Santorum’s Choice

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By Steve Deace

Rick Santorum (and his supporters) have a decision to make.

Does Santorum still believe that Mitt Romney is “the candidate that will stand up for the conservative principles that we hold dear” as he said when he endorsed him four years ago instead of Mike Huckabee (he said Romney and not Huckabee was “the only place to go” for conservatives)?

Or is Santorum now firmly convinced that Romney is the man he confronted in the final debate before the Iowa Caucuses for destroying marriage in his own state, and represents a total repudiation of the values and principles Santorum has fought for his entire political career?

If Santorum can live with Obamney as the alternative to Obama this fall, then by all means he should continue doing exactly what he’s doing. Who knows, maybe he’ll do it well enough to earn a spot on Romney’s ticket or at least in a Romney administration. It shouldn’t be all that far-fetched that Santorum would join up with Romney, because he did it just four years ago.

But if Santorum believes that replacing Obama with Obamney represents a major setback in the battle to win the future for our children and grandchildren, then he needs to realize he may never have as much leverage on a national stage then he does right now to give the country a true alternative in the general election—and also stop the Republicrat establishment he fought as a senator from having its way yet again.

At this point, barring divine intervention, there is not a path to the nomination for Santorum that I am aware of. He is even in worse shape than Huckabee was at this point in 2008.

Santorum did not get the decisive Iowa Caucus victory Huckabee got. We eventually found out he did win by a slim margin, but any bounce or momentum he would’ve gotten from that victory was mitigated by the bungling of the outcome (which was no fault of his own).

Santorum, a northern Catholic from Pennsylvania well known to New Hampshire voters, got about 3,500 fewer votes in the Granite State primary than Huckabee got as an unknown Southern Baptist in 2008.

One week after receiving a vote of confidence of the majority of Christian leaders meeting in Texas, Santorum lost the Catholic vote and finished behind Romney in third among evangelical voters in one of the most evangelically-populated primaries in the process. Huckabee didn’t win South Carolina four years ago, either, but he did get almost 27,000 more votes than Santorum did on Saturday. Santorum suffered this setback in South Carolina despite the fact one of his top aides is a long-time South Carolina Republican activist and the executive director of Huckabee’s PAC.

Santorum faces the disadvantage of having to face a well-known southerner in Newt Gingrich in all the conservative southern states he’d typically be the most likely to find a receptive audience to his message, something Huckabee didn’t face as the true southern candidate in 2008.

Santorum has fought hard to get to this point, and should be commended for that. He’s here both because of his own work ethic and tenacity, and the fact the moment was too big for previous frontrunners Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry. If either of them would’ve had staying power, Santorum doesn’t make it this far. But they didn’t, and Santorum to his credit took full advantage of that.

But this is now a whole new ballgame.

Santorum’s presidential candidacy is like the mid-major school in the NCAA Tournament that makes it all the way to the Final Four after taking advantage of the chaotic bracket rearranged by upsets. Once that upstart team gets to the Final Four, it usually faces a reality check up against elite competition. Make no mistake, Santorum is facing a similar reality check.

On one side is Romney, who is not going to lose any of his party establishment support for as long as he’s still in the race. Romney has the 25-30% of the primary electorate the establishment represents locked up, and the establishment never breaks ranks. So siphoning off votes from Romney likely isn’t an option for Santorum, nor is persuading Ron Paul’s supporters. At times it seems almost as if the Paul campaign detests Santorum more than President Obama thanks to a lingering feud between Santorum and National Right to Work, which basically is Paul’s presidential campaign apparatus. This explains why pretty much every nasty anti-Santorum flier or robo-call distributed in this campaign has come from either the Paul campaign or those sympathetic to it.

That leaves Santorum no other strategic alternative but to raise himself by diminishing Gingrich, a man with whom he’s been friends for 20 years.

However, the only reason for conservatives to choose Santorum over Gingrich is because Santorum has been a better husband and father over the course of his life, because their political records are virtually identical.

If conservatives are concerned about Gingrich’s past personal baggage, and skeptical they have seen enough evidence of positive life change over the past decade to warrant giving him another chance, then they should absolutely support Santorum and those conservatives likely already are. However, it’s obvious after South Carolina the ranks of those conservatives are dwindling.

That leaves each man’s political record to draw distinctions for most voters, and their records are virtually indistinguishable.

Every pro-life accomplishment Santorum lists off Gingrich can also claim (I don’t count winning the deeply flawed partial-birth abortion “ban” that didn’t really ban anything at the Supreme Court as a win). Same goes for defending marriage. Gingrich joined Santorum as one of the original signers of the Personhood pledge. Their legislative records on fiscal issues is also very similar.

Don’t like the fact Gingrich has been “pro-life with exceptions” throughout most of his career until recently? Neither do I. Just as I don’t care much for the all the pro-abort RINOs Santorum’s PAC has given money to.

Don’t like the fact Gingrich once supported a Romneycare-style mandate and supported the TARP bailout? Neither do I. Just as I don’t care much for Santorum’s vote for Medicare Part D, which until Obamacare was the biggest welfare state program in American history.

Don’t like the fact Gingrich once sat on Nancy Pelosi’s big comfy couch? Neither do I. Just as I don’t care much for Santorum doing an endorsement photo-op with a pro-abort/pro-global warming Pelosi-clone named Christie Todd Whitman.

