Santorum Readies Himself for 2012

If your only source of political information is the usual roundup of opinion journalism festivals you might be excused for believing that Rick Santorum had dropped off the face of the Earth. Following a sixteen-year career consisting of two terms in the House and two more in the Senate, Rick lost via a sixteen point thumping in 2006 at the hands of Bob Casey. At that point you may well have thought that the former senator’s run had come to an end.

Don’t tell that to Rick Santorum.

While everyone else was busy chasing tornadoes, tsunamis, and other meteorological wave analogies for congressional battles, Mr. Santorum gives every appearance of having remained focused on a larger prize just a bit further down the road. He just wrapped up a trip to New Hampshire -- perhaps an unusual December vacation destination, but not unheard of. But it seems a bit more telling when one considers that it is his seventh such visit this year.

Combine that with another seven trips to Iowa since last fall and an equal number to South Carolina in that same period and the picture becomes clearer.

Even as the rest of the nation has seemed to line up behind “Washington outsiders” and extolled the virtues of mavericks, moose hunters, and those who may or may not be witches, Rick Santorum has been reading from a dusty old Republican playbook on how one seeks the party’s nomination for president. And that book tells us that you grease the correct skids with the lubricants of pressing the flesh and good old fashioned cash.

While insisting he won’t make a decision on running for president until next year, Rick’s Pennsylvania-based political action committee has already raised nearly $1.5 million and not all of that money is sitting on the sidelines. In the 2010 election he sent $48,000 to family values candidates in New Hampshire and another $16,000 to similar hopefuls in North Carolina. He’s met with all the usual movers and shakers who are able to get people out to the primaries in the early states and established himself as a reliable friend to those in need of political support, both verbal and financial.

But does this dark horse actually stand a chance against some of the heavy hitters grabbing all the headlines this winter? It might be a more Sisyphean task than even the most jaded observers might think.

In the same way that Santorum seems to be running a 20th century campaign strategy in a 21st century fight, he is also a candidate burdened with an image of stereotypical Republican warriors from the 90s. This is the heyday of the fiscal conservatives, preaching tax cuts, smaller government, and reductions in spending. (Whether any of them actually walk that walk next year shall remain a subject for a future column.) And while there is little indication that Rick would fail the fiscal conservative litmus test, it’s really not what he is known for.

Rick is, first and foremost, a poster child of the Christian conservatives. He is an icon of the So-Cons who complained bitterly about being sent to the back of the bus in the 2010 midterms. When people look at Santorum they don’t think about a rejection of earmarks and suppressing the corporate tax rate. They think of his many colorful statements about homosexuality and man on dog antics which the government should feel free to regulate.

Also, Rick has some lingering questions about a few bookkeeping missteps regarding schools his children attended and where his taxes were paid which dogged him during the 2006 race. His long record will provide a fairly wide targeting cross-section for opponents next year which some new, fresher faces won’t need to worry about.

Also, Mr. Santorum will have to face up to this new breed as soon as his hat officially enters the ring. When asked about his reasons for considering a run he already set up the first of many potential conflicts.

"If someone gets in the race that I feel really comfortable could do the things that need to be done -- both winning and governing -- then maybe this is a chance to say, 'Let this cup pass,' " Santorum said. "At this point, given what I see out there, I'm not feeling that."

Given the man’s depth and breadth of experience in the political arena, I can only assume that he’s heard of Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, and Mike Huckabee. The only reason such a statement isn’t getting his ears pinned back in a more public fashion is that the press isn’t taking a Santorum run seriously yet. But once things become more official that will all change.

The great gotcha question of the 2012 presidential election has not yet been put to Rick as near as I can tell, but the quote above will be referenced if and when it does. “Say, Rick .. do you think Sarah Palin is qualified to be president?”

If I could give Mr. Santorum one piece of advice at this point in the proceedings, it would be to make sure he’s ready when that one comes. Because come it will. They’re going to ask everyone who runs and it will be your biggest headline for a month.