Over the last few weeks, Rick Santorum, a two term senator from Pennsylvania who was defeated in a double digit rout during his 2006 reelection bid, has experienced a meteoric rise. Now the Republican presidential nomination’s frontrunner, he is banking on his self-created blue collar persona and a host of frighteningly right-wing social stances to defeat moderate former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
Many seemingly bright members of America’s low-wattage media have been running around in circles trying to figure out exactly how such a sideshow candidate as Santorum has curried popular favor. A few think it because of the Roman Catholic Church’s never ending tantrum over having to provide employees with birth control coverage. Others assume that his picture perfect family image, which includes a grand total of eight children, appeals to traditionalist parents having a quiverfull themselves.
While some of the easily led might base their votes on either of these issues, neither works for anything remotely resembling a critical mass of Republicans. Indeed, Santorum’s appeal rests on what all politics boils down to: economics. Election returns have shown that the vast majority of his support is coming from regions in particularly dire straits. The poorly educated unemployed and underemployed identify with his blue collar persona, despite his having been raised in a distinctly white collar upper middle class household. A large number of his GOP fan base are Republicans because of socioreligious, rather than financial, issues. It’s only natural that they find Romney’s pragmatic business-oriented campaign to be thoroughly uninteresting.
Nonetheless, Santorum’s ability to merge cultural and fiscal matters into a resonating message is not the whole story. Many pundits have noted that a genuine dislike for Romney is building among lower income Republicans; particularly those with an annual income south of $35,000. These people see the former governor as the quintessential country clubber who cannot relate to them. Some might even equate him with the fellow who outsourced their manufacturing jobs to some third world country. Though completely irrational because Romney is is anything but a free trade fundamentalist, this perception is particularly damaging.
Nonetheless, Santorum’s camp has neverrelied on the human capacity for reason. If his core constituency consisted of lateral thinkers, they would see how left wing activists are so eager for a Santorum win that they are registering as Republicans to assure he’s elected. They would also ask themselves why he lost his race for a third senatorial term by a historical landslide. Alas, they will not do this because irrationalism is as irrationalism does.
It is just a shame that their collective disregard for reality is dragging the rest of the Republican Party down with them.