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Santorum or Romney? Culture War or Class War?

The question for Republicans right now seems obvious: Would you prefer Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney to run against Barack Obama?

Well, it depends on whether you prefer to engage President Obama on cultural grounds or on terms of class warfare. Obama and his chief political strategist, David Axelrod, are going to give us one or the other. Thus, maybe the better question is: Can Santorum articulate and defend social conservatism better than Romney can defend free markets? Which of the two is a more forceful, eloquent spokesperson for the area that Obama and Axelrod will use to define and malign him?

Not only has President Obama been employing class rhetoric unceasingly for three years now, but David Axelrod has been planning precisely such an assault against Mitt Romney. “Obama officials intend to frame Romney as the very picture of greed in the great recession—a sort of political Gordon Gekko,” reported an August 2011 Politico piece titled, “Obama plan: Destroy Romney.” The piece quoted Axelrod: “He [Romney] was very, very good at making a profit for himself and his partners but not nearly as good [at] saving jobs for communities. He is very much the profile of what we’ve seen in the last decade on Wall Street.”

This was the plan even before the Occupy Wall Street movement exploded. Axelrod and Obama view Mitt Romney as red meat for the Occupy movement, the poster-boy for Wall Street greed.

“[Romney] says he represents business,” Axelrod told MSNBC in October, “but he really represents the Wall Street side of business.”

Axelrod told George Stephanopoulos that Romney is “not a job creator” but a “corporate raider” who outsourced “tens of thousands of jobs,” “closed down more than 1,000 plants, stores, and offices,” and joined “his partners” in making “hundreds of millions of dollars” at the expense of the poor. Axelrod calls this the “Bain mentality.”

This caustic, class-warfare rhetoric is just a taste of what will come if Romney gets the GOP nomination. The class envy will get far worse. And no one will do it better than a smiling Obama.

Perhaps the only thing that might energize the president and his team more is a battle with the Catholic Church over his HHS mandate on “contraception.” And that’s where Rick Santorum comes in.

I’m increasingly convinced that President Obama wants this fight with the Catholic Church. I think this is a fight not only close to Obama’s ideological heart, but one he perversely feels can help him politically. If he can frame this debate as not about taxpayer support of abortion drugs, or about religious liberty, or freedom of conscience, or the First Amendment and Constitution—all of which it is—but about “women’s rights” vs. the stodgy old men who run the Catholic Church, he will make headway with certain voters. Don’t underestimate Obama’s ability to do just that.

If Rick Santorum becomes the 2012 GOP nominee, he’ll be an automatic spokesman for the Catholic Church’s position. He’s a living, breathing testimony to the Church’s teaching, from his own personal life to his well-informed intellect on Church teachings. Rick Santorum is the rarest candidate who has actually read Church encyclicals like Humanae Vitae and Evangelium Vitae.

That’s just fine for President Obama and David Axelrod. They’ll take that guy any day. Hey, buddy, you want a culture war based on Catholic Church teachings? You got it!

Never mind, of course, that President Obama started this fight with his heavy-handed decree to the Catholic Church. The president’s protective media will behave as if Rick Santorum is the intrusive one, rudely and righteously thrusting his faith into the “public square.” The media will not portray Santorum as simply reacting to Obama’s totally unnecessary decree and intrusion—which is what really happened—but as a sexist Neanderthal who just can’t pull his nose out of your bedroom.

So, that brings us back to my original question for Republicans: Which of the two—Romney or Santorum—is a more forceful, eloquent spokesperson for the issues that Obama and Axelrod will use to define and malign him? I think the answer is Santorum, which is less a vote for Santorum than a vote of no confidence in Romney’s persuasive abilities. Or does that bring us back to Newt, assuming Newt remains politically viable?

One thing is certain: Neither of these Obama-Axelrod tactics will unify Americans; it will divide them, pitting them against each other by class or religion, by income or faith, by money or conscience. And that isn’t a good thing, especially from a president who promised to be a unifier and symbol of “hope.”

Editor’s note: A longer version of this article first appeared at American Spectator.


Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. He is also co-author (with Patricia Clark Doerner) of The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007).
  • goral

    “I think the answer is Santorum”.
    based on this:
    “I’m increasingly convinced that President Obama wants this fight with the Catholic Church. I think this is a fight not only close to Obama’s ideological heart, but one he perversely feels can help him politically.”

    Yes indeed, we have a perverse group in power. Look at history. All the “isms” had to take on the Catholic Church. As impotant as She is in this country it’s still the Cross that makes Dracula squirm, no matter who’s holding it.

    Romney lost to McCain, McCain lost to Obama.
    Obama will lose to Santorum.
    Once Newt exits, he’s my first choice, he will coach Santorum to victory and join in a Cabinet position.
    Anybody else salivating?

  • wild rose

    In recent weeks Obamacare has done much to bring together people of all faiths. Our country is on the brink of losing religious freedom. History records that whenever a tyrant or dictator has taken over a country their first priority is to silence or remove the Catholic Church. President Obama lacks wisdom. His rhetoric is empty. Rick Santorum hasn’t backed down from his principles. People of our country are looking for a President who is trustworthy, someone who will speak the Truth and govern with holiness and justice. The average American voter knows there is a spiritual meaning to life.

    • wild rose

      Dracula and the Cross is a good comparison to Obama’s plan of socialism and the Church. This week Obama’s chief-of-staff told Bishop Lori and his team that the Obama Administration will not make any more healthcare concessions. Divide and conquer is Obama’s principle method to neutralize and eliminate the Catholic Church.

