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Santorum’s Predicament

“Every one of these people is either deeply flawed or irredeemably polarizing, and that’s why a guy like Santorum is going to get a look.” ~The Washington Post

It’s not so hard to believe that Santorum will “get a look” because of the flaws of the rest of the likely 2012 GOP field, but as soon as people look most of them will conclude that he, too, is “deeply flawed and irredeemably polarizing.” More precisely, he is virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the field on most issues, except that he is widely (and somewhat unfairly) perceived as an authoritarian fanatic on social issues and a dangerous jingoist on foreign policy. No doubt he will steal John Bolton’s thunder when he delivers ringing condemnations of the Venezuelan missile threat, but if his presidential bid is anything like his 2006 re-election campaign he will be quickly dismissed by most primary voters. I suspect they will dismiss him not because he is excessively hawkish, but because he has had a habit over the last few years of talking about nothing else. Especially when voters are going to be anxious about the economy, Santorum’s fixation on “America’s enemies,” which he has been focused on since his ’06 defeat, will become tiresome. In a 2012 field that is likely to include more than candidate interested in demagoguing foreign policy issues, Santorum will become an echo rather than a clear alternative.

Santorum’s natural constituency of religious and social conservatives is likely to be split so many different ways that he will not be able to take advantage of his deserved reputation as a dedicated opponent of abortion and proponent of Catholic social reform. Meanwhile, the things that might make Santorum stand out and could make him a more interesting and attractive candidate, such as his effort on debt relief or his reflections on our obligations to serve the common good, do not resonate with the rank and file or appear to be a threat to individualism.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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