Why is Santorum Rising?

By: February 20, 2012

Recent polls show former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum rising. Some national polls of Republican primary voters show him in the lead, other show him closely behind Mitt Romney. Many polls show him competitive in a head to head race with President Obama. In the remaining primary states, he currently has a slight lead over Romney in Michigan, and is within striking distance in Arizona. Both states hold primaries a week from tomorrow.

Why is Santorum surging, Romney stalling, Gingrich sliding, and Paul holding steady?

His success comes more from his strategy of engaging voters in a one-on-one retail approach than it does the specifics of his policies. While he appealed to the strong current of evangelical voters in Iowa, and laid out a very credible foreign policy approach, we can’t ignore his Big Government approach to spending and social issues.

If we were to look to a seventeenth century figure in the Anglo-American culture who Santorum’s policies most resemble, it would be the authoritarian Christian communitarianism of Massachusetts Bay Colony’s first governor John Winthrop to whom we would point, not the Christian natural liberty of English libertarian John Lilburne.

The Cato Instititute’s David Boaz recently pointed out Santorum’s poor track record of support for the limited government ethos that defines the Tea Party movement.

Michael Barone notes that Santorum’s deft explanation for his endorsement of RINO Arlen Specter over conservative Pat Toomey in the 2004 Republican Senate Primary in Pennsylvania (Specter’s re-election was critical, Santorum said, because he was needed to usher Alito and Roberts on to the Supreme Court) was only half of the story. Barone points out that Santorum, the political operative with 16 total years in Congress, owed his 1994 election to the Senate to Specter’s support.

Santorum’s tax proposals, however, are so bad that the respected Tax Foundation gave him a D+. Instead of simplifying the tax code, Santorum would maintain its present complexity. Worse yet, he favors the Hamiltonian strategy of picking winners and losers through the tax code, providing a variety of incentives to favored industry. Manufacturing, which struggles in his native Pennsylvania, gets special tax benefits.

Comparing Santorum’s policies to those of his two main competitors–Gingrich and Romney, Santorum is only slightly less Hamiltonian. Santorum distinguishes himself from these two in one key regard — he opposed the TARP bank bailouts of October, 2008.

Why, then, does Santorum enjoy more than a 2 to 1 advantage over both Gingrich and Romney among Republican primary voters who consider themselves tea party supporters?

There are three reasons:

1. Santorum is authentic and consistent in his views.

2. He is likable and approachable.

3. He genuinely engages with local tea parties around the country.

Romney, for reasons that continue to remain a mystery to me, appears to be following a strategy of actively avoiding the Tea Party movement. To my knowledge, he has never addressed an actual tea party rally or local tea party group. In December, he spoke on the phone at a tea party tele-town hall with other Presidential candidates, but that appears to be the extent of his direct communication with the Tea Party movement.

This remoteness–an odd strategy to keep Romney in a “bubble” away from potential supporters–seems to permeate his campaign. In Ohio last week, for instance, Attorney General Mike DeWine withdrew his endorsement of Romney and endorsed Santorum. “He doesn’t write, he doesn’t call,” DeWine said of Romney.

Gingrich, who has a long and twisted history with the movement, has, until recently spoken at numerous tea party rallies, but has never really actually modified his policies according to communications he’s received at these rallies, at least as far as I can tell. And where Santorum appears friendly, upbeat, and approachable, Gingrich appears a bitter, scowling, intellectual elitist. Santorum is blue collar, Gingrich is academic cap and gown.

This Saturday, for instance, Santorum will be the featured speaker at the Third Anniversary Celebration of the Tea Party movement to be held in Chattanooga Tennessee, hosted there by the local tea party. Romney turned down a similar invitation, giving Santorum an open running field to garner tea party support around the country. This is not the first time Santorum has spoken to local tea party groups. Last week he was a featured speaker at a tea party gathering in Ohio. Clearly, Santorum has realized the value of showing up and engaging with tea parties, especially in states like Tennessee and Ohio, where Super Tuesday primaries will be held on March 6.

The lesson from Santorum’s recent success should be his tactics more than his message. Retail politics works. Television ads, robocolls, email blasts and the like are increasingly “white noise” –irritating background ignored by most voters.  The election of 2012 will be decided more by neighbors talking to neighbors they trust than it will be traditional media. Age old person to person  grassroots politicking is experiencing a resurgence. And that’s a good thing for the country.

