Former Bush and McCain strategist Mark McKinnon once called Rick Santorum “dangerous.” But as the former senator announces his 2012 presidential bid, McKinnon says there are a few things to admire about Santorum.
If you’re a hard-core conservative, tired of mealy mouthed politicians who two-step around questions, spin unrealistic promises, or flip-flop with the prevailing wind, then there is a presidential candidate for you. Although we mix together as well as holy water with burning oil, and have been in a few public fights before, I admire Rick Santorum—for his moxie. He is not a panderer. He believes deeply what he believes. And he is willing to take unpopular stands.
Many focus on Santorum’s 18-point loss in his 2006 Senate reelection race in Pennsylvania, but his campaign record is actually four victories, one defeat. He served two terms in the U.S. House and two terms in the U.S. Senate, defeating Democrat incumbents for each seat.
With his strong, vocal opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage, and embryonic stem-cell research, it’s easy to dismiss him as “just” a social conservative. But his record in the Senate, where he held one of the top leadership positions among Republicans, included legislative work on national security, foreign policy, and entitlement programs. Santorum supported calls for a balanced budget amendment and was one of the few early voices calling for reform of the now nearlyinsolvent Social Security. And as a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center for the last four years, he has lectured on radical jihadism and the “Gathering Storm of the 21st Century.”
Santorum has an appealing personal story. His grandfather emigrated from Italy in search of freedom and labored in the coal mines of western Pennsylvania until he was 72. That ethic for hard work and persistence, even in the face of long odds, is a family trait; Santorum does not back down from a challenge. A devout Catholic, he and his wife have seven children, including a 3-year-old with special needs.
His unshakable belief in conservative values and American exceptionalism makes him an attractive candidate in the early primary states. Still, he’ll have to prove he is fighting not just for social conservatives but broader causes that matter to the entire GOP base.
Santorum joins the six declared Republican candidates: Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Gary Johnson, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, and Mitt Romney. Although the chances for this admitted plodder to win in the long run are slim, unless someone else connects more strongly with social conservatives in the first caucus state of Iowa, Santorum could gain some traction there. And with a win in Iowa, he gets to race another day. He’ll keep nipping at the heels of the race leaders, with a loud, plodding run—always to their outside right.
The Daily Beast
by Mark McKinnon