The Corner

Santorum Slams Conservatives Who Want to Ditch Cultural Issues

Today at CPAC, former senator Rick Santorum criticized other speakers and media figures for talking so much about what’s necessary for Republican victories — as New Jersey governor Chris Christie did the day before — rather than emphasizing their principles and what’s best for America.

In addition to being told they “have to win,” Santorum said, conservatives are told they “have to lose” — lose “those currently unfashionable stances on cultural and limited-government issues.” That message seemed to win over CPAC’s crowd, winning a standing ovation at the end from a packed auditorium. (The audience was much smaller for speeches earlier in the day, including that of Texas governor Rick Perry.)

Social issues are crucial to assuaging Americans’ economic concerns, he said. “When the home breaks down, the economy breaks down,” the senator argued, earning repeated waves of applause.

“I don’t want to talk about redefining marriage,” Santorum said, “I want to talk about reclaiming marriage.” He rattled off a range of policies and private-sector initiatives that might encourage marriage and small families, which also earned applause.

He rejected the media’s narrative that he won a number of victories in the 2012 primaries because of his stance on social issues — every other candidate, he pointed out, held the same views. Rather, he said, it was his attention to the dignity of working Americans. He criticized the framing of the 2012 Republican convention, which sported the slogan “we built that” to push back against President Obama’s infamous “you didn’t build that” line about small-business owners.

He argued that the GOP is too focused on a couple repetitive policies, especially cutting taxes on high earners. The Republican party, he said, doesn’t offer to struggling Americans “a message as to how things are going to get better for you, not for the employer who’s not going to hire you.” Santorum seemed to be criticizing some Republican policy positions, but the party does ha ideas that work for Americans, he said. Republicans just don’t let workers know they care and emphasize their worker- and family-friendly policies.

Santorum, who served two terms in the U.S. Senate for Pennsylvania, has expressed significant interest in running for the presidency in 2016. He won the Iowa Republican caucuses in 2012 and eventually finished second to nominee Mitt Romney. Santorum noted that he won more states than any second-place finisher since Ronald Reagan in 1976.

The man who introduced him, his longtime supporter Foster Friess, boasted earlier that Santorum’s “blue collar” appeal had made him a formidable candidate that worried the Obama administration in 2012 and explains his success winning two elections in Democratic-heavy Pennsylvania. Santorum lost his last election in Pennsylvania by a wide margin, but Friess explained that he was facing a pro-life Democrat in an exceedingly bad year for the GOP.

Patrick Brennan was a senior communications official at the Department of Health and Human Services during the Trump administration and is former opinion editor of National Review Online.

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