Santorum: Can A “Social Issues” Guy Win In An Election About The Economy?

Now that Rick Santorum has caught fire, coming in second in the Iowa caucuses by a mere 8 votes to Mitt Romney, can he keep that momentum going into New Hampshire and South Carolina? Or, is he the flavor of the week? George Will calls him a “fun candidate“. USA Today says he is within striking distance of the GOP nomination. But

Santorum, who came out of sixth place in Iowa less than two weeks ago to finish in a virtual dead heat with Mitt Romney, is not a one-dimensional candidate. Political junkies whose TV screens were wide enough to find him on the far right (politically) or far left (spatially) at every GOP debate heard a former Pennsylvania senator and congressman well-versed on topics ranging from immigration to Iran.

His campaign, however, has focused largely on social issues, based on Santorum’s belief that family and faith are the building blocks for everything else. He often mentions “our special child,” the couple’s 3-year-old daughter Bella, born with the genetic disorder Trisomy 18, as well as their stillborn son Gabriel, brought home from the hospital in 1996 so his siblings could meet him.

It’s a message that inspires and alienates Americans on opposite sides of some of the nation’s most explosive social issues: Abortion. Disability. Gay marriage. Don’t ask, don’t tell.

And it’s a message from which Santorum, 53, won’t back down – not even in a debate when he was confronted by a gay soldier serving overseas who had “come out” following President Obama’s decision to end the controversial military policy that had kept gay and lesbian troops in the closet. Santorum wants the policy reinstated.

And therein lies the problem with Santorum: he is known as a social issues guy, not necessarily an economics guy, and this election will be about economics and the future of America. However, unsaid is that Santorum has mostly been a good economics guy, but, not the greatest. The Club For Growth sums up Santorum thusly (make sure to read the whole white paper on him)

On the whole, Rick Santorum’s record on economic issues in the U.S. Senate was above average. More precisely, it was quite strong in some areas and quite weak in others. He has a strong record on taxes, and his leadership on welfare reform and Social Security was exemplary. But his record also contains several very weak spots, including his active support of wasteful spending earmarks, his penchant for trade protectionism, and his willingness to support large government expansions like the Medicare prescription drug bill and the 2005 Highway Bill.

As president, Santorum would most likely lead the country in a pro-growth direction, but his record contains more than a few weak spots that make us question if he would resist political expediency when it comes to economic issues.

The one thing that has kept Santorum at arms length for me is his focus on social issues. On one hand, I approve of the way he pushes them, in that he doesn’t attempt to shove most of them down my throat by legislation. On the other hand, being known as a social issues guy in an economic election cycle could be a problem. He’ll have to get his economic messaging out there.

Santorum is also good on the anthropogenic global warming issue, having told Glenn Beck

“I believe the earth gets warmer and I also believe the earth gets cooler. And I think history points out that it does that and that the idea that man, through the production of CO2 — which is a trace gas in the atmosphere, and the man-made part of that trace gas is itself a trace gas — is somehow responsible for climate change is, I think, just patently absurd when you consider all the other factors.”

Nowhere can I find any support by Santorum for any sort of AGW legislation and/or regulations. If it wasn’t for Huntsman’s AGW stances, I’d be a big supporter of him. I’m starting to really like Santorum. He’s a big supporter of Israel, unlike Ron Paul. He doesn’t shy away from calling it a war on radical Islam. He’s very passionate about reforming welfare to empower those in need of it to move into a better life. He’s big on tax cuts.

On spending, his record shows some mixed signals, but, he did oppose TARP, the auto bailout, and the Stimulus, among others. He was a big spender during the Bush years. Has he learned his lesson? He needs to be asked about it.

Can he beat Romney (I’m not a big Romney guy, but, he is acceptable to me)? Quite possibly. More importantly, can he beat Obama in a General Election? That’s the big question.

Crossed at Pirate’s Cove. Follow me on Twitter @WilliamTeach.

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