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I'm not here to say that the Rick Santorum campaign for President still has, or for that matter should ever have had, a chance. The former U.S. Senator for Pennsylvania has spent nearly his entire career in the public sector and since being crushed in his 2006 Senate reelection has remained on the periphery of the political discussion, easily making his opinion known but hardly making it remembered. He attempts the confrontational 'in your face' style of politics that has gained some steam of late, but lacks the charisma or control to make it seem genuine or likable. To boot, any remaining faint belief that the former Senator's campaign is not dead on arrival is crushed when seeing the top result after Googling his surname. (Warning: It's gross.)

While Rick Santorum's desperate personal ambitions are not set to continue much further in this campaign, the legacy of his ideological argument in the 2012 Republican presidential primary is something I find extremely interesting, and has potential to be remembered long after the former Senator himself.

I strongly believe the Republican Party stands at an ideological crossroad. One fork trending to the "Compassionate Conservative" movement of the 90s and early 2000s, which calls for a strong stance on moral issues, expansive domestic programs based off market-oriented principles to face social concerns and inequalities, rounded out by a neoconservative approach to foreign policy. The other fork, trends to a more traditional libertarian route. This line of thinking is pragmatic on social issues based off their relation to individual liberty, in absolute opposition to government intervention in the free market, and falls to a more isolationist "mind our own business" brand of foreign policy.

Smarter men than I will fight for or defend either of these ideological poles.  I personally find it intriguing to watch this philosophical struggle play out in the background of this year's Republican presidential primary debates.

We all know the face of the libertarian route. Even his fiercest critics cannot discount Ron Paul's intellectual articulation and honesty in representing the libertarian cause.  But while his campaign was never really taken seriously, Rick Santorum's unapologetic compassionate conservative stance perhaps has a chance to live on as the ideological rival to Paul in the party's struggle for identity moving forward.  Would a fairer match for Paul in this debate been the likes of Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol or Karl Rove, yes. But right now only one candidate in the Presidential field will defend the compassionate conservative position.

Why?

Largely because of the record of the last and only self-described "compassionate conservative" president, George W. Bush, who left office with less than stellar approval ratings. Many who claim to represent the right now say this line of thinking for the GOP opened the door for the Democratic Party's most far-left candidate in decades, Barack Obama. I however don't believe the discussion of compassionate conservatism, which came to prominence during Bush's 200o campaign, should end and be banished to the waste bin of history.

George W. Bush had an expansive and optimistic domestic policy platform in 2000 which many Americans on both sides of the aisle were intrigued by. Bush's domestic agenda was put on hold and never fully realized due to his just need to focus his presidency on foreign policy in response to 9/11. The success of Bush's neoconservative brand of foreign policy when taking on a new and extremely volatile enemy in the War on Terror is still up for heated debate. As a whole, though, I believe compassionate conservatism never really got a fair shake in the White House.

Rick Santorum, while lacking the ability to attractively articulate the application of this ideology to expansive economic policy, stands unafraid in challenging the compassionate conservative's biggest threat in 2012: Ron Paul. This clip from the August 11 Iowa debate profoundly displays the ideological contention between the two in regards to foreign policy:

As well as the debate between the two in regards to marriage:

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Once again, I am not trumpeting the cause or beliefs of Rick Santorum, but find fascinating the ideological divide between himself and Paul, both claiming to be capable of representing the same party in a presidential election.

During last night's Washington Post/Bloomberg News debate, moderator Charlie Rose asked candidates about income disparity in America. Following Gov. Rick Perry's answer blaming the large number of Americans living below the poverty line entirely on the policies implemented since Barack Obama assumed the office, Santorum said:

"There is more to it than that. And I agree with Rick, what he said, but the biggest problem with poverty in America, and we don't talk about here, because it's an economic discussion -- and that is the break down of the American family.

You want to look at the poverty rate among families that have two -- that have a husband and wife working in them? It's 5 percent today. A family that's headed by one person? It's 30 percent today. We need to do something, and we need to talk about economics. The home -- the word 'home' in Greek is the basis of the word "economy." It is -- it is the foundation of our country. We need to have a policy that supports families, that encourages marriage, that has fathers take responsibility for their children. You can't have limited government -- you can't have a wealthy society if the family breaks down, that basic unit of society. And that needs to be included in this economic discussion."

Last night's debate at Dartmouth was titled an "Economic Debate," and I certainly believe the No. 1 priority for the next President -- after maintaining national security -- should be getting the economy back on track and creating jobs. That said, in taking on another opponent for the GOP nomination, Santorum brings the compassionate conservative argument back to the table while all other candidates ignored it.

There is no doubt President George W. Bush will be long remembered in American history, and polls since he left office are trending upwards for the Texan, especially among Republicans. Yet the Republican candidate for President who I would say most closely resembles Bush's political ideology is not resonating and appears to be on the wrong side of history.

As the more libertarian-leaning Tea Party coalition of conservatives continues to grow, and the not-awful-but-ideologically-bland Mitt Romney appears to be the inevitable 2012 GOP nominee, I wonder if Rick Santorum is making compassionate conservatism's last stand.

I hope not, for the desire of a more ideologically diverse Republican Party, and country as a whole.

Author's Note: Please do not flood this comment box with "RINO" accusations. In reality, looking at the history of American politics and more specifically party systems, not to mention the premise that we should all be tied to our own ideological convictions rather than the often shifting party platforms, we are all "Republicans In Name Only," or "Democrats In Name Only," or "Whigs In Name Only" or "Democratic-Republicans In Name Only" or "Bull Moose in Name Only," etc.

One last thing…
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