Don’t like the fact Gingrich endorsed a total RINO named Dede Scozzafava in a critical primary? Neither do I. Just as I don’t care much for Santorum’s support of notorious RINO Arlen Specter in a crucial primary, which put Specter in office long enough to cast one of the critical votes in favor of Obamacare.

Everything principled conservatives don’t like about Gingrich on virtually every issue is also a weakness of Santorum’s. Likewise, virtually everything you do like about Santorum’s record on the issues is also a strength for Gingrich. Even their foreign policy views are carbon copies of one another. Heck, these two guys could pretty much finish one another’s sentences.

After vetting these candidates I came to the conclusion Santorum was no more consistent on the issues than Gingrich, but he has been more consistent in his personal character and that obviously matters.

Is Santorum really prepared to make the case his 20-year friend hasn’t really undergone the positive life change his daughters and sons-in-law who know him best say he has? Unless he is there is really no other case Santorum can make for his superiority to Gingrich as a candidate, because the leadership intangibles Gingrich brings to the table are what has caused conservatives to rally to him instead of Santorum.

Gingrich is the only man alive who has actually won a national election on conservative ideology and reform. Gingrich has pretty much already accomplished all the things Santorum is promising to do. Gingrich has demonstrated the most consistent courage and conviction on the need to reinstitute the rule of law, which in my opinion is the most important issue of the day. Gingrich is the first Republican political figure in a generation to be able to put the media in its place and win the crucial sound bite battle in the arena of ideas, where conservatives have lost so much ground to the left since Ronald Reagan left office.

If you’re a conservative that thinks the country needs a chaplain in the White House then Santorum is rightfully your candidate. The rest of us who feel like we are at war both at home and abroad with the future in peril and desperately need a general have settled on Gingrich. South Carolina’s primary represents every variation of American conservatism, and it gave an overwhelming nod to Gingrich as the one to challenge Romney.

If Santorum (and his supporters) are thinking critically and not emotionally he has to know this. I have a hard time believing a guy that throughout his career has almost always chosen to take the best deal he can get rather than dying for the cause hasn’t thought about this already. In fact, Santorum has probably played out a million scenarios in his mind for what the best deal looks like before I even wrote this.

If so, he also has to know that between now and January 31st he will have more leverage to stop Romney and the party establishment then he will ever have, because if Romney loses Florida that will be a mortal blow to his candidacy he likely will not recover from. If Santorum cannot come out of the two Florida debates this week making any definitive headway, then he becomes nothing more than an unintentional stalking horse for Romney heading into the primary by draining votes from Gingrich. It’s quite possible Santorum may not win another delegate.

Gingrich needs Santorum at the moment, but if Gingrich were to win Florida – as he did South Carolina – without him then Santorum’s clout in this race will be erased just as quickly as the clout of the Christian leaders who endorsed Santorum in name only last week saw theirs evaporate.

Santorum (and his supporters) have a decision to make, and there’s not much time to make it. Every day this decision is put off only serves to help Romney and the party establishment that has done so much damage to the conservative brand and thus the country already.

P.S…As a personal aside…

If I really thought these pro-life and pro-family leaders who didn’t help Huckabee four years ago were really going to help Santorum, I wouldn’t have publicly endorsed Gingrich prior to the Iowa Caucuses. Although I am convinced Gingrich would make the better president, if I thought there was going to be a real coalescing behind Santorum that included real resources I would’ve kept quiet, and just voted for Gingrich without saying anything beforehand so as not to get in the public way of such a coalescing.

But I did my homework and talked to every little birdie I had, and I knew that a real coalescing wasn’t going to happen. Just as I knew nothing tangible would come out of the Texas meeting so there was no reason in the end for me to spend two days there. And look what happened, Gingrich’s numbers with evangelicals went up after these evangelical “leaders” supposedly coalesced behind Santorum.

Here’s an inconvenient truth many of you won’t want to know but you must — many of those most public about their support for Santorum now whitewashed John McRomney’s record four years ago and are still doing so. Heck, when Gary Bauer was on Fox News endorsing Santorum, I couldn’t tell if he was endorsing Santorum or Romney.

At some point we have to grow up as Christians, and realize that political engagement is not as simple as selling our souls versus tilting at windmills. We have to move beyond the factions/tribalistic battles all of us have wallowed in, me more so than most. We have to stop looking at who feels our pain, and start looking for someone that will do something about it.

After getting to tour the sausage factory from the inside, I learned this replay of high school clique turf wars is exactly what the Republican Party establishment wants us to do, as opposed to putting issues and leadership ahead of churchy warm fuzzies. Divide and conquer is the oldest warfare strategy known to man. Time and again we play into their hands, as do some of our leaders. And some of these “leaders” do so on purpose, because it makes it easier for them to cash the check from the establishment after they’ve sabotaged their own.

I’ve had enough, and I’m not getting fooled again. My book isn’t about getting fooled again by candidates. It’s about getting fooled again by a failed political paradigm and a failed generation of leadership that has either been fooled or is fooling us over and over again.

I’m done being fooled. Going with Gingrich was my way of saying I’ve had enough of ineffective Christian leadership propping up the Republican Party establishment either via their naiveté or duplicity, thus doing further damage to my kids’ future.

From now on, I’m picking who I think my Biblical worldview says is the best candidate, regardless of which table in the lunch room they sit at, and then let God be the judge of the decision I made and why I made it.