Politics

Rick Santorum: Why Republicans Are Afraid To Fight

Patrick Howley Political Reporter

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rick Santorum has a second chance to become the face and standard-bearer of the embattled GOP. If he succeeds, here in this crowded primary with overtones of 1964, he might just change the Republican Party.

In a candid and wide-ranging exclusive interview, Santorum told The Daily Caller his views on Jeb Bush, Wall Street, Ferguson and Baltimore, mass amnesty and why Republicans are scared of the media calling them racists. He’s a candidate pessimistic about aspects of the political process but genuinely optimistic that the country can get better.

Some of the shots he’s taken got to him, but he’s still certain he’s on the side of righteousness. And he has something else on his mind — something you almost never hear about from a Republican Party increasingly governed by corporate interests: “A level playing field.”

“The race is going to shake out after the first couple primaries,” Santorum said. “One thing I learned is that those dollars, while they’re very very important, they mean more over the long term. In the early primary states they’re not quite as important. Money is a way to get votes. If you can’t connect with people and get votes one-on-one or in front of an audience, money can make up for a lot of deficiencies. We do well connecting with voters.”

But he’s realistic about the process, and he assured us he’s doing just fine in the donor race.

“We obviously are talking to folks who could contribute to super PACs. I have been for the past couple years. A year anyway. We’ll continue to do so to try to get some large-dollar donors to help…candidly, there are a lot of folks helping us who are doing well.”

Is Jeb Bush the front-runner?

“Call Karl Rove on that.”

“I’ve never been intimidated by someone who has more money than me in any aspect of my life, much less politics.”

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Santorum — son of Butler County, Pennsylvania and Penn State alum — won the Iowa caucus in 2012 by 34 votes, but didn’t get credit for it because the first night’s vote count showed Mitt Romney ahead by eight. Santorum went on to win 11 primaries, still barnstorming and winning through the Midwest while Romney was trying to get his nomination notarized. The mainstream media didn’t just write the former two-term Pennsylvania senator off. Incensed by his Catholic social views, they targeted him for annihilation.

“You’d have to ask them what their objective is,” Santorum said of the burgeoning left-wing online media. “One of the things I learned over the last race is: watching reports about you on liberal websites is not good for your mental state of being.”

“It’s a small world and one that is unfortunately rather virulent toward anybody who stands up for everything from capitalism to traditional values to a strong America around the world. Any one of those things can get you hammered pretty hard on those sites. But I’ll defend their right to say what they say.”

What they say is that Santorum, daring to oppose abortion and gay marriage in the modern age, is out of touch. Jimmy Kimmel said it at the White House correspondents’ dinner after Santorum dropped out of the last race: “I guess it wasn’t Rick’s year. Rick’s year is 1954.”

Columnist and gay-movement activist Dan Savage stooped the lowest, starting a campaign to ruin Santorum’s Google search results by linking his last name to sexual material (“It’s disgusting,” Santorum told me of Savage’s trick.)

But if the media stopped blasting his social views for a minute, they might actually realize he’s the most unconventional Republican candidate in the entire field, and he wants to bring the power in his party back down from the boardrooms and onto the assembly line.

“The reality is that we have to have an economy that creates opportunities for everybody and that is not the economy we have right now,” he said. “We have an economy that rewards those who have resources.”

“The money [in the GOP] is clearly stacked against it,” Santorum said of his own populist vision, which has echoes of Jack Kemp and Pat Buchanan. “Look at the people who are doing well in America. The people doing well in America are the people who have assets. If you have assets and you’re doing well then in all likelihood you want to continue policies that allow holders of those assets to keep doing better.”

Santorum said he wants to change trade policies to level the playing field for a manufacturing sector that has been outsourced to other countries where factory workers require lower pay (11.7 million manufacturing jobs fled the States in the eight years after Bill Clinton welcomed China into the World Trade Organization, further gutting Santorum’s home state.) He wants to drill for domestic natural gas, not only to keep prices down at the pump but to affordably fuel what he thinks could be a resurgence in American manufacturing in the Midwest (“energy has changed the game,” he said, pointing to $2 gas and the opportunities it creates). And he wants to implement a flat tax to encourage corporations to stay in the country.

“If you look at the distribution tables on any flat tax you put together, the wealthier person will do better but that assumes that over time that wealthier person is going to stay in the United States,” Santorum said. “That’s increasingly not true.”

As for the banks?