Michael Patrick Leahy is the editor of the Voices of the Tea Party e-book series and co-founder of Top Conservatives on Twitter and the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition. His new book, Covenant of Liberty: The Ideological Origins of the Tea Party Movement, will be published by Broadside Books in spring, 2012. He can be reached on Twitter at @michaelpleahy .

27 Responses to Why is Santorum Rising?

  1. Pingback: Instapundit » Blog Archive » MICHAEL PATRICK LEAHY: Why Is Santorum Rising?…

  2. crypticguise says:

    Romney is neglecting the Tea Party members and supporters at his own peril. He is definitely robotic. Santorum has a lot to learn about economics, business and the constitution. But Santorum is likeable and he LISTENS.

  3. tom beebe st louis says:

    Perhaps Santorum is late coming to the smaller government ethos that is the Tea Party, but he may be coming around. We need to shout in his ear the concept that solutions to the peoples’ problems come from below, from the people themselves. Surely my many friends in Chattanooga can make themselves heard come saturday. Santorum probably believed he was truly representing his constituents’ interests seeking to rebuild our manufacturing base. Let us tell him loudly that freeing us from the burdens of regulation, taxation and degradation of our “inalienable rights” will serve the nation better than any federal action.

  4. submandave says:

    Very good point. Most Tea Party inclined folks (of which I count myself) do nto expect the dream candidate to come to them. They are, however, open to a candidate with whom they can work to affect policy and position based not upon $$$ they can bring to the table, but votes they can bring to the ballot box.

    IMHO, if, the next time anyone asks Santorum about birth control, he clearly states how the whole birth control thing is just Democrat misdirection so people ignore the abysmal results of Obama’s economic policies and says “I will never, as President, propose any measure for the federal government to limit birth control,” he’d see a big bump with the libertarian wing of the GOP.

  5. Ken Royall says:

    And yet it has been Santorum who has been openly critical of the Tea Party Movement, I guess they must be deaf or stupid.

  6. asdf says:

    Gingrich’s views shift from day to day in some surprising ways, but at the core he seems to hold the standard conservative/libertarian intersection that forms the basis of the Tea Party. That why Romney’s attempts to claim that Gingrich was anti-Reagan don’t gain much traction– for all his flaws, anyone who remembers the 80’s and early 90’s knows more or less where Gingrich stands. Where Newt falls down is a suspicion among those same people that he isn’t quite tempermentally suited to be President.

    Romney’s refusal to engage with the Tea Party is very revealing. He’s setting up for a pivot in the general. He’s terrified of being cast as an extremist. So what better way to avoid that than to be anti-Tea Party and pro-socialized medicine?

    There’s a breed of Republican whose major objection to liberalism isn’t ideological, it’s that liberals envision themselves running things. This wing has several assumptions. First, that the liberals are right on policy but not competent or hard-headed enough to implement it. Second, they assume that moderates vote based on ideology and that the most moderate ideology wins.

    By those lights, Romney figures he can sell himself as a more competent Obama than Obama. The tea party will fall into line, who else will they vote for? Then he governs to the left and builds political capital with grateful democrats, who tone down the rhetoric in return. It’s the same fantasy again and again. Bush tried the same thing– No Child Left Behind, creation of the TSA and the Medicare Prescription Drug plan were explicit attempts to build crossover support (and when that failed, steel tariffs were an attempt to bypass democratic politicians to win democrat voters).

    These republicans (call them Rockefeller Republicans if you like) spend most of their time carrying the democrat’s water by bashing their own party. They’re never happier than when, after a little judicious beard-pulling, they are reluctantly nationalizing an industry, developing intrusive new regulation, or blowing the national debt on some new pork plan. Crony capitalism satisfies their liberal instincts and their conservative alliances. They use every dirty trick imaginable against fellow republicans (Mike Castle? Lisa Murkowski?), but the kid gloves go on when dealing with democrats.

    I actually don’t like Santorum all that much– he’s no Huckabee but he has the same problems. But Romney has made it abundantly clear that he’s hostile to the conservative movement, and especially the tea parties. His attacks on Obama are half-hearted, and his campaign’s behavior in the primary has been filthy. Ron Paul is a non-starter due to his foreign policy views. So who else do the Tea Parties unite around? For a tea partier, rick’s the least worst option.

