Credit former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania: He didn’t scrap his usual message, heavy on themes of religious faith and the importance of socially conservative values, just because he was in front of an audience focused on gun rights and the Second Amendment.
The result was that a speech that would have won loud applause at, say, the Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference was greeted, by and large, with a respectful and indisputably attentive silence at the NRA’s Annual Meeting in Nashville Friday.
Santorum faced a similar issue in last year’s appearance, where his remarks appeared to indicate that the NRA’s members were insufficiently engaged in other fights for liberty: “I’m coming to you to say thank you first . . . but it’s not enough. Our rights are being assailed everywhere. Just protecting the Second Amendment while all our other freedoms falter is not a winning strategy. We need you to engage.”
This year, Santorum said, “We still need and should have faith, because we are still a country deeply committed to the morals and values that made our country great, and the faith that made our country great.”
It’s not often that a potential presidential candidate tells cites G. K. Chesterton to a room full of gun enthusiasts, or declares to the same audience that “The less virtuous we are as a society, the less free we will be.”
Santorum seemed to sense the crowd’s restrained response, and even referenced it at one point in his speech. “As much as I’d like to engage you to applaud,” he said, “I’ve come here to engage you to change this country.” That was reassuring, since he had fewer standing ovations and roaring applause lines than Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker.
Make no mistake, Santorum showed that he knows how to grab an audience right from the start, telling the story of how his daughter Bella’s serious health issues prompted him to suspend his campaign for a short period just two weeks after his win in the Iowa caucuses.
#related#“Her heart rate was 200. . . . She can’t cough very well because her muscle tone is very low, can’t swallow well. . . . Her lungs were completely full of fluid.” His campaign, on hold, issued a statement asking for prayers. Santorum described spending the night in the hospital, praying with his wife, and “after a night of prayer, her lungs were perfectly clear.”
The speech was classic Santorum, for better or worse: an impassioned mix of historical allusions, discussions of Constitutional principles, and intense fear for the country’s future.
“We are at a time in America where we need people to be committed, to understand that this country is in great jeopardy,” Santorum said. “Freedom is under assault, not by the gay and lesbian community, no, but by the Left. Government is trying to tell you how you’re supposed to run your life, what you’re supposed to believe now. They’re not looking for tolerance; they’re looking for conformity.”
Santorum did address gun issues, garnering loud applause when he held up his concealed carry permit. “The Second Amendment is there to protect our First Amendment.”