You might think that as EFM’s resident Pennsylvanian, I’d have a lot to say about the presidential candidacy of my former U.S. Senator, Rick Santorum. I’ve definitely got opinions. Yet I have been very quiet on here, and by choice. Many of my friends (including some of my dearest ones) support Sen. Santorum. I definitely don’t want to attack them, I’d rather not argue with them in the first place, and I did not think Sen. Santorum would last this long. But he has, people are asking me about him, and this weekend, he is throwing overheated charges at Gov. Romney that do not fit with the graciousness my friends admire in him. I will still do everything in my power to refrain from viciousness, but I can keep quiet no longer.
The reason I do not support Sen. Santorum is that I adhere to a slightly altered version of William F. Buckley Jr.’s famous maxim that conservatives should support the rightward-most viable candidate. I agree with that, with the proviso that I have to be able to cast my vote in good conscience. (For example, that is why I never voted for Sen. Arlen Specter, even when he was technically the rightward-most viable candidate.) Sen. Santorum does not violate my proviso; he is a good man. And I have written at length, including in my last post, about how I can and will vote for a Mormon in good conscience. However, the evidence is clear that when it comes to how he would actually govern, Sen. Santorum is not the rightward-most candidate, and also that he is not viable in November. Rather, he and Gov. Romney are roughly equally right in terms of governing, and only Gov. Romney is viable in the general election.
On the first point: Sen. Santorum’s rhetoric is certainly further to the right than Gov. Romney’s. But if you know anything about politics, you know that rhetoric is one thing and governing is another. And if you know recent American political history, you know Sen. Santorum did some serious governing, as the third-ranking member of the majority leadership of the U.S. Senate during much of the Bush Administration. Here is the growth in government spending during those years, according to a working paper from the Mercatus Center:
Sen. Santorum recently noted that politics is a team sport. Well, that’s his team’s record during his period of greatest influence. That kind of largesse isn’t the solution the Tea Party is demanding–it’s what gave rise to it in the first place.
Neither Gov. Romney or Sen. Santorum is a “conservative messiah.” Both used to be pro-choice. Both have supported bad legislation such as “No Child Left Behind.” Both have supported health mandates of various kinds. Both are men, and will disappoint you, as they did me in the finger-pointing episode pictured above. Both also have strengths (and I find one people in Pennsylvania generally don’t know about is that Gov. Romney fought valiantly in defense of the sanctity of life–including opposing embryonic stem cell research that was then said to be a possible cure for his wife’s MS–and even the religious liberty of Sen. Santorum’s church in extremely hostile Massachusetts). It’s not a choice between, as Sen. Santorum is saying in Kansas right now, one honest guy and a liar. If you look at what matters–action, not talk–it’s a choice between two center-right politicians with warts.
As to viability: This one is even tougher to say, because I know some of the folks working hard on the logistics of the Santorum campaign. But he just isn’t viable in the general election. If you concede that Barack Obama is the most pro-abortion president in American history, that he’s doing great harm to religious liberty, and that he is stealing from our kids through outrageous spending and borrowing, then you have a moral obligation to support an opponent who can actually defeat his well-funded, well-organized, union-aided juggernaut. You also can’t beat an incumbent president with the kind of operation that fails to recruit delegates and even get on the ballot in key states like Ohio and Virginia. When it comes to money and organization, Sen. Santorum is nowhere near President Obama or Gov. Romney, and he won’t be able to get close in the time remaining.
Don’t get me wrong; I believe in a God who does miracles and without whom nothing happens. He is the one “who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.” If God so chooses, all Gov. Romney and President Obama’s hard work will win them nothing. But it’s one thing to construct a campaign that relies on God, and it’s another to have one that cannot succeed absent a complete miracle. Remember, Noah worked hard to build an ark when God sent the flood, and God himself commands us to be good stewards.
It might seem counter-intuitive, but this conservative Pennsylvania evangelical, this “should-be Santorum supporter,” is convinced: The Mormon from Massachusetts is the rightward-most viable candidate. If you’re a fellow evangelical on the conservative side of things, you can–and should–vote for Gov. Romney not just with a clean conscience, but with a feeling of encouragement. He’s a fallen man who’s made mistakes, just like you and me, but he is our best shot at ensuring our kids will grow up in an America that is still great.