Santorum Surge FTW

Since his three primary wins at the beginning of the month, there has been a bit of speculation about the electability of former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum. The assumption was that Santorum, who lost his re-election bid by 18 points, would be a complete disaster in a general election. But that was before Mitt Romney embarked on his plan to alienate independents and destroy his standing with Republican voters.

Even still, Santorum’s campaign only makes sense for as long as he focuses on the economy and away from social issues. But in the last two weeks, issues surrounding reproductive health have roared to the center stage of American politics, and Santorum—who built his name as a culture warrior—couldn’t resist the temptation to comment.

Last Saturday, in Columbus, Ohio, Santorum entered the fray with a broadside attack against President Barack Obama’s policies, arguing that they’re “not about you. It’s not about your quality of life. It’s not about your jobs. It’s about some phony ideal. Some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology.” What’s more, he denounced a policy in the Affordable Care Act that expands prenatal coverage, stating that “Free prenatal testing ends up in more abortions and therefore less care that has to be done because we cull the ranks of the disabled in our society.” The following day, on “Face the Nation,” Santorum doubled-down on this comment and others, including his belief that there was something mistaken in the public provision of education:

The idea that the federal government should be running schools, frankly, much less that the state government should be running schools is anachronistic. It goes back to the time of industrialization of America when people came off the farms where they did home school or have the little neighborhood school and into these big factories. So we built equal factories called public schools.

We may have forgotten this in the six years that he’s been out of the public eye, but Rick Santorum exists on the far-right edge of public opinion. His beliefs are anathema to a large majority of Americans, and his nomination would be a disaster for the GOP. This is why, as unpopular as he is with the large majority of Republicans, Mitt Romney remains the favorite for the GOP nomination. Unlike Santorum, he doesn’t have to deal with the baggage of radically conservative beliefs on public schooling, contraceptives, and the role of women in modern society.

All of that said, if there is any advantage in a Santorum nomination, it’s for the country as a whole. As this primary season has demonstrated at virtually every turn, the Republican Party is currently captive to its most extreme members. If it were to nominate Santorum and lose, it could marginalize itself and create the space for more moderate conservatives to take center-stage. This would take some time, but by the end of the process, we’d have a Republican Party that could actually be trusted with the reins of power.

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