Choose or Lose
By Steve Deace
There are only two Republican candidates who are out of the presidential race come January 4th if they don’t win the January 3rd Iowa Caucuses—and they’re the two candidates Christian pro-family/pro-life voters trust the most.
Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum are each working feverishly to appeal to the same sizable stash of undecided (or soft committed) Christian pro-family/pro-life voters in the first in the nation caucus state. However, unless one of them can successfully close the sale to those voters, it is likely the end result will be a Balkanizing of this key constituency that will benefit Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, or Mitt Romney.
The other end result would be Christian pro-family/pro-life voters failing to take advantage of the most unpopular Democrat incumbent president running for re-election since 1980.
Four years ago a split between grassroots Christian pro-family/pro-life voters who supported Mike Huckabee and their national leadership, many of whom either openly supported Romney or whitewashed his liberal record in Massachusetts, ultimately led to RINO John McCain winning the nomination. This time many Christian pro-family/pro-life leaders are remaining silent or on the sidelines. Without a winsome standard-bearer like Huckabee in the race, many grassroots Christian pro-family/pro-life voters remain undecided.
Bachmann and Santorum are virtually identical to Huckabee on the pro-family and pro-life issues. However, they aren’t openly opposed by groups like Club for Growth, which hammered Huckabee four years ago. The Club for Growth says that Santorum’s record as a U.S. Senator was “above average” on fiscal issues. The group is “confident” Bachmann, who founded the Tea Party Caucus in the U.S. Congress, would “be a pro growth president.” The talk radio conservatarians also are much fonder of Bachmann and Santorum than they were Huckabee four years ago.
Yet despite much less skepticism about their adherence to conservative orthodoxy across the issue spectrum than Huckabee had to overcome, Bachmann and Santorum are struggling much more than Huckabee did to put together a coalition capable of winning the Iowa Caucuses and elevating them into national relevancy.
Perhaps the biggest reason for this is the existence of one another.
Four years ago there were other solidly pro-family and pro-life candidates besides Huckabee running for president, but after Sam Brownback dropped out of the race following the Iowa Straw Poll, he was the only candidate seriously attempting to coalesce those people in Iowa. That gave Huckabee a free shot at contrasting himself one-on-one with the flip-flopping Romney, and history records Huckabee won that battle decisively.
Fast forward four years later and Bachmann and Santorum are simultaneously attempting to occupy the same anti-Romney space once owned by Huckabee, and it’s diluting this key voting bloc. Throw in the inroads Gingrich has made with these voters after several acclaimed debate performances and a well-received speech at the 2011 Values Voter Summit, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that there isn’t enough room for both Bachmann and Santorum to both survive and thrive.
Since it’s highly unlikely either Bachmann or Santorum will volunteer between now and January 3rd to drop out of the race and endorse the other, pro-family/pro-life activists in Iowa are probably going to have to help make this decision for them.
This puts an even heavier emphasis on endorsements from respected and recognized leaders like Congressman Steve King and Bob Vander Plaats of The FAMiLY LEADER, because undecided voters are looking for any sign that either Bachmann or Santorum is the trusted pro-family/pro-life field general to coalesce behind. Bachmann has already snagged the endorsement of Tamara Scott, the state coordinator for Concerned Women for America.
In the meantime, voters are conducting a tale of the tape between Bachmann and Santorum. Since both have largely earned the trust of Christian pro-family/pro-life voters, the debate now becomes about what other strengths they bring to the table that distinguishes one from the other.
Santorum is the only Republican running for president this year that has actually defeated an incumbent Democrat. However, he lost his last re-election campaign in 2006 by 18 points. Santorum hasn’t won an election since 2000, but Bachmann has won seven elections since then (if you count her victory in the 2011 Iowa Straw Poll). Primary polls show both currently mired in single-digits, but a coalescing of social conservatives behind either Bachmann or Santorum would raise their standing from second to first tier.
Bachmann has already had her turn as the GOP’s “flavor of the month” and usually it’s hard to ascend, descend, and then ascend again in the same campaign cycle. Meanwhile, Santorum is the one Republican candidate who has yet to surge. That could mean his surge is still coming, or it’s never coming at all.
Santorum is the first candidate to visit all of Iowa’s 99 counties, but Bachmann could be the first to have county chairmen in all 99 counties. Of the numerous little birdies I have spoken to in recent days about comparing and contrasting the organizational strength of Bachmann and Santorum, most give the edge to Bachmann.
