By Scott Tibbs, February 17, 2012
There are competing interests in the Republican primary field: Republicans want someone who will carry the conservative banner and they want someone who can defeat Barack Obama. The Republican establishment has attempted to paint Mitt Romney as the best choice for the second qualification, but they're wrong. That candidate is Rick Santorum.
Santorum has a solid fiscally and socially conservative record - he is the one who pushed welfare reform through the U.S. Senate, implementing a major policy shift by ending the federal entitlement to welfare. He sponsored the balanced budget amendment. His record on fiscal conservatism isn't perfect, but he has arguably the strongest record of the three top candidates.
What gives the establishment fits is the perception that Santorum is a crazy right winger on social issues, but the reality is that his positions on social issues are not substantially different from Romney or Gingrich - all three favor prohibiting government from recognizing same-sex marriage and all three favor banning abortion. Santorum is more vocal about it and has a record of advancing on those issues, which would motivate the Republican Party's conservative base to campaign for him.
What freaks out the establishment the most is the things Santorum has said about contraception, but as I pointed out last month his position is the classic libertarian position on the issue.
Santorum represents the exact package we need to win the White House: A fiscal and social conservative in the mold of Ronald Reagan. In fact, we stand a better chance with Santorum than either Romney or Gingrich.
While the base will still have anti-Obama motivation for the Presidential race, we need a positive motivation as well as a negative motivation. Romney's flip-flopping on major issues like abortion will not motivate the Republican base as much as we need them to be motivated and Romney does not provide enough contrast on health care. If Romney is the nominee, we risk negating (or at best minimizing) our advantage on health care.
While I believe Gingrich has sincerely repented, he does have a lot of personal baggage. We need an aggressively conservative candidate willing to take the fight to Obama, but Gingrich's tendency to be aggressively partisan may turn off some swing voters that we need. Santorum has proven with his U.S. Senate campaigns that he can win those swing voters. Gingrich is also prone to engaging his mouth before he engages his brain, such as his silly proposal to put a colony on the moon that brought derision rather than serious discussion of the space program. Santorum provides the debating skills and consistent conservatism of Gingrich without the baggage and lack of discipline.
I will vote for Romney, Gingrich or Santorum no matter which one of them wins the nomination. (And let's be honest here. Ron Paul is not going to be the Republican nominee for President.) But while I will vote for any of the remaining candidates, we need to choose the candidate with the best conservative record and the best chance of defeating Barack Obama. We do not need to choose between those two primary qualifications, because Rick Santorum meets both of them.