Revenge of the Values Voters
Not so fast, say social conservatives. You've ignored our issues long enough and now we're going to force the GOP to place our issues front and center.
The message sent last night couldn't be clearer; the "consensus" at the beginning of the campaign that the culture war, abortion, gay marriage, and other issues near and dear to the hearts of GOP values voters were to be shunted to the sidelines while economic issues ruled the campaign has been fractured by Rick Santorum's sweep last night.
True, Santorum got a big boost from Main Street conservatives, deficit hawks, and libertarians willing to vote for him because he is now being seen as the only alternative to Mitt Romney. But it would be a mistake to overlook the fact that of all the GOP candidates who announced for the presidency, it is Santorum who has unabashedly pushed the social con agenda and proudly stood up for their causes.
He pivoted smartly last night and announced his intent:
Santorum, though, said Tuesday night in Missouri that he wasn't looking to be the alternative to Romney.
"I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama," Santorum said.
That is exactly what the base wants to hear and it was a clever gambit, inviting conservatives to flock to his banner.
The GOP, to the dismay of some and the joy of others, has restarted the debate over social issues for which the party has been identified for 30 years. No polling data is available, but the controversy over the contraception issue in health insurance plans bought by Catholic institutions may have brought the social con's concerns roaring back and caused some conservatives to rethink the way the race is being defined. Do conservaties want a candidate like Romney who was pro-choice at one time and gave tepid support to other cultural hot buttons? Or do they want the real deal found in the former Pennsylvania senator who has gone so far to suggest that contraception itself might be made illegal if states want to make it so?
Conventional wisdom still says Santorum can't win. But there's nothing in that wisdom that says he can't make social issues as important as economic issues for the remainder of the campaign.