The new Rick Santorum for 2016

    Remember Rick Santorum?

    You know, the former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator known as a social conservative and evangelical with a gift for controversial statements (like linking liberalism in Boston to the Catholic Church sex scandal)?

    Well, meet the new Rick Santorum. 

    He’s running for president again, and at a breakfast speech today at the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference in Philadelphia, he focused on creating manufacturing jobs and connecting with struggling blue collar workers he says Republicans too often ignore.

    Santorum said working class voters stayed home in large numbers in the 2012 election. He said they’re looking for solutions and don’t trust Democrats whose policies, Santorum said, are killing jobs for less-educated workers.

    “You know what, hard-working Americans have figured this out,” Santorum said. “The problem is they look to us and they say, ‘well you guys don’t care about us.'”

    Santorum said Republicans need to develop clear and convincing plans to revive the country’s manufacturing base. He cited the example of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, which provides financing for American exporters and is set to expire soon without congressional action.

    Santorum said conservatives who want to shut it down in the name of smaller government are leading the party down the wrong path.

    “We get purist on things that affect workers, and we’re not so pure when it affects banks and big business,” Santorum said. “That’s just not a viable political strategy going forward.”

    Santorum also told the crowd that his service on the Armed Forces Committee in the Senate and legislative work on issues involving the Middle East give him a stronger foreign policy and national security background than most of the Republican field.

    “If we’re going to be going up against a former secretary of state, ladies and gentlemen, we better have someone who’s national security experience is better than a briefing book going into that debate,” Santorum said. “Commander in chief is not an entry-level position.”

    As he was finishing a session with reporters, I asked him to have some fun and evaluate Donald Trump as a candidate.

    He said when he ran four years ago he found it such an amazing experience that he sometimes said everybody should run for president. “Little did I know everybody would  take me up on it,” Santorum said.

    Santorum won primaries or caucuses in 11 states in 2011.

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