Rick Santorum rising, along with the culture war. Coincidence? (+video)
Rick Santorum is the top culture warrior of the 2012 presidential race, and he trounced Mitt Romney in three contests Tuesday. Gay marriage, abortion funding, and church-state clash over birth control are all in the news.
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But Romney has a bigger Achilles’ heel: his reform of the Massachusetts health-care system from his days as governor, the template for Mr. Obama’s reform. “Repeal Obamacare” is one of the big rallying cries of 2012, and even though Romney says that’s his top priority, he still defends “Romneycare” as a state prerogative. Santorum has pounded hard on that issue.Skip to next paragraph
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There were no entrance polls on Tuesday to gauge voter motivations, but Mr. Kristol flags health care as a big factor. “I suspect at the heart of their concern was Romneycare,” he writes. “And I suspect it's worth Mitt Romney getting worried about.”
Not only does the central concern over health-care reform – the individual mandate to purchase insurance in both Massachusetts and nationally – mitigate Romney’s ability to attack Obama, but so, too, does the latest uproar over birth control. New federal rules requiring religious employers to offer birth control and sterilization in their health plans have inflamed sentiment among social conservatives, including some Roman Catholics, who account for a big swath of the electorate. “Romneycare” has a similar birth control provision.
Last week’s flap over the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation and its decision to cut funding to Planned Parenthood for breast-health services, later rescinded, has also inflamed social conservatives. And Tuesday’s federal court ruling in California striking down the ban on gay marriage may have added extra fuel to conservative support for Santorum, a vocal opponent of gay rights. Romney has flip-flopped on gay rights, and conservatives still don’t trust him.
The biggest loser on Tuesday was Gingrich, the former House speaker, who came roaring out of a big win in last month’s South Carolina primary but lost all momentum in Florida and is now struggling in polls, money, and organization. Now on his third marriage, Gingrich never seemed a natural fit for the social conservative vote.
The Republican voters of South Carolina emphasized his leadership background in Congress as his saleable feature, and offered redemption for his past marital infidelities. But Santorum’s impeccable family story – and, most recently, his temporary break from the campaign trail to be with his disabled daughter during a serious illness – beats Gingrich easily.
In a way, the flubbing of the result in the first contest, the Iowa caucuses, creates a “what might have been” scenario for Santorum. He was ultimately declared the winner, after the initial count put Romney ahead by just eight votes. But he never got his Iowa bounce.
“Rick Santorum is emerging as a tragic hero of American conservatism: so much potential, such bad luck,” writes Oxford historian Timothy Stanley at CNN.com. “His victories last night demonstrate what might have happened if the Republican Right had coalesced around him for the past month instead of the hyperbolic Newt Gingrich. But a counting error in Iowa delayed his momentum and it's only now that the Republicans are realizing just how good a candidate he can be.”
Texas Congressman Paul, too, was a loser on Tuesday. He had shifted to a caucus-centric strategy, in a bid for delegates, but came up short. He did beat Romney in Minnesota, but came in last in Colorado and Missouri.
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