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Rick Santorum, A Traditional Conservative Republican: Updated

 Rick Santorum had served Pennsylvania for a total of sixteen years; four years in the house, followed by twelve years in the Senate. In the last two years of his Senate career, he had an average Club For Growth rating of 77%, compared to an average of 73% for all Senate Republicans over that same time period. In the previous thirteen years before the Club had a scorecard, Santorum had accumulated an average score of 76% on the National Taxpayers Union scorecard, a non-partisan group that advocates for limited government. This compares to a 71% average among all Republicans.

Santorum is your typical pro-life, traditional marriage, conservative who staunchly opposed the raising of taxes and most big government ideas as evidenced in his votes for a balanced budget amendment and line-item veto power in 1995. I think of him as a traditional conservative and not only in regard to social issues. He hasn’t fought the party or stood up against Bush but voted along with a majority of Republicans for some big spending bills like the “No Child Left Behind Act” and Bush’s Medicare Prescription Drug Act. These votes, which were in support of the Republican president, were the expected behavior of conservatives at the time, thus giving a new definition to the term “traditional conservatives.” These traditional conservatives generally behave in a conservative manner except when party norms demand otherwise.

This is the type of candidate we’ve looked for and accepted in the past, unlike the “conservative reformer” we currently seek. Santorum’s record is not that of one who has consistently fought corruption and he hasn’t taken on the role of the “sudden and relentless reformer” we so desperately seek in order to root out the corruption and cronyism Washington is currently infested with. However, the same is true of the rest of the field. (See Update below)

Santorum has no record of having fought corruption and has never taken the role of the “sudden and relentless reformer” we so desperately seek in order to root out the corruption and cronyism Washington is currently infested with. However, the same is true of the rest of the field.

On the flip side, Santorum can’t be described as the “bipartisan” guy who voted with a majority of Democrats against his party, a basher of conservatism, or someone who has praised the Obama agenda. The same can’t be said of Huntsman who has joined the Obama administration, or of Romney who had expressed great pride in running to the left of Kennedy, or of Newt who promoted Obama’s education agenda. Santorum has never done anything which comes close to such action.

Is Santorum the greatest conservative who will bring about “sudden and relentless reform”? Probably not. Can he be trusted to implement stick to his promises of basic reform such as overturning Obamacare and cutting down the size of the federal government? It definitely seems to be so.

Santorum’s strong stance for social issues, which has always been a top priority for many conservatives, is usually the first (and for some the only) thing which comes to mind, thanks in part to his repeated vocal support, and partly thanks to the media’s ability to focus only on the social sentences which emerge from his mouth. As a pro-lifer, I consider his being a social conservative as an important bonus which doesn’t contradict or minimize his promises to repeal Obamacare or his proposed economic plans which include the elimination of the corporate income tax for manufacturers.

Individual mandates, which greatly expand the power of the government and limit individual choice, is guaranteed to remain a hot topic throughout the campaign especially since the Supreme Court will take on the case prior to the elections. Three of the candidates, including the two current frontrunners, have supported individual mandates at some point during their political career: Perry wished to enforce mandates for the Gardasil vaccine, while Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney endorsed health-insurance mandates. All three have expressed great opposition to Obamacare and vow to repeal the federal health care mandate, and we can hope they will keep their word regarding Obamacare. The knowledge, though, that they’ve supported similar ideas in the past, indicates a greater possibility of them turning to big-government solutions when forced to deal with other issues throughout their presidency.

Santorum, on the other hand, hasn’t actively engaged in promoting greater government control or turned to government as the solution to any and every situation on hand. Although Santorum has never really gone against the flow and has voted for several big-government bills such as Bush’s Prescription Plan, he stood together with conservatives in the opposition against Obamacare, Cap & Trade, and other bills destructive to American economy and American freedom.

Throughout his years in public service Santorum has taken an active role and had sponsored/co-sponsored many bills. His leadership was also visible in his endorsement of Doug Hoffman, the Tea Party candidate of NY-23 who ran against RINO party-backed Scozzafava. Santorum was the second conservative (Governor Palin was the very first) to throw their support behind Hoffman, who was unknown at the time.

Santorum’s biggest detraction is his inability to garner more than a couple of point in the polls which leads to people wary of supporting someone so low in the polls. He’s not the cool and calm guy as Obama had been in 2008, and his imperfect debates performances where he came across to many as whiny has not helped his image. Although he has adopted a somewhat better tone, he still needs additional improvement.

Santorum’s endorsement of his fellow Pennsylvanian Arlen Spector in 2004 – five years prior to Specter’s defection to the Democrats – is not that difficult to understand when taking into consideration that Specter was chairman of the Republican Conference in the Senate, and as such, was expected to support an incumbent senator’s reelection campaign.

Similarly, his massive defeat in 2006 where he lost with seventeen points may be a perfect bumper slogan although it was simply the results of a tough year for many conservatives who faced reelection due to the intense anti-Bush sentiments. Many respected conservatives in red states barely won with a small margin while quite a few seats went blue. George Allen, a conservative Senator who was up for reelection in the conservative state of Virginia lost his reelection bid in 2006 to Democrat Jim Webb. Santorum’s loss in Pennsylvania, which is a blue-leaning state and had gone for the Democrats during the last five presidential elections, is thus not that eyebrow-raising. Even with the Tea Party momentum and anti-Obama sentiments in 2010, Toomey won the senatorial race in PA with a mere two percent.

In addition to the anti-Republican emotions which ran extremely high, Santorum was smeared by many liberal groups such as the Trial Lawyers of America PAC who ran misleading television ads against him because of his attempts to pass tort reform.

You can see additional specific details of Santorum’s record, both negative and positive, at Club For Growth.

Voters who are seeking stability, substance, trustworthiness, and basic conservatism can find them all within Candidate Santorum and Senator Santorum. Although the dream candidate would be a conservative reformer, we are currently faced with compassionate conservatives, flip-flopping conservatives, conservatives in talk only, or a traditional conservative, of which the traditional version seems like the best option.

UPDATE:

I’ve originally written “Santorum has no record of having fought corruption …” but have been made aware I’ve missed the important role he’d played as a freshman still as congressman. He, together with six other highly influential Congressmen  formed a group known as the “Gang of Seven”  who publicly criticized what is now known as the Housing Banking Scandal. The scandal, which involved over 450 representatives who were allowed to overdraw their congressional accounts without penalty, received heavy media attention mostly due to the diligent efforts of the Gang of Seven. Santorum’s involvement with the Gang of Seven gained him a lot of notoriety early in his career as an advocate against government corruption.

Abie Rubin blogs at The Thinking Voter and can be followed on twitter.

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