The attacks on America’s core values are surging — and so is a Republican candidate who’s defending them. After a week that witnessed everything from the toppling of California’s marriage law to the savaging of religious freedom, voters yesterday gave a resounding victory to a Republican candidate who appears to understand these insults best: a lifelong social conservative who stands in starkest contrast to the president’s aggressive social agenda. In a stunning three-state sweep of yesterday’s GOP contests, Senator Rick Santorum proved that he can harness the country’s anger and use it as momentum for the values he’s been highlighting all along.
As I’ve pointed out before, neither I nor the Family Research Council has endorsed a presidential candidate. In its near-30-year history, FRC never has. What we do endorse are the values and policies that give America the best opportunity for economic and cultural success. That’s why it’s interesting to watch the media scramble to explain Santorum’s big upset. As we see it, there is absolutely no doubt that these victories are tied to a string of recent events that threaten America’s morals. Tuesday’s contest was the first test of outrage against the president’s war on the church. In the days since the White House ordered faith-based groups to swallow its mandate on abortion and contraception pills, there has been almost universal opposition to the rule. “Freedom is at stake,” Sen. Santorum has said. “We need to be the voice for freedom.”
As the military’s rights are crumbling, marriage is crushed at the courtroom door, and Planned Parenthood terrorizes organizations that won’t bankroll its ideology, who are people going to turn to? Americans are signaling that they don’t want a president who will stop the cultural decay. They want a president who will reverse it. And they want it badly enough to give Santorum double-digit support in states that Governor Mitt Romney won easily in 2008. Four years ago, the governor actively fought for social conservatives’ support. This year, the Massachusetts native is adopting a more moderate model that leans more on his economic strengths. That gamble may not pay off for the Romney camp now that President Obama is bringing social issues back into focus.
If the election pivots on religious freedom, life, and marriage, Romney’s approach may drive him out of the conversation. Even now, the former governor seems to recognize the threat from Santorum, as he reaches back to social conservatives with reactions to the Proposition 8 ruling and contraception mandate. Time will tell if this new emphasis on values gives him an opening with religious conservatives. After Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri, and a belated celebration in Iowa, Sen. Santorum now has four victories to Gov. Romney’s three. And while time and money are on the governor’s side, the Pennsylvania underdog is proving that a consistent message can more than make up for those disadvantages.
As Santorum said about his failed re-election bid in 2006, the one thing he didn’t lose is his principles. And in a campaign for the soul of America, they may be the most valuable asset of all.
Tony Perkins is president of the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.