Matt Lewis

Limbaugh and Erickson disagree on Santorum’s ‘big government’ conservatism

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor

Rush Limbaugh and RedState’s Erick Erickson may represent different generations of conservative alternative media, but they usually agree on politics. Until now.

Each have staked out strong positions — on opposite ends — of a great debate taking place this week over an important question: Is former Sen. Rick Santorum is a “big government” conservative.

To hear Limbaugh explain it, the very notion is absurd. On Wednesday, the popular talk radio host took to the air, saying:

Now there’s a mantra — there’s mantra out there — and it’s even now spread to CBS News: “Will Santorum’s big government conservatism resonate?” It’s everywhere, folks. “Santorum’s big government conservatism.” Have you ever heard “big government conservatism” associated with Rick Santorum before today? Have you? Have you?

Yes, in fact, I have.

The notion that this is something new — that it just emerged at the moment when Santorum was gaining steam — seems laughable.

Limbaugh then recalled something he said when his show first began decades ago, noting:

… I said, “In certain things, conservatives actually do like a big government. For example, conservatives do want an activist government defending what’s right and attacking what’s wrong.”

Big government may not be the term, but, for example: Conservatives do think that it’s the role of government to protect the sanctity of life, as does Rick Santorum. If government doesn’t, who else will? And it stems from our founding documents: Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. The Declaration of Independence.

… Conservatives are all for, for example, the government fighting illegal immigration.

This is sophistry. The majority of the criticism directed at Santorum — in regards to big government — has had nothing to do with the right to life or illegal immigration. It was Santorum’s support of Bush-era programs like No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D that was the problem.

Limbaugh then went on to generally excuse Bush-era Republican spending, explaining,

What Rick Santorum and [Tom] DeLay were trying to do was disempower the Democrats’ bureaucrat lobbying reach into Washington. They were trying to get an equal foothold. It’s the way the game is played.

Not everyone agrees with this, of course.

Without mentioning Limbaugh by name, Erick Erickson took to his RedState blog on Friday, writing this:

I’m rather tired of all the people who don’t like Romney trying to claim Rick Santorum is not a big government conservative, or not a pro-life statist.  I would support him before I would support Romney too, but I have no intention of giving up ideological and intellectual consistency in the name of beating Mitt Romney.

Rick Santorum is a pro-life statist.  He is.  You will have to deal with it.  He is a big government conservative.  Santorum is right on social issues, but has never let his love of social issues stand in the way of the creeping expansion of the welfare state.  In fact, he has been complicit in the expansion of the welfare state.

(Emphasis mine.)

The fact that Limbaugh and Erickson disagree on this tends to reinforce the fundamental problem with stopping Romney: Conservatives are having a difficult time coalescing around any of the alternatives. That probably says more about the weak field than it does about the opinion leaders, though, in this case, I’d have to give Erickson the credit for being intellectually honest about Santorum’s history.