Rick Santorum’s blue collar appeal — and a missed opportunity

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
Font Size:

Rick Santorum thinks Mitt Romney overplayed President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” line last year. Referring to its ubiquitous citations during the 2012 RNC convention, Politico reports that on Thursday, during an “after-hours” session of the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference, Santorum said:

“One after another, they talked about the business they had built. But not a single—not a single —factory worker went out there,” Santorum told a few hundred conservative activists at an ‘after-hours session’ of the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in Washington. “Not a single janitor, waitress or person who worked in that company! We didn’t care about them. You know what? They built that company too! And we should have had them on that stage.”

Santorum, of course, is right. This is a point that others, including yours truly, made during the campaign. As I wrote in August of 2012, “at some point, worshiping entrepreneurs became part of the Republican identity. And this is a potential problem.”

This isn’t something Santorum invented retroactively to bash Romney. Here’s what I wrote about Santorum’s convention speech at the time: “Whereas it was easy to see the other speeches had been crafted to score obvious points and reinforce the ‘you didn’t build that’ narrative, Santorum’s speech was authentic…”

This is an incredibly compelling message. And I’m of the opinion that, had Santorum stuck with such a populist economic message, he could have given Mitt Romney an even better run for his money.

So why didn’t he? As the Weekly Standard’s Mike Warren notes,

I think he’s right. Santorum wasn’t disciplined enough to relentlessly stick with what could have been a winning message. And that’s too bad for him. I don’t see Santorum having such an opportunity to exploit such a weak field again in 2016.

Matt K. Lewis