Former senator Rick Santorum earned the sobriquet “the believer” during his time in Washington. A staunch Catholic, he made cultural conservative issues his personal crusade, frequently giving impassioned speeches on behalf of the unborn and leading the effort to amend the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Though self-effacing and affable in private, on the Senate floor he became a scourge in the hands of an angry God.

That manner won him few admirers outside the value-voters set, and in 2006 the Iraq War became a political millstone around Santorum’s thin neck. After taking the worst thumping in the contested Senate races, he seemed destined to disappear. But instead of cashing in at a lobbying firm or cruising on his reputation through the conservative dinner circuit, the senator embraced the war issue. Now he is building support for regime change in Iran among social conservatives and reframing the war on terror into a much larger conflict that stretches back over a millennium. In his right hand, he holds a growing list of America’s enemies, and he’s reading off their names to everyone who will listen—at think tanks, on Christian radio, and perhaps soon at a theater near you.

In his post Senate speeches, Santorum has explained how he transformed from culture warrior to foreign-policy warrior: “As I went on the campaign trail, it was very obvious to me that we were losing the war. Yes, we were losing the war in Baghdad to some degree, but more important we were losing the war on the streets of Pennsylvania.” Collapsing public support, in Santorum’s mind, was the result of a failure to “name the enemy” and educate Americans about the nature of the threat. “They didn’t think there was any consequence of losing, they didn’t think we could lose and even if we did, it didn’t matter.”

The former senator is quick to remind, “I still care very deeply about the social conservative issues. Can America continue to be a great country if it is no longer a good country, or a moral country? That is the long-term crisis that America faces. But I saw a more immediate short-term problem in the foreign policy arena.” For Santorum, this short-term problem is global in scope, involving not only “Islamofascists” but also Latin American populists and Russia. Solving it requires the full moral, diplomatic, and military effort of the American people in a struggle he says will demand more than World War II did of the greatest generation.

In many ways, Santorum’s latest project builds on his reputation as a social conservative. After leaving office, he immediately became a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a think tank built to promote what it calls “the Great Western ethical imperatives” in Washington. The EPPC is known for its groundbreaking work on life and family issues. Now the former senator writes up a bulletin for the center called “The Weekly Threat Roundup,” which regularly details the nefarious doings of Iran and Venezuela—an alliance particularly troubling to Santorum.

For years, James Dobson, the Christian psychologist and popular radio talk-show host has been following Santorum’s efforts on behalf of socially conservative values. They both recently made Time’s list of the 25 most influential evangelicals, a true feat for a Catholic like Santorum. Like many evangelicals, Dobson’s interests now include foreign policy. In May, he dedicated two days of his show to broadcasting a Santorum stemwinder. In it, the former senator explained that his current work is “a family issue, because it concerns the security of every family in this nation.” Moving on to his list, Santorum asked impatiently, “Did you know that Venezuela will shortly spend $30 billion to build 20 military bases in neighboring Bolivia, which will dominate the borders with Chile, Peru, Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil?” And this was of no small concern because Latin American leftism is apparently in alliance with Islamic fascists. “How so? The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

But wait, there’s more. “You have Russia … increasingly looking like the old Russia in the way they support nations that align against the United States.” And so the list grows.

After dipping gingerly into the differences between Sunni and Shi’ite Islam, Santorum concluded that Iran poses the greatest threat to the United States. In previous centuries, he explained, Shi’ite regimes had been at peace with the West. But ever since Khomeini re-interpreted that tradition of Islam, Iran had been radicalized. “And so now we have Iran in a position to project power and to use Sunni-like theology, if you will…” he lowered his voice, “to conquer the world.”

After those last four words, you expect a laugh track to kick in, but it never comes. Instead, the speech grinds on as Santorum warns of the “gathering storm” and draws parallels between our time and the late 1930s and early ’40s. Warning that America will face an array of exotic threats alone, Santorum begins to quote the June 1940 address of Winston Churchill to the British people in which the prime minister girded them for the coming battle of Britain. In the audio recording sold by Focus on the Family, as Santorum’s voice solemnly quiets, the ghostly crackle of Churchill’s original rises. Santorum closes by explaining that defeat means to “sink into the abyss of a new dark age.” Dobson emerges to speculate that this may be some of “the most prophetic work” his ministry has brought to its audience, saying, “Rick Santorum gets it. He may have been the finest senator we have had in many decades. He is part of the heritage of Winston Churchill.”

Santorum has been giving similar speeches wherever he can. To a standing room only crowd at the close of the 2007 Conservative Political Action Conference, his talk was preceded by a PowerPoint presentation by David Horowitz of the Terrorism Awareness Project. Grainy photos of suicide bombings in Israel and Iraq flashed rapidly across the projection screen to a soundtrack ripped out of “Classical Thunder.” The lesson: nowhere do Palestinians or other Arabs work for simple political goals, such as land or national sovereignty. They wish solely for the destruction of Israel and the Great Satan. No event is discreet: each bombing from 1979 until today is connected, and appeasement is not an option. The words of radical clerics fill the screen, implying that Islam itself is the problem. One onlooker explained how this presentation “revived [his] dedication to this battle.”

Santorum amplifies these sentiments when he talks about the historic animus between Islam and Christendom. “We’re not going to solve the problem by just chasing down a few bad guys in Iraq. … We are in the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century. This is not just a military conflict, it is an ideological conflict.” And confronting this menace means reaching beyond the war on terror. According to Santorum, the West must witness to Muslims, not for Christ but for Modernity. We must also, in order to have allies, re-evangelize Europe for Christianity, lest Europe die out and be replaced with “Euristan.” Santorum never explains exactly how the United States can begin transforming the spiritual and ideological culture of both Europe and the Middle East—he just knows that it is essential to America’s security.

As Santorum’s list of enemies has grown, so has his ambition. His role in the fight against America’s enemies is no longer confined to Washington D.C. “We have to fund and produce artifacts of the culture that communicate the message on a broad-based scheme. … If you wanted to win America,” he asks “would you rather have someone give a great political speech or have a movie in every theater across America?” Citing Michael Moore’s documentaries and movies like “Syriana,” Santorum has expressed interest in becoming a movie producer himself and has reportedly met with the producer of “The Passion of the Christ,” Steve McEveety. His film would center around three Iranian brothers, one of whom comes to the U.S. as a terrorist. Santorum insists, “It’s not real yet in the sense that we don’t have the money. But we’re working on it.” He hopes the film will be action-packed and entertaining while at the same time educational.

By making faraway fascists the top issue for families, Santorum’s struggle against Islamic fascism (and Latin American populism and Russia) has fused the two dominant strands of conservative politics: neoconservative foreign policy and traditionalist social policy. His credibility among social conservatives is the anvil on which hawks can forge an unbreakable war consensus with the base of the Republican Party.

Whereas each bloody headline from Iraq serves to chastise the American public and its political class, discouraging them from further interventionism, the effect is reversed on Santorum. Every roadside bomb demonstrates to him that powerful enemies outside Iraq are aligning for our destruction. Falling public support is further proof that Republicans have failed to explain the nature of the current struggle. His own defeat in last year’s election didn’t prompt him to rethink his crusade but to redouble it.

Santorum’s former colleagues draw other lessons from his defeat: you cannot win with the base alone. America does not want a new list of enemies or a mission to change the world. Nor does the country want “believers” who insist that we do.