Get BlazeTV
News

Douthat examines the future of the Santorum brand in the GOP

Conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat published some interesting thoughts on the Super Tuesday results in the wee hours of the morning Wednesday, that I believe strike a chord and provide food for thought on larger debates going on within the GOP. Based on his fairly strong showing on Super Tuesday that continues what has been a shockingly major and prolonged presence in the Republican presidential primary campaign, Douthat comments that Rick Santorum's performance challenges conventional assumptions on the ideological future of the party. Douthat speculates that Santorum's success, north and south of the Mason-Dixon line, makes the case for the former Pennsylvania senator's brand of Republicans in the future.

Only a little over two months ago, the former Pennsylvania senator was supposed to be a no-hope non-factor in the race for the Republican nomination. Only a month ago, after South Carolina and Florida, he was supposed to be nice little story whose fifteen minutes had run out.

And yet he has ended up as Mitt Romney’s most formidable challenger. Yes, he might have won more votes in Michigan and Ohio if he hadn’t blundered, all-too-characteristically, into pointless debates about John F. Kennedy’s church-state speech and the value of a college education. But nobody expected him to be in a position to have his blunders matter at all.

Now lets be clear, Douthat is not predicting a Santorum win in Tampa or November. Instead only arguing that the Huckabee-like brand; conservative on social issues and right-leaning on fiscal issues, still exists in the GOP. If anything, that line of thinking is growing in spite of the mainstream media's persistent advocacy for a socially liberal, fiscally conservative future for the Republican Party:

Of course, like Huckabee, he’s on his way to falling short. But given his weaknesses, structural and personal — including the absence of Huckabee’s trademark wit — it’s remarkable how far he’s come, and how durable this coalition has proven itself from one cycle to another. A candidate with more money, more policy substance, and more finesse on culture-war issues — like Huckabee in 2008, Santorum has underperformed among Catholic voters, many of whom do not share his traditionalist zeal — the overall strategy might offer a blueprint for winning a future Republican primary campaign.

That sounds surprising, because there’s a tendency to see social conservatism as inherently backward-looking, and to assume that Santorum’s campaign must be the last gasp of the Republican Party’s most reactionary remnant.

But the main domestic argument that he’s tried to make – about the link between family breakdown and economic disarray — has more relevance to the challenges facing Americans in the early 21st century than the Reagan nostalgia that too often passes for policy thinking from the party’s tax cutting and foreign policy hawks. Ours is increasingly a country where sky-high economic expectations coexist with middle class wage stagnation, and where the idealization of married life coexists with steadily rising out-of-wedlock births. In this atmosphere, the fusion of a (moderate) social conservatism and a right-leaning economic populism could end up having a broader appeal than many alternative right-of-center visions.

Whether that actually happens depends on whether future Republican presidential hopefuls decide to learn from, adapt and improve upon the Huckabee-Santorum template. If they do, it’s possible that what Santorum has accomplished in the last few months will be remembered, not as the last glimpse of the Republican past, but as a plausible sketch of the Republican future.

The Tea Party was certainly a libertarian-leaning grassroots reaction to the outlandish policy of a liberal president supported by an even more liberal Congress, but its clear that that ideological sentiment has cooled since 2010. With public attention of late turning towards increasing income inequality, the continued decline of American manufacturing and infringement on the church by the state, there is an argument to be made that the path of return to a Republican majority is not through the 'Cut government, cut taxes, everybody will be fine, and go off to the Hamptons for the summer' wing of the GOP.

One last thing…
Watch TheBlaze live and on demand on any device, anywhere, anytime.
try premium
Exclusive video
All Videos
Watch BlazeTV on your favorite device, anytime, anywhere.
Subscribe Now
Recommended
Daily News Highlights

Get the news that matters most delivered directly to your inbox.