The Daily Caller

The Daily Caller
Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum  speaks during a campaign stop in downtown Moline, Ill, on Monday, March 19, 2012. (AP Photo/The Dispatch, Paul Colletti) Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during a campaign stop in downtown Moline, Ill, on Monday, March 19, 2012. (AP Photo/The Dispatch, Paul Colletti)  

TheDC’s Jamie Weinstein: Santorum has his conservative indiscretions too

Contrasting himself with Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum portrays himself as an unwavering conservative who stands on principle. But his record is hardly without serious blemishes.

On ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, guest moderator Jonathan Karl brought up Santorum’s endorsement of then-Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter for president in 1996. Specter was a liberal Republican who became a Democrat before failing to gain re-election in 2010 (he couldn’t even get out of the Democratic primary.)

When he ran for president in 1996, he did so as a social liberal, which was an important plank in his candidacy. He wanted “strip the strident anti-choice language from the Republican National platform” and weaken the influence of social conservatives in the party.

No one ever accused Santorum of being a social liberal, but he nonetheless supported Specter. He explained on ABC that he did so because Specter was his Pennsylvania colleague and he didn’t believe Specter was going anywhere.

“I was his colleague in the United States Senate. He asked me to stand with him. That certainly wasn’t one of my prouder moments I look back on. But look, you know, you work together as a team for the state of Pennsylvania,” Santorum said.

“I certainly knew that Arlen Specter was going nowhere. I certainly disagreed with a lot of things that he said.”

If there was some strategic value in supporting Specter, this could possibly be understandable. For instance, during Specter’s re-election for Senate in 2004, you could make the case that you were supporting Specter because he was the most likely Republican to win the state and thus help the GOP keep the Senate majority.

But there was no similar strategic calculus in supporting a quixotic presidential candidate like Specter in 1996.

Santorum’s support of Specter in 1996 was hardly his only indiscretion. During CNN’s South Carolina debate in January, Ron Paul attacked Santorum for siding with labor unions and opposing right-to-work laws when he was in the U.S. Senate.

“[W]hen I was a senator from Pennsylvania, which is a state that is not a right-to-work state, the state made a decision not to be right-to-work,” Santorum explained after noting he would support right-to-work as president.

“And I wasn’t going to go to Washington and overturn that from the federal government and do that to the state.”

In a back-and-forth, Santorum uttered the words “representative government,” seemingly suggesting that he viewed his role in the Senate as representing the views of his constituents.

This is not a model of a leader and statesman. It is also anti-Burkean — as in Edmund Burke, the 18th century British politician and philosopher who stands at the bedrock of conservative thought.

In his classic speech to the electors of Bristol, Burke explained how he saw his role as their representative. After telling them that “it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents,” he powerfully stated:

It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable.

Burke believed that representatives should represent the nation and support policies that they believe are in the best long-term interests of the country, not necessarily what the momentary passions of their constituents dictated. If his constituents disagreed with the way he was acquitting himself they could always vote him out, which the residents of Bristol ultimately did with Burke.

Santorum’s position seems to be the antithesis of Burke’s principled position.

There is gray area here, of course. Sometimes you have to support things you may not entirely agree with to ultimately achieve something you perceive as more significant. But Santorum does not make that argument.