    Though let’s not forget, if the field looks bad in the GOP primary, look at the clown the democrats are about to nominate. Unless a defeated Romney jumps party lines altogether in a sour grapes campaign, whoever wins the primary will probably win the general.

  7. Pingback: Oh, Good Lord | Daily Pundit

  8. Nathan J says:

    I agree with this article up to a certain point. What helped Santorum to get a second look was the last debate in Florida. He was able to attack Romney’s support of Government Run Health Care in Massachusetts while Romney gave a tepid defense. The bigger issue for many conservatives like myself is not Government Run Health Care, but Government Running every aspect of our lives (Catholic Church, School Lunches in North Carolina, etc). Romney and Obama can make the same argument about the “value” of Government Run Health Care and the difference would be minute.

    Santorum benefits because he was able to articulate OUR concerns of government running anything. Until Romney can make a valid and articulate a conservative vision he will continue to struggle in the primaries.

  9. Warlord says:

    Newt is the only candidate that has a working knowledge of Islam.Romney, has made the statement”Jihad is not Islam”.We are currently at war with Islam, and have been for years now. We need a president who is not politically afraid to
    tell the truth, and deal with this enemy on a realistic basis.For this reason alone, IMO,he deserves the presidency.

  10. Person of Choler says:

    Romney comes from the segment of the Republican party that would rather lose a critical presidential election than be seen associating with the hoi polloi who constitute the tea party. It is a social class thing, the white shoe establishment snubbing the low orders of ordinary citizens.

    • Rich says:

      We have a lot of that in NJ – a few years ago during the governor race they republican walked away from the conservative who won the primaries. Some of them even endorsed the democrat rather than endorse the one selected by the people.

  11. MikeO says:

    Rick also had a meeting with Tea Party leadership from across all of Texas when he was down here recently (video of a bit of it can be found here: http://northtexasteaparty.org/2012/02/09/rick-santorum-answers-a-few-tea-party-questions/). He is absolutely CRUSHING everyone down here in Texas right now. it’s appearances like this- and the rallies and other retail politics- that is the reason. Both Newt and Mitt seem to be above such things.

  12. John F says:

    You list the reasons why Santorum is rising:

    1. Santorum is authentic and consistent in his views.

    2. He is likable and approachable.

    3. He genuinely engages with local tea parties around the country.

    Let me be so bold as to add a bit more context to item #1 above: Santorum is not only consistent in his views, but can and will explain how they fit into his worldview, even when the issue isn’t popular. That is why I can still like and support him, even though I absolutely disagreed with his endorsement of Spector (he felt it was an issue of loyalty, which I can at least respect, even if I disagree). I think this is the same reason people go nuts about Chris Christie.

    Santorum has core beliefs that seem to matter to him…can anyone honestly say this about Romney or Gingrich? Maybe that’s what you mean above when you say he is “authentic”, but I think it could be summed up better by the word “integrity”. He believes what he believes and if asked about a tough topic, HE ANSWERS (insert gasp), even though he knows it may not sound good on the evening news. And what do the geniuses in the Republican party establishment and in the media advise? “EEEK! Stop discussing those ikcy issues that will turn off independents!” I have better advice – stick to your core beliefs, stay unafraid, be consistent and shorten your answers. The contrast between a political candidate with integrity and guts and a typical candidate will be stark, especially in the general election.

  13. Jocon307 says:

    It is not only tea partiers that Romney is avoiding, it is pretty much everybody.

    He hasn’t gone on the Sunday shows, I heard Hugh Hewitt directly complain that he can’t get Romney on his radio show, etc. etc.

    Let’s face it, Romney is running an awful, lazy campaign. He appears to want to coast in as Mr. Next-in-line. The worse aspect of this, imho, is that one infers he won’t work very hard in the general election either.

  14. Tatterdemalian says:

    Personally, I’d vote for Santorum just because some nutter got such a bug up his arse about him that he actually started trying to mess around with the English language just to humiliate him.

    Yeah, it’s a stupid reason to vote for a guy, just like checking the number of cars in company parking lots is a stupid way to make stock investment decisions.

  15. Ray Leahy says:

    You employ good reason to your thoughs. At this point , I am a bit desapointed in Rommey as he seams reluctant to state his position on many questions of policy.

    Sandorumon the other hand states his positions, but in fact as a Senator did not practice them. So how serious can he be?

  16. I Callahan says:

    “Why is Santorum Rising?”