  • djpeters48

    Last week the Wanderer, a Catholic weekly revealed that in 2005 while governor of Mass. Mitt Romney did just what Obama is doing. He ordered Catholic hospitals to dispense abortion inducing drugs to women. The mainstream media has so far covered up the fact that Romney has lied about this fact in debates. Mr Kangor seems to be under the illusion that Rick Santorum has a real chance to win the nomination. Like with Pat Buchanan 1992, the regular GOP establishment and the elite media are not very likely to put up with any such thing.

  • HomeschoolNfpDad

    Romney does better in national polls, but the President of the United States is not elected by direct vote of the electorate. He (or she) is elected by the various States, through the electoral college. Where Romney does better than Santorum is in states like California, where he closes the gap with Obama rather significantly, but not enough (at least according to the poll) to win the state. Santorum, in contrast, does better than Romney in toss-up states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, where the Republican candidate has a realistic chane to win.

    All that said, Romney’s delegate lead may be insurmountable. But when Texas votes, I’ll vote for Santorum. Such a vote can push the eventual nominee — again, probably Romney — to take seriously the concerns that Santorum so effectively articluates. We cannot forget, for example, that Reagan was once the sideshow from California who had no chance against Carter and who, by the way, signed one of the nation’s first no-fault divorce laws. But Reagan knew how to listen. And perhaps Romney does too, if only we require it of him by not giving up on Santorum (or for that matter, Paul). The mainstream media continue to claim that the fight for the Republican nomination is bad for the eventual Republican nominee. But that media is almost always wrong.

    • Johnh

      “Romney’s delegate lead may be insurmountable.”

      You seem to be forgetting that Gingrich is still in the race. Yes, Romney gained 4 votes in terms of Santorum alone, but he lost ground when taking the combined Santorum-Gingrich vote into account. Dr. Paul and Mr. Gingrich can only be staying in the race in order to play kingmaker at the convention (or before) if Romney doesn’t manage to get the nomination on the first vote. The question then is not if (individually) Paul, Gingrich, or Santorum get enough votes to prevent Romney getting the nomination, but instead if the combined Santorum-Gingrich-Paul are picking up enough votes to prevent Romney getting the nomination (which they have been).

      • HomeschoolNfpDad

        Either way, you’re talking about forcing the eventual nominee to take into account the concerns being raised most effectively (at present) by Santorum. That is what the MSM and their allies don’t want to face. What they’d prefer is a neutered Romney as the nominee because a neutered Romney isn’t terribly different from Obama (although even a neutered Romney would be more inclined than Obama to leave the Church alone). What they fear is a nominee who actually reflects the concerns of a real opposition, something most effectively expressed by Santorum or Paul (though I’d agree that Gingrich leans this way as well).

        In the end, you have a need for each citizen to vote according to what he or she sees as important in terms of policy — and let the MSM flutter and sputter about with pronouncements about the folly of it all. They did the same thing in 1980, and the nominee who emerged was a Ronald Reagan in full possession of his economic convictions — and significantly changed in his social ones. Ultimately, that is what this country needs.

  • goral

    Any way you remake Romney, he, “Romney isn’t terribly different from Obama” -true statement.
    As the originator of Obamacare, on the state level, he would concentrate on the economy and of course it would get better. Then again, the economy is bound to get better even in an Obama second term. (God forbid!)

    Yes, God forbid both, the banana republic prez. getting elected again and the economy getting better in the dark days of this dictator.
    That would set the country up for the darkest of days.
    Economic opulence and political decadence are the two ingredients that destroy a nation forever.
    Our Constitution would be as ineffective then as it is now.

    We would all like to remake Sentorum to our liking and electability. God probably “loves” him the way he is.

    • HomeschoolNfpDad

      It’s less about remaking the candidate than it is about pressuring the candidates to do what we, as the electorate, need them to do. In the end, the only value of democracy is in the ability of the people to push their leaders to do the right thing. Elections are merely a means to this end. Sometimes — perhaps rarely — you can actually get a decent candidate into office. More often, you take the best that’s available and work from there.

  • HomeschoolNfpDad

    In the Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henninger writes an interesting analysis about how Rick Santorum has tapped into a deep-seated concern that Americans have for personal freedom. He concludes, “Rick Santorum should stay in the race, repeating from now till summer the perverse link between the ObamaCare mandate and the American idea of freedom.” This from a writer for a newspaper that has repeatedly published articles that Romney’s lead may be insurmountable and that the Republican primary battle has damaged the Republican candidates. In the end, these latter concerns are all poo. The electorate makes itself heard not only in election victories but by forcing to the forefront those candidates who embrace issues that are important, even if the candidate loses. More than anything, Santorum serves his country by forcing issues like personal freedom and the size of government to the forefront. Against all expectations, he has forced the issue of contraception into the debate — and he has done this by addressing contraception directly as well as by addressing the issues of personal freedom. All of this against all expectations and against the conventional wisdom of the mainstream media. If there’s any lesson, it’s that issues matter; that media wisdom is folly, even among us frail humans;, and that ordinary people are far more than the shells we are given credit for being by the major media outlets.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204603004577267632224945836.html

  • wild rose

    Awesome Dad,
    Thank you for the link to WSJ article. It’s encouraging to know that Henninger it’s necessary that Rick Santorum speak about personal freedom. Obamacare is a cunning tool to unsurp our rights and create a culture of dependency. This is a most important issue. It’s easier for candidates to speak about the economy. It allows Pres. Barack Obama can hide his secret socialist motives.

    It’s also encouraging to read that the real Barack Obama is anything but a confident, competent winner.

    Read more: http://www.americanthinker.com/2012/03/obama_versus_the_democrats.html#ixzz1pZnm6Ura