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Rick Santorum’s Discipline Problem

Posted by B. Daniel Blatt at 6:27 pm - February 21, 2012.
Filed under: 2012 Presidential Election

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.

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25 Comments

  1. 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…we need a chief executive who intends to focus on our fiscal plight.

    Dan, well put.

    And before anyone should accuse me: no, I’m not telling social conservatives to shut up. I’m only saying that one particular individual, the (would-be) President of the United States, will need to relentlessly put put governmental problems (the fiscal crisis) first, if he has any real intention or hope of solving them.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — February 21, 2012 @ 6:45 pm - February 21, 2012

  2. The bottom line is Rick Santorum is the only candidate that has a chance to beat Obama. Nominating Romney will guarantee the president’s re-election.

    Comment by Samuel Ferraro — February 21, 2012 @ 6:58 pm - February 21, 2012

  3. Not, Samuel, according to USA TODAY:

    Meanwhile, President Obama’s standing against two potential Republican rivals has ebbed a bit. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney leads the president 50%-46% among registered voters, Romney’s strongest showing against him to date. Obama edges former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum by a single percentage point, 49%-48%.

    Comment by B. Daniel Blatt — February 21, 2012 @ 7:03 pm - February 21, 2012

  4. Dan, I kind of disagree. I’m glad Santorum is not backing off on this. Like Ron Paul, he is who he is, you see what you get, and, even though I am at odds with his Social Conservative agenda, I appreciate that at least he’s honest where he stands. Unlike Mitt, whose political positions are more fluid than water, at least Santorum is consistent. And lets face it, he really doesn’t have much cred as a fiscal warrior anyway. And his SoCon cred is the one thing that really separates him as a candidate from Mitt, who has weak credibility in that department.

    Plus, if he is the candidate, that finally gives a verifiable metric to whether a pure Social Conservative can win against a liberal or not in the general election. If current economic trends continue to improve, even modestly, Obama will win against any of the current Republican contenders. But, with the wildcards of European fiscal meltdown and ever higher gas prices lurking in the mix…. Who knows.

    Comment by Sonicfrog — February 21, 2012 @ 7:21 pm - February 21, 2012

  5. Obama would be delighted to run against Santorum for exactly the reason discussed in this post. Santorum has been throwing his hands up wondering why the focus is on his positions on social issues when he is trying to run on the economy. 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.

    Comment by Jimmy — February 21, 2012 @ 7:23 pm - February 21, 2012

  6. Dan… Did you catch the MOE for that poll???

    The poll of 1,014 adults, including 898 registered voters, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The error margin for the sample of 481 Republican and Republican-leaning independents is 6 points.

    MOE of 6 %… Really???? That’s useless! Why even go to press with this????

    Comment by Sonicfrog — February 21, 2012 @ 7:25 pm - February 21, 2012

  7. The disagreement I have is with your argument he should have changed the topic. I can’t stand it when someone is asked a question and they give a 5 word answer and then go on discuss what they choose. I like that he answers asked questions fully and articulates what he meant. No one would know he was talking about the global warming agenda if you only look at the short clip repeatedly played.
    This should be more about the media’s questioning- trying to make him a social policy dictator when he doesn’t focus on those topics in his campaign speeches. What’s being presented now are old speeches. Jennifer Rubin nor Ann Coulter can’t make compelling arguments for how Romney can make a compelling argument against Obama on healthcare or bailouts. That’s bottom line. If Obama is re-elected, the healthcare bill is with us forever. Romney can be portrayed as “I was before it before I was against it” and vice versa in too may cases.

    Comment by Brian — February 21, 2012 @ 8:06 pm - February 21, 2012

  8. Saw a couple people post a portrait of Rick Santorum on Facebook made up of gay pornography. One person called it “brilliant.”

    More like childish and immature.

    Looks like the gay left is just getting started.

    Comment by ChrisH — February 21, 2012 @ 8:31 pm - February 21, 2012

  9. On the one hand, I think it’s silly that they are bringing up his “Satan speech” from three years ago and pretend that it’s current. That said, it was also silly for the right o focus so much attention on comment Obama’s preacher made eight years earlier, and it wasn’t Obama who said the things… So, I guess it all evens out in the end.

    Comment by Sonicfrog — February 21, 2012 @ 9:01 pm - February 21, 2012

  10. Only the terminally stupid still think Obama is up to the job of POTUS.

    Comment by Richard Bell — February 21, 2012 @ 9:31 pm - February 21, 2012

  11. Well then according to those opinion polls Daniel cited, that would make 46-49% of registered voters in the United States “terminally stupid”, which wouldn’t seem to bode well for the future of your country.