    For the same reason that every other Republican candidate rose at one point – because most of us don’t trust Romney.

    Next Question…

  17. Seerak says:

    The “establishment conservatives” inside the GOP, exemplified by David Frum and who hold a deep-seated philosophical affinity for paternalism, are deathly afraid of the resurgence of its antithesis: the demand for liberty, moral individualism and economic capitalism, best known as Americanism.

    These conservatives wish to wear the mantle of Americanism, but not to actually enact it. For these conservatives, the Tea Party is a far greater threat than the Left, since the Left only differs from them in degree, not kind (they have different ideas on which freedoms to eliminate).

    The results so far are clearly meant to knock down and demoralize the Tea Parties, to neutralize the threat of Americanism’s return to the mainstream, and to preserve the increasingly Europeanized political milieu of the Ackbar Spectrum, where our only alternative is to choose between which “moral betters” are to rule us.

    Romney is one of these conservatives. His purpose as the author of the Republican author of Obamacare, is to knock the opposition to Obamacare off the mainstream by signalling that “the right” is OK with government healthcare, differing only in the details of its implementation.

    Santorum is the establishment’s boogeyman, intended to reinforce the cult of compromise; his role is to remind the Americanist, libertarian wing of the Right what pure conservatism really looks like — and if they don’t get off this morally intransigent insistence on the principles of Americanism, they are going to be left out in the “extremist” cold.

    It’s disappointing that the Tea Party does not seem to see this — that they are being played by their enemies **on the right**, right now.

    • Seerak says:

      That should read “The Republican author of Obamacare’s equivalent”. Romney is only an indirect author of Obamacare, in that Romneycare provided the template.

  18. McGehee says:

    His Electable Inevitableness hopes if he puts a Tea Party-supported rival on his ticket the former rival will bring the Tea Party voters along with him.

    Only trouble with that is, we saw how much good it did in 2008 for an Establishment “maverick” to court the right with a running mate; I honestly do not expect it to work twice in a row.

  19. Marty says:

    I’m not in Romney’s head so I don’t know, but he and his campaign act as if the Presidency is just his next logical career move, and he paid his dues in 2008, so what’s your problem?

    He can’t “close the deal” because he doesn’t recognize it isn’t already closed.

  20. gracepmc says:

    I don’t claim to know what’s what. But Obama campaign must be happy that their strategy to focus on Santorum is paying off. No talk of budget, deficit, economy, jobs (including REAL unemployment numbers). It would help if someone would lead every day with Good Morning. Today is the 1,000+ day without a budget,the deficit climbed X$ to $______________ overnight, real unemployment in the country is __________, and the price of gasoline is going up. And this is what I am going to do about it.

  21. Rich K says:

    The possibilty,however limited,that Santy can be steered to support more practical TEA party ideas is way more likely than Romney doing anything but paying lip service to the TEA party and charging ahead with his “Not gonna change a thing” policies we all know he will govern with.Once a Rino always a Rino. McCain-Lite we done need.

  22. Robbie says:

    Romney has no vision, center or passion. He’s managerial. He’s G.H.W. Bush with better hair.

    I love Ron Paul on domestic policy and substantially on foreign policy. Until he starts ranting and raving with that blame America crap. He starts out good but ends up sounding like Noam Chomsky. Besides, If he got the nomination and looked likely to win, they’d assassinate him.

    Santorum is no small government conservative, he just looks that way compared to Nootie.

    Nootie who voted Yeah with Jimmy Carter for the FedGov Dept. of Education, usurping the power of parents and local school boards.

    A big ass supporter of the Endangered Species Act which the left has used to ruin the lives of countless ranchers, farmers and other land owners.

    When conservatives aimed to gut the ESA in the mid 90’s it was Speaker Nootie who blocked them and bragged about it.

    He’s supported cap and trade to fight “climate change”, supported federally mandated health insurance and thinks the greatest President of the 20th century was FDR.

  23. Pingback: Because Mitt Is Just Too Cool : The Other McCain

  24. Don Schenk says:

    Santorum is rising because he’s a William F. Buckley Jr./Ronald Reagan conservative, unlike all of those LIBERALtarians. (like Ron Paul, who quit the Republican Party in the 1980s in protest to President Reagan.)

  25. Pingback: Rodger Cook for Congress - Grassroots Support

Leave a Reply