Politics & Policy

Santorum Worries Bill Clinton Spread Abortion Rumor about His Wife

Santorum at the Iowa Faith & Freedom event in Des Moines, Iowa. (Steve Pope/Getty)

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum believes Bill Clinton may have spread a rumor that his wife had a late-term abortion in the late 90s and covered it up.

“It was very upsetting to the family that the president . . . would think such a thing,” the Pennsylvania Republican tells National Review. “It just shows a darkness that I was surprised to see. And maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, but I was surprised to see that type of an attitude.”

Santorum’s pro-life credentials have endeared him to social conservatives ever since the former senator led the fight to override Clinton’s veto of a partial-birth–abortion ban in 1997, a political debate that played out just before the Santorums lost a child who was born prematurely after being diagnosed with a fatal birth defect. Santorum, a long-shot presidential candidate, is working to re-constitute the political coalition that made him a surprise winner of the Iowa Republican caucuses in 2012.

The abortion accusation resurfaced when the Washington Free Beacon reported that Clinton’s biographer, Taylor Branch, had inferred from his interviews with the former president that Clinton believed the Santorums had lied about the tragedy.

“[Clinton] said something cryptic about Santorum,” Branch recalled, per the report. “In retrospect, after he said that cryptic remark about his wife, I wondered if what he was saying was that it would be found out that what they said was actually an infant death was instead really an abortion.”

Santorum has long suspected that Democratic operatives started the rumor in order to discredit his support for the partial-birth–abortion ban, but he says he didn’t “even want to think” that Clinton himself had started it. “My guess is it came from someone within the liberal/Democrat apparatus,” he says. “How much [Clinton] personally was involved with that, or his political team, I don’t know. I guess I wouldn’t be surprised, but I don’t know if there’s any truth to that.”

#share#So far, it hasn’t come up in Iowa, where Santorum is retracing his steps on the 2012 trail in an attempt to make his oft-overlooked candidacy for the 2016 GOP nomination take off.

“There’s still a lot of very goodwill for us,” he says. “We have a lot of folks who still like us. They just don’t see us. I still run into people who say ‘Oh, I didn’t know that you were running’ because of the lack of exposure that we get in the national circle.”

#related#Slow-going or not, Santorum said that his appearances before small groups of potential voters are allowing him to build a grassroots organization in the state. “I know the message, when I get a chance to get in front of folks, is resonating,” he says.

And he offered a silver-lining to being ignored for most of the campaign. “Four years ago proved that the best analogy to a Republican presidential primary is a demolition derby,” he says. “Sometimes, sitting in the corner with nobody beating up on you, nobody smashing into you, can be a very good place to be. And it was four years ago and we’ll find out whether it is this time.”

— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter for National Review.

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