The Corner

Santorum: Let Newt Make His So-Con Case

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich is seeking “forgiveness” from voters as he mulls a 2012 presidential bid. By talking openly about his past indiscretions, and making “no bones,” as he told Fox News this week, “that there were times I did the wrong thing,” Gingrich appears to be courting skeptical social conservatives.

Will Gingrich’s redemptive tack fly in Iowa? Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, another potential contender making frequent sojourns to the Hawkeye State, has a unique take. He tells National Review Online that it is fair to question someone’s behavior but emphasizes that past mistakes should not preclude a candidate from being able to make a case for the presidency. In other words, you will not find Santorum wagging his finger on the trail.

Gingrich’s past, Santorum argues, as with all candidates, should be examined, but should not be the sole focus. “[Gingrich] should be able go out and still say what he believes is true,” he says. “He, like we all do, will have to account for our past decisions. People will take [his past] as a legitimate issue to consider, as to how it would affect his ability to do his job. I am not saying that it is not a legitimate question, but it’s not an issue with respect to the positions he takes.”

“There is a difference between legitimate issues of character — someone’s behavior — and the issue of whether someone who has done something wrong in their life, now because of those mistakes, can’t talk about what is the right thing to do,” Santorum explains. Politicians who have stumbled personally, he says, are capable of making values-based arguments. “I don’t think that’s hypocritical,” he says. “That’s a dangerous line that many folks tend to cross over — that because you made a mistake, you can’t talk about this or that issue. We all make mistakes.”

“For example, I smoked pot when I was in college. Does that mean that I can’t talk about drug use? Does that mean that I can’t talk about how that’s a bad thing? Of course not,” Santorum says. “You learn from those experiences.”

“Even during that time, I knew that what I was doing was wrong,” he continues. “But just because I failed, that does not mean that I shouldn’t be able to talk about it. That’s a different issue. It’s not hypocrisy, as long as you don’t say, ‘I thought it was right, and now think it was wrong.’ If you knew what was going on, and most people do, you have moments of weakness. It happens to all of us. But that should not deter people from talking about what they believe is right.”

Santorum notes that Mitt Romney, for instance, will also have the “burden” of “explaining his past decisions,” be it on his abortion stance or the Bay State health-care program. “There are questions with every candidate,” he observes. “That’s part of the reason of why I am looking seriously at the 2012 election cycle.”

Santorum will headline the Strafford County Republican Committee’s annual Lincoln-Reagan dinner in Durham, N.H., this evening.

Robert Costa — Robert Costa is National Review's Washington editor and a CNBC political analyst. He manages NR's Capitol Hill bureau and covers the White House, Congress, and national campaigns. ...

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