Santorum’s ceiling

    Rick Santorum, the GOP’s latest boomlet recipient, is already signaling his unelectability. Even if you credit him for staying true to himself (which I do), the fact remains that his true self is woefully out of step with the mainstream swing voters who typically hold sway in November.

    He told New Hampshire voters yesterday, “Don’t buy the lie that you have to be a moderate to be able to win the election.” And I suppose he’s right – up to a point. While it’s true that Ronald Reagan captured the presidency as a bold conservative, Reagan didn’t campaign as a religion-tinged moralist. He didn’t dump on gay people, or insist that government should invade the bedroom. He didn’t moralize about sex or insist that women should eschew careers and stay home. He didn’t call himself “a Jesus candidate” – as Santorum did yesterday.Such is Santorum’s conservative brand. If the GOP wants to lose in November, he’s the man for the job.The economy is the top issue in this election, and Santorum has much to say on the subject. But he intends to give equal time to the social issues – or, more specifically, to the faith-based views that tend to turn people off. As he said last fall, “All those (social) issues are going to be front and center with me. I know most presidents don’t talk about these things, and maybe people don’t want us to talk about these things. But I think it’s important that you are who you are.”Yesterday, Santorum made it clear who he is. Much has already been written about his clash with a roomful of college students on the issue of gay marriage. He was booed and jeered when he predictably suggested that marriage between two people of the same gender would put America on the slippery slope to polygamy (“If people say it’s OK for two, then you have to say why it’s not right for three”), and when he characterized gay parents as an existential threat to our great nation (“God made man and woman,” and when same-sex couples try to be parents, “we are harming children, we are harming society”).Those views, which Santorum has vowed to trumpet loudly, naturally play well among religious conservatives. But Santorum has a ceiling of support. As evidenced yesterday, his strict Catholicism sometimes alienates non-believers. Especially young non-believers.Republicans can win in November if they capture a hefty share of the young voters who titled overwhelmingly toward Barack Obama in 2008. But that wouldn’t happen with Santorum helming the ticket. Americans under 30 are the age cohort most in favor of gay marriage (and Gallup says that 53 percent of all Americans now support gay marriage, the highest share ever). According to a Pew poll last spring, 69 percent of Americans under 30 now believe that homosexuality should be accepted by society. And with respect to Santorum’s views on child-rearing, Pew reports that only 35 percent of all Americans view gay parents as “a bad thing for society.” Clearly, swing voters who are not gay believe in tolerance toward those who are. Santorum is manifestly intolerant. Outside the GOP base, that’s not a vote-getter.Here’s an even better example: Landslide majorities of Americans support the use of contraception. Santorum opposes contraception, because he thinks it makes sex too easy.As he said in an online conversation last fall, “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country…Many of the Christian faith have said, ‘well, that’s okay, contraception is OK.’ It’s not OK. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”What is he, the pope?It strains credulity to believe that swing voters in a general election would ever support a guy who opposes contraception – and seeks to instruct Americans on proper behavior in the “sexual realm.” As some eminent legal scholars wrote back in 1965, “Would we allow the police to search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives? The very idea is repulsive to the notions of privacy surrounding the marriage relationship.”So wrote the scholars on the U.S. Supreme Court who upheld the right of married couples to use contraception in Griswold v. Connecticut. The vote was 7-2, and three of the seven affirmative voters were Republican appointees. But Santorum, earlier this week, told ABC News that he opposes Griswold. So, again, he has signaled his unelectability; not only do most Americans support contraception, they also want the government to encourage contraception. Last August, in a Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Poll, 66 percent favored the new federal rule that requires private health insurers to cover the full cost of birth control.   And for the GOP to win in November, it needs to cut deeply into the Democrats’ traditional advantage among women voters. At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s hard to imagine that women would flock to a candidate who, in this day and age, opposes contraception for married couples. (Nor is it likely that career-minded working women would warm to a guy who thinks that they have succumbed to “the influence of radical feminism.”)Actually, Santorum seems to sense that some of his views might be a deal-breaker; during a CNN interview on Wednesday, he insisted that even though his Catholic faith guides his repressive stance on contraception, he would not try to police Americans’ private lives; in his words, “(As a senator) I didn’t vote for any kind of ban on contraception…I don’t believe that everything that is immoral should be illegal. The government doesn’t have a role to play in everything that, you know, that either people of faith or no faith think are wrong or immoral.”That was a puzzler. Santorum’s new fans on the Christian right, who envision him leading the charge against Mitt Romney, may well insist that the whole point of being a moralist is to change the culture, not just talk about it. The Christian right wants the government to invade the bedroom. Yet Santorum’s CNN remarks suggest that he would be no different than Reagan, who, as president, occasionally talked a good game about opposing abortion, but never crusaded on the issue or sought to substantively change the culture.  No matter. Santorum’s talk alone should be enough to convince electability-minded Republicans that he’s far better suited in his present career, cashing in on his special-interest connections. ——-Today, from the Associated Press: “A burst of hiring in December pushed the unemployment rate to its lowest level in nearly three years, giving the economy a boost at the end of 2011. The Labor Department says employers added a net 200,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate fell to 8.5 percent, the lowest since February 2009. The rate has dropped for four straight months. The hiring gains cap a six-month stretch in which the economy generated 100,000 jobs or more in each month. That hasn’t happened since April 2006.”That’s sadly discouraging news for the Republicans, who are rooting for (and seeking to ensure) as much misery as possible in 2012, but it’s cautiously encouraging news for the rest of us.——-Coming Monday: A post on the weekend Republican debates, and another Live Chat.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal