Santorum pulled no punches in newspaper columns

in Blair County, Pa., last week. After criticizing John McCain in 2008, he in time endorsed him. AP
in Blair County, Pa., last week. After criticizing John McCain in 2008, he in time endorsed him. AP (Rick Santorum)
Posted: April 10, 2012

If Mitt Romney secures the Republican presidential nomination, he might want to start worrying about whether Rick Santorum is going to give him the John McCain treatment.

Twice in the 2008 primaries, as McCain was closing in on the nomination, Santorum took to his newspaper column to trash him as moderate.

McCain "has too often joined the very people who seek to destroy and replace what we fight to conserve and improve," Santorum wrote. "And so we wonder: Is this the man we can trust to take our case to the American people?"

Of course, much has changed for Santorum and his party since he wrote those words in a column for The Inquirer's opinion pages. Indeed, he eventually gave McCain a tepid endorsement. But with the April 24 Pennsylvania primary shaping up as perhaps a final showdown between Romney and Santorum, those writings, published between 2007 and 2010, offer insights into the consistent and often caustic views of the state's former senator.

The twice-a-month columns, begun after Santorum lost his reelection bid as Pennsylvania senator in 2006, reveal a man who does not change his positions, priorities, or politics.

Nor, for that matter, has he altered his distaste for middle-of-the-road Republicans. Though Santorum endorsed Romney over McCain in the 2008 primaries, he now dubs the former Massachusetts governor a "mushy moderate."

As Santorum wrote of McCain's ability to "reignite the base" of the GOP in 2008: "Let's just say it's hard to ignite anything with cold water and no fire."

Much of the fire in Santorum's columns was aimed at issues that ring familiar to anyone who has followed his 2012 presidential campaign, beginning with Iran abroad and abortion at home.

Deepest concerns

Written under the moniker "Elephant in the Room" - a dig at what he saw as The Inquirer's liberal editorial approach - Santorum drew from personal experiences, detailed research, and conservative talking points (some of which have been disproved). Paid $1,750 for each piece, Santorum wrote in a punchy, provocative style that was largely humorless - though he did once refer to a rock band he called "Al Gore and the hysterics" and identified the then-governor of California as "Ahhnold."

He could be conciliatory to Democrats and even give occasional credit to President Obama, but he was vehement on matters he cared most about.

Vehement - and graphic, as when he wrote in April 2007 of Democratic opposition to the ban on what opponents of the procedure call partial-birth abortion: "Can you imagine their response if we were talking about banning the euthanizing of puppies by stabbing them with scissors at the base of their skulls and suctioning their brains out? Which one of them would dare oppose such a thing?"

Similarly, in 2008, he wrote of Obama's "justifying the killing of newborn babies." That referred to a bill Obama voted against in the Illinois Senate that would have required doctors to try to save the lives of infants who survive abortions. Obama had said that such protections were already law and that the bill was intended to make abortions harder to obtain.

At times, Santorum's rhetoric stretched facts - he said that Obama had called Iran a "tiny threat"; actually, Obama had referred to it as tiny compared with the threat the Soviet Union had posed during the Cold War.

Likewise, the rate of heterosexual marriages in Norway did not "nose-dive" and its out-of-wedlock birthrate did not "skyrocket" to 80 percent for firstborn children after same-sex marriage was legalized there in the 1990s. When Santorum cited those statistics in a column, they had already been called into question by FactCheck.org, the nonpartisan website run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. And although civil unions were legal in Norway at the time, same-sex marriage didn't exist there in June 2008 - a month after Santorum's column on the topic.

In a column headlined "One-Day Democrats: A Bad Idea," Santorum criticized as anti-American the practice of Republicans voting in Democratic primaries, and vice versa: "Republicans and Democrats, people who actually believe what their party stands for, should have the right to choose their own nominees."

Otherwise, he wrote, "we could see presidential politics sink to another new low, with the resultant dissipation of people's faith in the system."

Four years later, in February 2012 - when Santorum and Romney were in a hard-fought fight for GOP voters in Romney's native Michigan - Santorum's own campaign made robocalls urging Democrats to cross over and vote for him in Michigan's "open" Republican primary.

Sometimes, fiery language was the subject of Santorum's writing. In May 2008 he blasted the administration of George W. Bush for failing to label America's enemies "Islamo-fascists" or "jihadists": "We have sanitized and sensitized our rhetoric to the point where Americans still know little about the radical Muslims we fight."

That same year, similar rhetoric turned up in his column on a much more localized issue - when he characterized Mayor Nutter's efforts to extract more rent from the Boy Scouts for its Philadelphia headquarters as a "jihad." The dispute stemmed from the Boy Scouts' policy on gay scout leaders.

On broader policy matters, Santorum was consistent and persistent, as evidenced by column after column about the threat of Iran, a topic he has repeatedly returned to on the campaign trail.

Few other politicians have spent so many years warning about a nexus of Latin American strongmen and Islamo-fascists - a "gathering storm" that he says poses a lethal threat to America. Few others have talked about the potential for enemies to use an electromagnetic pulse attack to fry the nation's electric grid and kill untold numbers of Americans.

Just as Iran served as an umbrella theme for him to delve into Islamo-fascism, abortion was the most dominant of a host of Santorum's concerns on social issues. He worried about Obama's insistence that "science" (Santorum's quotes) be pursued without "morality and sense."

Long before mandates to include contraception coverage in Catholic institutions' health plans became a hot national issue, Santorum was educating readers about it - back in October 2009.

'Crazy uncle'

Santorum could be politically perceptive, such as when he acknowledged that he was "given the crazy-uncle-at-the-holidays treatment by the media" for his views on homosexuality.

He advised McCain to play it safe in choosing a vice presidential nominee - advice the nominee famously didn't follow - and predicted that McCain would ally himself with Obama after the election, which didn't happen.

Santorum could be vicious in his attacks on Obama even in the new administration's earliest days, saying the president had "deep-seated antipathy toward American values and traditions" in April 2009. But he offered praise two weeks later when he called some early foreign-policy decisions "downright Bushian."

Eventually, too, Santorum found something positive to say about McCain's presidential run. In a column four years ago headlined "Why Conservatives Should Support McCain," Santorum reiterated his differences with the Arizona senator (immigration, global warming, same-sex marriage, stem-cell research).

But, he said, he had come to the conclusion that unlike Obama or then-candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, who wanted to "give the radical jihadists a victory from the jaws of defeat," a McCain administration would do a better job keeping America safe.

And besides, Santorum concluded on April 21, 2008: "The primaries are a time when each party wrestles over what it's looking for in a presidential candidate. Now is the time to come together."


Contact Matt Katz

at 609-217-8355, mkatz@phillynews.com, or follow @mattkatz00 on Twitter.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|