    Comment by Serenity — February 21, 2012 @ 10:23 pm - February 21, 2012

  12. […] Rick Santorum’s Discipline Problem […]

    Pingback by GayPatriot » Ron Paul takes Rick Santorum to the woodshed — February 21, 2012 @ 10:26 pm - February 21, 2012

  13. “…it isn’t about telling social conservatives to shut up and disavow their beliefs.” I beg to differ, Jimmy. Getting socons to “shut up and disavow their beliefs” is EXACTLY what this is about. If Santorum were a cheerleader for gay marriage B. Daniel would have no problem with him answering questions on the subject. Indeed, he’d be championing Santorum as proof that conservatives can be as culturally liberal as liberals and, therefore, gays shouldn’t be scared of them. Bemoaning Santorum’s tendency to talk about social issues is really just a way to get him and traditionalists generally to surrender the culture to the social Left. Any claim to the contrary is just plain dishonest.

    Comment by Seane-Anna — February 21, 2012 @ 11:25 pm - February 21, 2012

  14. Y’know what’s funny? When people say if Santorum loses against Obama, it means a conservative candidate can’t win and spcial conservatives should have no further influence within the party. Yet, these people are *not* saying that a Romney loss should mean a moderate candidate cannot win and moderates should have no further influence in the party. (No one said that after moderates Bob Dole and John McCain were slaughtered at the polls, either.)

    Comment by V the K — February 21, 2012 @ 11:29 pm - February 21, 2012

  15. Hmmm…..

    “Social issues were nonexistent in the period 1932 to 1964,” he observes. “The Republican Party won two presidential elections out of nine, and they had the Congress for all of four years in that entire period. . . . When social issues came into the mix—I would date it from the 1968 election . . . the Republican Party won seven out of 11 presidential elections.”

    The Democrats who won, including even Barack Obama in 2008, did not play up social liberalism in their campaigns. In 1992 Bill Clinton was a death-penalty advocate who promised to “end welfare as we know it” and make abortion “safe, legal and rare.” Social issues have come to the fore on the GOP side in two of the past six presidential elections—in 1988 (prison furloughs, the Pledge of Allegiance, the ACLU) and 2004 (same-sex marriage). “Those are the only two elections since Reagan where the Republican Party has won a popular majority,” Mr. Bell says. “It isn’t coincidental.”

    So, who keeps promoting this idea that socially conservative ideas are poison at the ballot box? (Social liberals, of course).

    Comment by V the K — February 21, 2012 @ 11:39 pm - February 21, 2012

  16. Well said, Jimmy in #5,

    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.

    Very well said.

    And ChrisH, good point, just because Santorum focuses on social issues doesn’t merit him the mean-spirited attacks his liberal critics have launched against him. I saw that portrait too, with a liberal Facebook friend calling it clever. Instead it was, as you put it, childish and immature. And it was mean.

    Comment by B. Daniel Blatt — February 22, 2012 @ 12:25 am - February 22, 2012

  17. I’m surprised no one has yet linked to this John Podhoretz piece about Santorum.

    [Kurt, you neglected the link, so I provided what I thought was the right one–a piece I had printed out earlier today, but hadn’t yet read — Dan]

    Comment by Kurt — February 22, 2012 @ 12:31 am - February 22, 2012

  18. Thanks! I guess I was too busy typing the html to remember to paste the url!

    Comment by Kurt — February 22, 2012 @ 1:31 am - February 22, 2012

  19. […] in petty antics which say more about them than about the flawed candidate. As our reader, ChrisH pointed out in a comment to my post on the Senator’s discipline problem: Saw a couple people post a portrait of Rick Santorum on Facebook made up of gay pornography. One […]

    Pingback by GayPatriot » Santorum the sourpuss — February 22, 2012 @ 3:18 am - February 22, 2012

  20. Dear Rick Santorum,

    You mustn’t scare the moderates or the independents.

    They fear that you are hiding behind the tree and just waiting for someone to pass by so you can jump out and preach him ragged.

    They fear that you will ban all contraception, Obama style. They fear that you will find evil in absolutely everything and start up inquisitions and star chambers and witch hunts and bring back the stocks and stoning and shunning.

    They see public education going to rot because everything will be Bible studies and prayer circles.

    They see a focus on “healthy” families and depending on charity and everyone having to be responsible and having some sort of work ethic and handouts from the government being squeezed into nothingness.

    In other words, Rick, have a little compassion. Don’t scare the moderates and independents. You can’t win if you talk about values and principles. You should just avoid and be evasive. People understand politicians who wink and look the other way. That is standard operating procedure.

