles.
UPDATE: In a similar vein, Michael Barone observes, “It is political malpractice to give opponents such an opening in a year when voters are overwhelmingly focused on the economy and the Obama Democrats’ vast expansion of the size and scope of government.” Read the whole thing.