Tea Party Ties
One little birdie I spoke to who lives outside of Iowa and admires both Bachmann and Santorum said the following: “Bachmann has spent the last four years speaking at Tea Party and pro-life, pro-family events all over the country. They know her already and will work for her. She is also the head of the Tea Party Caucus in Congress. As a leader of a coalition of 25 Tea Party groups, I can attest that Tea Party activists know little about Santorum, but they all know who Bachmann is. We really don’t have the time to educate social conservatives and Tea Party people as to who Santorum is. Time is too short.”
The reason this matters is because while you cannot win the Republican nomination without Christian pro-family/pro-life voters, you also can’t win it with just Christian pro-family/pro-life voters, either, unless you manage to get every single one of them. Barring that miracle, either Bachmann or Santorum will need to rally support from another grassroots faction of Republican primary voters to be a threat to defeat Romney for the nomination.
This is an issue that ranks near the top for a lot of Republican primary voters. Both Bachmann and Santorum opposed the McCain-Kennedy amnesty compromises. But according to Numbers USA, Bachmann is the tougher of the two on illegal immigration. This is another issue that helps a candidate like a Bachmann or a Santorum expand their base of support beyond true-blue Christian pro-family/pro-life voters to form a potential winning coalition.
Right to Work
Iowa has been one of the main battlegrounds for the Right to Work issue the past few years. National Right to Work has spent considerable resources in the first in the nation caucus state fighting pro-union Democrats, and is at least partially to thank for the election of many of the state’s new breed of no-compromise Constitutionalists in the Iowa Legislature.
One thing I learned from the Right to Work people while they were working the state is how little they hide their disdain for Santorum, who opposes a National Right to Work law. Many of these Right to Work people are currently working for or supporting Paul’s presidential campaign. My guess is if they sense a coalescing behind Santorum should threaten Paul’s prospects in the Iowa Caucuses, they will come out guns blazing against Santorum. These are folks who don’t set their phasers on stun.
Neither Bachmann nor Santorum has a wealth of executive experience, but their legislative experience in Washington makes them among the most well-informed on foreign policy issues.
I’ve said this several times the past six months, but if Congresswoman Michele Bachmann were Governor Michael Bachmann instead, then she’d have a lot better poll numbers. That’s because voters in general are not used to voting for women (let alone legislators) for president. I don’t know a single likely conservative Iowa caucus-goer that doesn’t overall love where she’s at on the issues, but a lot of times those that are the most skeptical about voting for a woman are women. For instance, one objection to voting for a woman I hear from other women is what message will that send the radical Islamists who degrade women? Will that be seen as a sign of weakness on our part? If you think I’m overestimating the gender factor, consider that large pockets of Minnesota are among the most progressive in the country. Yet Bachmann is the first woman that state has ever sent to the U.S. Congress. Iowa never has elected a woman.
Bachmann has also earned a reputation for being repeatedly late to events, something that annoys Iowans that are used to being feted by candidates. That’s the kind of word-of-mouth advertising no candidate needs.
On the plus side, Bachmann probably won the record-turnout Iowa Straw Poll because of her staunch opposition to raising the debt ceiling last summer. Santorum criticized Bachmann for her no-compromise stance on the debt ceiling issue, which clearly most Iowa Caucus voters agreed with.
On the other hand, unless you’re already a Santorum supporter the first two things that immediately come to mind when you hear his name may be Arlen Specter and Christine Todd Whitman. That’s because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard about Santorum’s endorsements of these two pro-infanticide RINOs from Iowans. Sometimes it’s almost as if Santorum did nothing else in the U.S. Senate other than those two endorsements.
I also hear Santorum get knocked for talking too much like a legislator and not enough like a president, and many blame that for the reason he’s yet to have his turn as the “flavor of the month.”
If you’re one of the Christian pro-family/pro-life voters who doesn’t want Romney and doesn’t yet trust Gingrich, then you’re looking strongly at Bachmann and Santorum as your champion. Especially since Rick Perry is a virtual non-entity in the state, despite being the only one currently running network TV ads. Perry just hasn’t been able to overcome a slew of disastrous debate performances and gaffes.
If you think your moral conscience can easily justify voting for either Bachmann or Santorum, then the wisest course of action could be to look at secondary factors that distinguishes one from the other—and convince the like minded among you to do the same.
Otherwise, principled pro-family/pro-life voters will split their votes between two principled candidates, and find themselves at the mercy of a flawed process that is all too eager to sell them out.