Bob Van Der Plaats is a good man and one of Iowa’s strongest social conservative voices. He was a major force in that successful drive to toss out three Iowa supreme court justices back in 2010 for legislating from the bench. But this week he’s making news for a story that makes little sense. Having endorsed Rick Santorum, which is fine and understandable, he reportedly phoned up Michele Bachmann to urge her to get out of the race. He apparently also wants Rick Perry to drop out, and also endorse Santorum.
As Bachmann is said to have pointed out to Van Der Plaats, she consistently polls ahead of Santorum. Perry does too. Perry also has far more money and a stronger organization than either of the others. These things do actually matter in politics. Contrary to the musings of some, all three candidates here have one thing in common: They’re all actual social conservatives with the record and rhetoric to back it up. The main difference between Perry, Bachmann and Santorum is that of the three, Perry has far more executive experience, has a much stronger record winning big elections, and has enough of a real libertarian streak to be able to win over independent voters. For what it’s worth, he has also helped wreck the Democratic Party in Texas over the past few years.
“But…Gardasil!” comes the response. Show me a state government that doesn’t mandate vaccinations. But I’ll show you a governor who listened when the legislature opposed him, and stood down. Gardasil is, in the grand scheme of things, a trivial issue and the stakes are too high to let it get in the way.
So what I want to know is, why does Van Der Plaats think Santorum is more electable than Bachmann or Perry? Of the three, Santorum is probably the least electable. He was great in Congress but has no national following, as Bachmann does have via the Tea Party. Santorum has no record of governing anything, as Perry has. In his last electoral foray, Santorum got trounced by a weak candidate running solely on his family name. How one transfers that into winning a national election against Barack Obama is mysterious, to say the least. Just for fun and to play the purity game, let’s also note that Santorum endorsed Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey in 2004. Specter returned the favor by knifing the GOP in the back.
The impulse to unite the social con wing of the GOP behind a single, viable candidate makes a lot of sense. I just don’t see any serious argument to be made that Rick Santorum is that candidate.
I see four tickets to stay in the race coming out of Iowa. Based on the polls plus money, organization and message, the likelihood that Rick Santorum gets one of those tickets is not high. But Rick Perry might, and social cons would do well to ponder that over the next couple of weeks.
Update: Bob Van Der Plaats was on Fox earlier, and says he called Bachmann (and Perry) on Friday to discuss the race, did not bring up the endorsement of Santorum, and did not call on anyone to drop out. Perry’s camp has confirmed that call, and says Van Der Plaats didn’t call on anyone to drop out.
So what gives? Did Bachmann misunderstand Van Der Plaats?
While he was on Fox, Van Der Plaats added that he thinks Santorum could be the Mike Huckabee of 2012. By which, he means Santorum could win Iowa before flaming out to the more “establishment” candidate? If that happens — if Iowa picks another non-winner — that’s not really good for Iowa going forward.