Republican strategist Mark McKinnon thinks that former Pennsylvania Rick Santorum’s issue profile – his extreme social conservative philosophy – represents what’s wrong with the Republican Party. Yet, McKinnon asserts in the Daily Beast that Santorum’s character is the larger concern were the good former senator to make a bid for the President.
I like Mark McKinnon quite a bit, but I disagree with his argument here.
The attention that Santorum’s traditionalist social policies will attract will do the most damage to the GOP in the long run, and make it more difficult for a more reasonable candidate to succeed in winning the nomination and the general election.
McKinnon, a smart, experienced and quite ethical Republican strategist, ought to know by now what it’s like to find an honest man in parliament. If we were to discard every politician with questionable character we’d have to go back to a monarchy just because of the lack of honest souls to put in Congress. Whoever the Republican nominee is in 2012, they’ll probably have to do some sketchy things to get there. That’s the nature of the business.
For those unaware, Rick Santorum is probably one of the most extreme social conservatives to serve in the United States Senate this decade, not as much perhaps because of his positions, but because of the jihadist tone he uses in advocating them.
Not only is Santorum’s approach bad politics for a Republican party trying desperately to appeal to young voters and voters in urban centers and inner ring suburbs. It also departs sharply from the tradition set by President Ronal d Reagan – a tradition that is supposedly quite important to activist Republicans. McKinnon notes the difference between Reagan’s Republicanism and Santorum’s:
Here’s Reagan in 1975:
“If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism…The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom, and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is.”
And here’s Santorum in 2005:
“One of the criticisms I make is to what I refer to as more of a libertarianish right…This whole idea of personal autonomy, well, I don’t think most conservatives hold that point of view. Some do. They have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do, government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulations low, that we shouldn’t get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn’t get involved in cultural issues. You know, people should do whatever they want. Well, that is not how traditional conservatives view the world, and I think most conservatives understand that individuals can’t go it alone. That there is no such society that I am aware of, where we’ve had radical individualism and that it succeeds as a culture.”
Santorum’s view is neither consistent with the traditional Republican view, nor popular with the groups the GOP needs to be competitive with in order to become electorally effective. But it is effective with those pesky social conservatives who can dominate a state like Iowa – if he becomes a serious contender he’ll be the candidate who’ll be loudest on those issues which are of the least appeal for the Republican Party.
There may not be anything one can do about it – the guy is articulate, passionate, and he probably knows if he got in the 2012 race he’d certainly attract a following. But in the long run his return to public life will be a net negative for the Republican Party, and for the nominee in 2012, no matter who it winds up being.
Just like the other santorum, it looks like this former senator is just going to be another unpleasant part of everyday life for the foreseeable future.
Crossposted at The Diasporist.