I don’t disagree with what the AJC’s Political Insider wrote about the shift in influence among Georgia’s conservatives, from the religious right to more libertarian types. And the same dynamic was present in the tea-fueled Republican resurgence last year that saw the supposedly regionally limited GOP win big well beyond the Bible Belt.
The question, as the Insider recognized, is how long this dynamic lasts. Even as tea partyers were taking the initiative last year, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels was roundly criticized on the right for broaching the idea of a “truce” on social issues while we sort out the nation’s fiscal mess.
Operating on the belief that social conservatives will still have a large say nationally in 2012 is former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, the subject of an interview and column today by the Washington Post’s George Will:
In 1994, when Rick Santorum was a second-term Pennsylvania congressman seeking a U.S. Senate seat, a columnist asked him how he was going to win. “Guns,” he replied serenely. Pennsylvania’s legions of deer hunters do not use assault weapons, which President Bill Clinton was trying to ban, but the hunters suspected that this, like Clinton’s wife’s health-care plan, reflected a pattern of assaults on liberty.
Santorum, then 36, won by 87,210 votes — 87,210 hunters? — out of 3,384,172 cast, becoming the first conservative elected senator from Pennsylvania since 1952. “Never,” he says today, “underestimate the power of the social issues.”
He probably will test that power — and the theory, which he rejects, that economic anxieties have marginalized those issues — by seeking the Republicans’ 2012 presidential nomination.
Santorum does not ignore economic issues, but as a relentless ethicist, he recasts those as moral issues: “What is European socialism but modern-day monarchy that ‘takes care’ of the people?” He is, of course, correct that America’s debt crisis is, at bottom, symptomatic of a failure of self-control, a fundamental moral failing.
The first event of the nominating process, Iowa’s Republican caucuses, are, Santorum says, a bifurcated event. One part concerns born-again and evangelical Christians, who are 60 percent of caucus participants. The other part involves everyone else. This is why Mike Huckabee won Iowa in 2008 and why in 1988 Pat Robertson finished a strong second to Bob Dole and ahead of George H.W. Bush.
Three people who might have competed, or still might compete, with Santorum for voters intense about social issues include Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, who has decided against running. And Huckabee, who is doing well as a Fox News contributor. And Sarah Palin, another Fox luminary, would have the most to lose financially from running. Santorum thinks “the left is trying to goad her into it,” hoping she would be weak among the independent voters who decide most elections.
Read the whole thing. Part of the answer to the question above about the staying power of libertarian conservatism is whether the tea party represents a new segment of the Republican base or largely overlaps with the social-conservative group — whose members may be choosing to emphasize different issues for now but won’t necessarily be turned off by candidates who speak more frequently about social issues.
My interactions with Georgia tea partyers suggest that the latter theory is closer to the truth. But matters might be different in places such as Wisconsin. We shall see.
– By Kyle Wingfield
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