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Santorum: The Anti-Snob
The former senator makes his blue-collar pitch.


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Robert Costa

 

‘What is up with this guy? Why does he go down one stupid rabbit trail after another?” That was Joe Scarborough’s question on Tuesday’s Morning Joe. He and other MSNBC pundits were incredulous about Rick Santorum, who recently called President Obama a “snob” who “wants everybody to go to college.” On the Daily Show the previous night, comedian Jon Stewart was similarly shocked. “You’re against people educating their kids because it’s fancy?” he wondered.

But on the campaign trail, Santorum’s “snob” comment drew cheers from Republican primary voters. “It resonates,” says former Colorado congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave.

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Musgrave, who works for the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, traveled to small Michigan towns this week on a pro-Santorum bus tour. At every stop, she says, Santorum’s pugnacious rhetoric was embraced by Rust Belt conservatives.

“The last I checked, about a third of the people in this country have a college degree,” Musgrave says. Santorum’s remark, she says, connects with voters who are skeptical of Obama’s emphasis on higher education, which is a costly endeavor for many families and unnecessary for many workers.

“[Santorum] recognizes that people want to be valued whether they have a college education or not,” she says. “Just try to imagine your life without your plumber or your mechanic.”

John Brabender, Santorum’s senior adviser, agrees. And he shrugs off the media’s criticism. Brabender has guided Santorum’s political campaigns since 1990. In every race, he says, connecting Santorum’s working-class roots to the broader national narrative was instrumental to victory. Tough words for the president, he says, are part of the strategy.

“The reason people were offended by Obama’s remark is that it’s part of what bothers people about him,” Brabender says. “The president was saying that, okay, he’s already picked your health care and now he’s going to pick your career path.”

When Brabender and Santorum heard Obama heap praise upon the benefits of college, they saw an opening to frame the pro-manufacturing theme of their campaign as a broader critique of the president. In other words, the “snob” versus the blue-collar families that lack “establishment” credentials.

“Our argument is, look, if you want to go to college, that’s a great thing. We should help them and make sure that when they get out of college, they have opportunities,” Brabender says. “But there are people who will have other options. That’s what this country is about — the freedom to do what you think is best for yourself. If college isn’t for you, and you want to go into a trade or into the military, you should be encouraged.”

Santorum echoes that message on the stump. “Not all folks are gifted in the same way,” he told a Michigan crowd this week. “There are good decent men and women who go out and work hard every day and put their skills to the test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor trying to indoctrinate them.” He then praised those who work “with their hands.”



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