Republicans Should Listen To Rick Santorum – He’s Saying The Smartest Things In The Race

May 26th, 2015
Republicans Should Listen To Rick Santorum – He’s Saying The Smartest Things In The Race

For those who have written off and ignored Rick Santorum as a past-his-prime player in the country’s social conservatism movement, you might want to tune back in to his 2016 campaign. He’s quickly become the Republican field’s uncomfortable-truth-teller, urging his party to move on from Reagan economics and adopt a message aimed at the working class. Santorum, who is expected to officially announce his candidacy tomorrow, stands alone in his quest, telling numerous GOP audiences things they don’t want to hear, who usually reward him with light applause, if that. Aside from Rand Paul’s, his message is the most unique, and deserves closer attention.

How did Santorum get here? In reality, it’s always been a part of his politics. He may have gained national attention in the early 2000’s with his anti-gay marriage, anti-evolution, anti-abortion and anti-contraception crusades, but he was also the Pennsylvania Senator from the heart of the Rust Belt.

For 2016 it seems Santorum feels comfortable that his social conservative bonifides are secure, and is focusing in on an economic message instead. Or perhaps he’s still fighting his 2012 primary with Romney, trying to prove how wrong Republicans were for nominating the former Bain Capital partner, who was badly damaged by a sense he only cared about the rich. Either way, he’s saying some of the most interesting things in the race.

“Wages are flat,” Santorum warned at the Faith and Freedom Coalition last month in Iowa. “The middle of America is hollowing out. And neither political party – the Democrats, all they want to do is just redistribute money, but they don’t really want to talk opportunity. And Republicans, we’re stuck – we’re stuck with a 35-year-old message on the economy. It’s a message that says ‘cut taxes for high-income individuals, balance the budget, cut government.’ Now all those things I’m for … but it’s insufficient in America today.”

At several major Republican events Santorum has explicitly called on his fellow party members to stop talking so much about Ronald Reagan. That’s pretty much heresy to the countless activists and candidates who constantly extoll the Gipper’s name at every opportunity they get. And yet he says it anyway, along with plenty of other talking points that fly in the face of conservative orthodoxy.

“Do you realize that 90% of Americans who work don’t own a business?” Santorum asked that same crowd in April and others, often to rooms filled with business owners. “They work for a living for a business or an agency.”

He hits upon this point often, cautioning Republicans that their message is only reaching a small group of people. In his book Blue Collar Conservatives, he wrote:

Why does the GOP have the reputation as the party of Scrooge? It might be because we spend so much time talking to and about the “job creator” and business owner. Economic growth and the role of the job creator should continue to be at the heart of our economic policy, but we need to think about, listen to, and talk about the jobholder as well. If conservatives got the vote of every job creator in the country, we’d still lose. We must earn a large portion of the votes of jobholders, because there are far more of them. (pp. 46-47)

Santorum is certainly correct in his analysis, whether his party wants to hear it or not. Despite their success in the midterms when President Obama’s voters failed to turn out, Republicans have a real problem with presidential elections. Winning the popular vote in only one of the last six elections, the “Big Blue Wall” of Democratic-leaning states will continue to stymie Republican efforts to win back the White House. A large reason has been voters don’t trust them to look out for the working person (though a bigger one lies in Democrats’ coalition of minority communities).

“We need to look at our messaging,” Santorum said at Faith and Freedom, in response to this problem. “I know this is not going to be the most popular thing. I’ve already come out and said we need an increase in the minimum wage.” His proposed increase is $1/hour.

“We can go out and talk about how we have to bail out Wall Street, that we have to bail out auto companies, but when it comes to providing worker protection for the lowest-wage workers, we have to be Adam Smith?” he continued. “No! We need to say that we’re on the side of the American worker. We need to go out and prove it with policies.”

As income inequality only gets worse in America, Republicans will likely have an increasingly harder time appealing to voters. Plenty of GOP leaders point to the stock market as the indicator of economic success, but Santorum argues that for most, “People don’t feel wealthier, they feel like they’re sinking deeper.”

Again, in his book he criticizes this approach:

Do Republicans really care less about the person at the bottom of the ladder than Democrats do? To be painfully honest, I would have to say in some ways “yes.” There are some in my party who have taken the ideal of individualism to such an extreme that they have forgotten the obligation to look out for our fellow man. (p. 42)

To be clear, this isn’t the only thing Santorum talks about at his events. Like the rest of the field, he speaks often on the threat of Islamic terrorism and how big government regulation stifles the economy. But on these specific issues, he is unique.

It will be interesting to watch whether Santorum sticks to this in his announcement tomorrow. His message has not gone over well with Republican audiences, and he remains mired in the 1% and 2% range in most early polls.

But in the bigger picture, it is a message Republicans need to hear. While the other candidates hit familiar red-meat applause lines nearly indistinguishable from the next speaker, Santorum is actually offering the party a way forward to electoral success. And it’s not even that big a break in policy, just a new way of messaging. Rather than sounding like you came right out of an executive boardroom, Santorum suggests the Republican standard-bearer appear like he came out of a working class break room. If the GOP were smart, they’d heed some of that advice.

 

by Pat Rynard
Posted 5/26/15

2 thoughts on “Republicans Should Listen To Rick Santorum – He’s Saying The Smartest Things In The Race

  1. Robert J Schundler says:

    “Do you realize that 90% of Americans who work don’t own a business?” Santorum asked that same crowd in April and others, often to rooms filled with business owners. “They work for a living for a business or an agency” ….. Santorum is wrong! First most people work for their Families, and they use the company to reach their goals. I do agree with Santorum in that we need to speak about employment and how our policies benitits all the people. Like we should repeal all employment based taxes (we want to promote employment), we should not hurt the retired and unemployed by passing Min. Wage increases, which also promote inflation. We should try to increase the take home pay the worker earned and reduce the cost of employment to employers (repeal the FICA taxes, FUI, etc, as well as the Income tax on labor) To make up the lost revenue we should pass the FAIR TAX on all goods foreign and domestic, this will also promote employment in the USA …. at the same time we should promote SCHOOL CHOICE so that our citizens will be better prepared to work and live in the future.

  2. Peter B says:

    Excellent points in this article. Whether or not he wins the primary, Rick Santorum’s campaign should serve as a model for the GOP nominee as they take on the Democrats in November 2016.

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