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Rick Santorum's struggle: Politics vs. principle

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Rick Santorum has emerged in a crowded field of potential 2012 Republican contenders as a staunch conservative who puts principles before politics. But as columnist Tim Carney notes today, this hasn't always been the case for the former Pennsylvania Senator:

Former Sen. Rick Santorum is running for the Republican presidential nominee as the principled, unbending conservative stalwart -- which means he's also running from his past.

Santorum's beliefs are conservative, and he's been a hero for pro-lifers nationwide. But last decade he exhibited the standard Bush-era misguided pragmatism of shunting aside principle in calculated gambits aimed at political gain. Unsurprisingly, these ploys often backfired.

Bush's principle-free game playing culminated in his bailout bonanza of 2008. Remember: "I have abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system."

But the height of Santorum's political scheming came in 2004 with his relentless and spirited support of pro-choice liberal Arlen Specter that proved decisive in the 2004 GOP primary against pro-life conservative Pat Toomey. Making it worse, Specter was in line to chair the Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over abortion law.

Many pro-lifers in Washington and Pennsylvania never forgave Santorum for Specter. But the incident wasn't isolated. It reflected the GOP mind-set at the time in which party leaders saw themselves as clever chess masters setting up long-term victory with the occasional retreat or flanking move. Santorum was a main player in this hubristic game.

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