“If I had a do-over I would probably do-over Glass-Steagall,” which Santorum voted to repeal in 1999 and which, once repealed by Bill Clinton, allowed massive banks to consolidate their holdings and become even more massive, leading in part to the 2008 financial collapse. “I don’t think that’s been a positive. I don’t know whether I would re-institute Glass-Steagall. That’s trying to put the genie back in the bottle. But I would look at things to put banks back in the banking business. These huge financial institutions deal in things that can be activities that I don’t think create stability in the financial markets and create opportunity for everyone to have a fair shot.”

There it is again. One of those terms. “A fair shot.”

What issue is paramount to the cause of Americans getting a fair shot, according to Santorum? The issue that he and Jeb Bush have a major disagreement on? The issue that, if Santorum fights hard enough, will end up being the wedge issue in the primary delegate race?

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Santorum is adamant about “stopping the glut of unskilled workers coming into this country both legally and illegally to compete to drive wages down.”

“You can’t argue that supply and demand doesn’t work. We have record levels of immigration and we don’t have a growing sector of unskilled jobs in America that are demanding higher wages. That leads to stagnant wages and lower take-home pay.”

Sure, the Democrats like mass immigration because, as labor organizer Eliseo Medina said, it creates a permanent progressive voter coalition. But the elephant is very much in the room. Republicans on Capitol Hill aren’t exactly fighting against it. In fact, they’re trying to pass a mass-amnesty package themselves. Why? According to Santorum, they’re scared.

“There are many in corporate America who would like to see open borders,” Santorum said. “In their mind, immigration is generally a good thing for the economy. There may be times in American history where that was true. There may be times again where that’s true. But given the nature of the immigration system we have and the types of immigrants we have coming here, it’s not true.”

“They have their own studies. Most of their studies are 10, 20, 30 years old. The one they always cite is the Mariel boatlift in Cuba,” when more than 100,000 Cubans fled to Miami in 1980 and it didn’t necessarily tank the local economy. “That was when I was a kid!”

“In the media, if you talk about limiting immigration then immediately you’re a racist. You’re a bigot, or you’re anti-immigrant, or you’re anti-Hispanic. All those things get thrown at you which is simply ridiculous because the people who are hurt most by new waves of immigrants are the immigrants who came before them.”

“The minority communities generally have higher rates of unemployment. The idea that this [stance] has to do with anything but protecting the American worker is on the face of it false. But that’s the perception that the media drives and most Republicans will shirk on it or step back and not enter that fray.”

Santorum is well-versed in Jeb Bush’s immigration policy, even if Bush insists on giving it out in Spanish.

“Jeb Bush wants to get rid of the visa lottery. About 50,000 people come in per year via the visa lottery. He believes that’s bad policy. I agree with him. Jeb Bush wants to get rid of chain immigration [which allows immigrants to bring their adult children, siblings, and spouses with them legally]. I agree with him. But here’s the difference: when I eliminate those categories of immigrants, which is about 300,000 people a year, Jeb Bush wants to replace them with other people coming in. I don’t. Just limit those categories.”

What happens if the economic warfare in the lower classes is not resolved?

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“It’s one of the most disheartening things that I’ve seen in a long time to see this type of antipathy that still exists in so many communities,” Santorum said, referring to the race riots in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, Md. “There’s a lot of reasons for it. Unfortunately there are serious issues going on in poor communities across this country.”

Republicans rarely talk about race these days. When they do, the media makes them pay for it. But Santorum does not shy away from the issue. Because, for all the identity politics that get plucked, he doesn’t think race is the issue at all.

“It’s a combination of lack of opportunity, schools not performing, and families breaking down. It’s all three of those things leading to a sense of hopelessness,” Santorum said. “When you throw on top of that a bunch of laws that have been put in place by crime rates years ago going up, that’s created a boiling point, a frustration. But we have to look at the root cause of this problem. We have to create economic opportunities, we have to strengthen the family in America.”

He cited sociologist Charles Murray’s recent book — always a lightning rod on the Left due to Murray’s racial writings — to posit, “The issue now is not race. It’s family structure.”

“Along with that, we need to look at our schools. We have lots of moms and dads who want their kids to be able to rise out of that situation but they don’t have the opportunity to go to school.”

As for the police? As for laws that send kids to prison for smoking marijuana in the city while suburban kids get off, or laws that send crack cocaine users to lockup while powder coke users get rehab?

“I’ve been very open to ideas about how to change some of our federal laws with respect to federal penalties that disproportionately impact poor communities,” he said.

Populists tend to have a chip on their shoulder, and Santorum is no exception. But in the political game today, in a party like his, there’s no reason for him to be saying the things he’s saying — on behalf of the people he’s saying them for — unless it all means something to him.

If Rick’s year was 1954, then whose year is 2015? Most people out there have no idea, and they don’t even know anybody who does.

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