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Facing media attacks will Santorum change his message?

From hinting at Islamophobia when his aide clearly misspoke, to calling him anti-women when a donor cracked a bad joke, to calling him a bigot when what was widely reported was a sentence that he did not even say, its hard to make the case that there is not a faction of the mainstream media waiting to pounce on outspoken socially conservative Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum. Now that the former Pennsylvania senator's blue-collar sensitive, pro-growth, pro-values message has picked up steam, two conservative columnists commented Tuesday on the media aggression towards his views, and how Santorum should handle .

Rich Lowry of The National Review wrote this morning that the media has "unleashed the hounds" on Santorum's campaign:

"Santorum is a standing affront to the sensibilities and assumptions of the media and political elite. That elite is constantly writing the obituary for social conservatism, which is supposed to wither away and leave a polite, undisturbed consensus in favor of social liberalism. Santorum not only defends beliefs that are looked down upon as dated and unrealistic; he does it with a passionate sincerity that opens him to mockery and attack."

William McGurn also commented on "the politics of the double standard on social issues" in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal, pointing out that while campaigning for president in 2008, Barack Obama went unquestioned when he said marriage is between a man and woman, but when Rick Santorum says the same its a different issue.

McGurn argues that to deal with this double standard, Santorum should not all together drop the views that got him where he is, but "fold them into his larger narrative about the free society."

"That narrative has to do with pointing out the dependency that comes with an expanding federal government, the importance of family, and the threat to freedom when, say, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals or a Health and Human Services secretary can substitute their own opinions on these issues for the judgment of the American people.

Mr. Santorum comes to the task well equipped. He echoes Ronald Reagan, for example, when he talks about how small government requires strong families. Or when he's pointing out the intolerance of a federal government bent on forcing religious individuals and institutions to underwrite practices (e.g., contraception and sterilization) they regard as abhorrent."

McGurn goes on to advise Santorum to not take the media bait allowing himself to be dragged into the weeds of theological debate.

Lowry suggests that Santorum's positions are less extreme than his critics would like to label, and also warns the candidate against comments that play into the negative image of him. But Lowry perhaps goes beyond McGurn in arguing that the strength of Santorum's values oriented message not only promotes freedom, but appeals to those who recognize that the problems in the American home and private economy are intertwined:

"Although his critics will never credit him for it, Santorum’s social conservatism brings with it an unstinting devotion to human dignity, a touchstone for the former senator. The latest position for which he’s taking incoming is his opposition to a government mandate for insurance coverage of prenatal testing often used to identify handicapped babies who are subsequently aborted. For his detractors, his respect for the disabled is trumped by his unforgivable opposition to abortion.

Santorum conceives of his social views as a badly needed support for economic aspiration. It’s no accident that the Republican candidate most committed to the traditional family and associated virtues is also the one who talks most about the struggles of the working class. He frequently cites research from the Brookings Institution showing that simply getting a high-school diploma, getting a job, and getting married before having children — the so-called success sequence — are powerful tools against poverty."

[...]

"Santorum occasionally needs to curb his enthusiasms. But the implicit message of his candidacy is unassailable: Denounce and dismiss it as you please; American social conservatism is here to stay."

As opposition research against Santorum continues to grow and his public comments are further analyzed, it will be interesting to see if the candidate backs down or stands up to his critics. Throughout this campaign Santorum has not always had the money or organization of his opponents, but has surged because he has something that cannot be bought; a message.

Why change it now?

One last thing…
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