National Review reports on the failure of Santorum’s second presidential bid today. As I assumed years ago, there was never any chance that another Santorum bid would have success. Though technically the runner-up to Romney in 2012, party leaders were never going to rally behind him, and his success in the 2012 primaries owed almost entirely to the fact that he was virtually the last anti-Romney candidate left.
Even if the field weren’t so crowded with relatively better alternatives, Santorum has an abrasive and caustic public persona and a talent for alienating people that should want to support him that is even greater than Cruz’s. In the dictionary next to the word insufferable, there ought to be a picture of Santorum. Some of that comes across in the profile when Santorum holds forth on who is and isn’t truly conservative. This is the same man who voted for Medicare Part D and virtually every other piece of the Bush administration’s agenda when he was in the Senate, and who fully embraced Bush-era foreign policy and found fault with Bush only when he wasn’t aggressive and confrontational enough to please Santorum. Someone with that record is hard to take seriously when he starts denouncing others for lack of principle or consistency.
It’s rarely mentioned in most profiles of Santorum, but his obsession with pushing hard-line foreign policy views is one of his great electoral weaknesses. It was what turned his losing 2006 re-election campaign into a huge blowout, and it’s also helped to create an opening for a socially conservative candidate who isn’t wedded to every aspect of Bush-era failures abroad. Cruz offers voters a lot of the same rhetoric that Santorum does on other issues, but on foreign policy he is able to break with Bush and neoconservatives in ways that Santorum simply refuses to do. Santorum unwittingly acknowledges this when he makes this statement about Cruz:
I don’t think he’s a national-security conservative. . . . The fact that he’s out there calling people ‘neocons’ tells you that he doesn’t see himself as a conservative. You don’t accuse someone of being a neocon if you see yourself as a Reagan conservative on national security [bold mine-DL].
That’s not true, but the more important thing here is that Santorum can’t imagine how someone could refer to neoconservatives disparagingly and still consider himself a conservative on these issues. His foreign policy views are so close to those of neoconservatives and other hard-liners that he can’t grasp that there are lots of conservatives that want nothing to do with this sort of foreign policy. There are many reasons why Santorum’s 2016 bid was going nowhere, but his fanaticism on foreign policy is certainly one of them.