Mona Charen

Wish I had a nickel for every conservative who confidently predicted that the Arizona debate would, of course, feature obnoxious questions about birth control and the devil aimed at Rick Santorum. As it turned out, CNN's John King did not ask "gotcha" questions and for the most part, conducted a fair and informative debate. The exception, and this may not have been King's fault, was CNN's absurd reality-show-style introductions of the candidates: "Newt Gingrich, the determined challenger," "Mitt Romney, the long-distance runner." Hmm. How about "CNN, the desperate, ratings-starved network"?

Memo to file: John King isn't one of the bad guys. He's pretty straight. Maybe FoxNews should offer him a job? Consider all of the reasonable people Fox has attracted from other networks: Brit Hume from ABC, Jim Angle from NPR, Chris Wallace from ABC, John Roberts from CNN, Doug McKelway from ABC. Truth is, there are still some nonliberals even in the unlikeliest places, such as the major networks.

The debate moderated by King along with other events of the past week, have resolved a question that has been swirling since the Missouri, Colorado and Minnesota primaries: Why not Santorum?

There is much to like and admire about Rick Santorum. He did fine work enacting welfare reform in the 1990s. He was an eloquent and thoughtful advocate for the unborn. He has kept a weather eye on Iran for many years. He's a dedicated family man. He was the first candidate to raise the issue of family structure in the context of discussions of poverty. And he had a solid, conservative voting record in Congress (with some exceptions -- there are always exceptions).

But Santorum would make a poor Republican nominee.

Because he has phrased his socially conservative views in vivid terms, he is precisely the sort of candidate who will evoke a Pavlovian response from the press. Just as Sarah Palin drove them mad, Rick Santorum will outrage them. The campaign will be cluttered by the continual discovery of "controversial" Santorum quotes from the past three decades, and precious time will be lost as he explains, justifies or withdraws his comments on women in the workforce, contraception, gay unions, Obama's "theology" (by which he did not mean to question the president's faith, something he'll have to explain over and over) and so forth.

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
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