Jonathan Tobin declares that Santorum has the “best grasp of foreign policy” of any of the current candidates. Rod anticipates objections from commenters:

I know, I know, foreign policy. I know. Please, enough about the neocons. It makes me unhappy, but your average Republican voter is more likely to agree with Rick Santorum on foreign policy than with Ron Paul.

That is only partly true. In general, the average Republican voter will be more sympathetic to Santorum’s hawkish instincts, his antipathy toward Islamists of all stripes, and his eagerness to attack Obama for being “weak” (no matter how ill-informed or mistaken his criticisms happen to be). If the question turns to intervening in other states’ internal conflicts, getting involved in new wars, sending other governments aid funding, or keeping all of our overseas bases, Republicans will be much more evenly split between Santorum and Paul. When Santorum complains about the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, for example, that is going to be popular with most Republicans, but Paul’s support for cutting off all foreign aid, including to Egypt, would be even more so.

Even though Santorum is far closer in his views to how Obama actually conducts foreign policy than Paul could ever be, he states those views with adversarial partisan contempt, which can be emotionally satisfying for voters opposed to Obama. That said, Santorum uses the usual talking points about Iran, for example, but then runs with them so far that no one outside of a limited circle of hawkish pundits and activists can listen to him without wincing. As Alex Massie said earlier, “he makes George W Bush’s record seem mild and benign,” which is what I’ve been saying for a while now. According to Santorum, Bush’s record was mostly all right, except that he thinks it wasn’t aggressive or bold enough. According to Santorum, Bush had a foreign policy that was too humble, and he aims to correct that.

My point is that Santorum doesn’t have to persuade hawkish Republican voters that he is “better” than Paul in their eyes (they already take that for granted). What he would need to do is to persuade Republicans less ideological than he that he is preferable to Romney on national security and foreign policy issues. Romney also has a record of saying inflammatory and ignorant things on foreign policy, but compared to Santorum he almost becomes the picture of sanity. This has something to do with Romney’s expectation that he might one day have to govern. For his part, Santorum has nothing to lose, and he thinks that his disastrous 2006 campaign in which he harped on “Islamic fascism” and the Venezuelan menace was a profile in political courage. It’s true that Romney and his advisers still think that Obama is vulnerable on foreign policy, which proves they aren’t paying much attention to public opinion, but Santorum would run a national campaign even more tone-deaf than Romney’s on these issues. If Obama is trouncing Romney on trustworthiness to handle international affairs, just imagine what he would do to Santorum.