    Look, Rick, do you want the job or not? Stop with the authentic stuff and lighten up on the integrity. OK?

    Now some, Rick, say you are peddling the social conservatism a little too hard and you are sacrificing your time to talk about the important crisis stuff at hand. Just remember, the news people are out to get you. So, Rick, apparently you have to deep six the morality stuff and when they dig it up from the past and confront you with it, you have to chuckle it away.

    So, Rick, you are a dead man walking. Perhaps you might consider getting The Donald to help you remake your image and get instructions on changing horses in mid stream and become an easy rider who lopes past the morality postholes without so much as a nod.

    Just saying”, Rick. Think about it.

    Heliotrope.

    Comment by Heliotrope — February 22, 2012 @ 9:22 am - February 22, 2012

  21. you have to chuckle it away

    Actually no Rick, you just have to change the subject back to what America needs you to talk about, namely, how you are going to solve America’s most pressing governmental problems, like the fiscal problems.

    Um… you are planning to solve them, right? Because I just checked your website. No mention of how you’re going to do it on your homepage. No mention on your “Why Rick?” page. Reading your “Issues” page now, and it gives one sentence about cutting entitlements, buried way down, while leading off with your stand on… ugh… gay marriage.

    I say “ugh”, Rick, because social conservatives lately have been telling me a lot how that issue should NOT matter; how anyone (and I agree with them here) who cares about America’s future should be willing to subordinate gay marriage to the fiscal issues. Interesting that their point somehow isn’t supposed to be applied, well, to you Rick.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — February 22, 2012 @ 11:19 am - February 22, 2012

  22. My husband and I are both strong social conservatives, however we are in the Romney camp. We like his executive experience and believe America has already elected one senator to the White House in the last election and that hasn’t worked out too well. However, since we live in New Mexico and the primary isn’t until June, I doubt our opinion will matter. We’re just proud it mattered in Florida in 2000.

    Comment by Louise B — February 22, 2012 @ 11:30 am - February 22, 2012

  23. We’re just proud it mattered in Florida in 2000.

    And you should be, great! 🙂

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — February 22, 2012 @ 11:40 am - February 22, 2012

  24. If Santorum were a cheerleader for gay marriage B. Daniel would have no problem with him answering questions on the subject. Indeed, he’d be championing Santorum as proof that conservatives can be as culturally liberal as liberals and, therefore, gays shouldn’t be scared of them.

    Seane-Anna, I believe Dan (and he can correct me if I’m wrong) said that Republican candidates shouldn’t be spending a lot of time discussing same sex marriage regardless of their position, because there are other compelling issues. Further, he can support a candidate who opposes same sex marriage, as long as he supports conservative issues of importance today (e.g., U.S. debt, terrorism, unemployment).

    V the K suggested that social conservatives can be elected president. And that is true. Reagan* is an example of that. However, Reagan didn’t alienate fellow social conservatives, whereas Santorum may be doing that. Sure, social conservatives who believe in the same exact issues that Santorum espouses, including his views on contraception, may very well support him. But his views on contraception are so out of the mainstream today, he alienates a lot of people. Sure, most people respect his personal view, but start shaking their heads when he speaks on it at length. Even though his view on same sex marriage is popular among social conservatives, he appears to be out of the mainstream on his views on gay issues. If he is going to speak out ad nauseum his reasons against same sex marriage, why not speak positively on stable relationships amongst gay persons, or the value of civil unions, which is gaining support amongst social conservatives as well with everyone else.

    Reagan* may not have been the most pro-gay person, but he was far from hating gays. My understanding was that he and Nancy were friendly with gay persons. He was steadfast in his opposition to the anti-gay proposition while governor of California. Despite all that, he was able to appeal to an overwhelming majority of social conservatives, since he didn’t blather one way or another on gay persons. I suspect he would be able to navigate the same sex marriage issue today without sacrificing his principles and without alienating social conservatives. Santorum can’t.

    While Santorum may be able to pull off the Republican nomination, I can understand why Obama supporters would be in glee. His rhetoric simply will not work with Democrats and most Independents, and a significant minority of Republicans. This is what I believe that many Republicans and conservatives fear.

    *Like many, I sometimes fall into the Reagan mystique that others do, so I may be misattributing things I have said about him.

    Comment by Pat — February 22, 2012 @ 2:34 pm - February 22, 2012

  25. No, Pat, you’re not wrong.

    Comment by B. Daniel Blatt — February 22, 2012 @ 3:23 pm - February 22, 2012

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