Paul  Kengor

Back in November, on the heels of the landslide defeat of Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) by Democratic challenger Bob Casey, Jr., I wrote an article recalling the first time I met Santorum. I intended the piece to be a personal recollection, with some analysis of polling data, and concluding with the point that Santorum—despite the crushing margin—should never be underestimated. This is a man capable of surprising victories.

The article was carried by several local and national sources, including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I didn’t expect much feedback, figuring I hadn’t said anything notably controversial. Boy, was I wrong.

My email box was flooded with the angriest collection of emails I’ve ever received from any article. Some of the emails were thoughtful, including a dialogue that followed with a Pitt professor. Most, however, were filled with animosity toward Santorum and at me for not appreciating the vituperation against the man. Yes, the emailers were mostly Democrats, but there was a strong contingent of disaffected Republicans.

By the time I got to roughly the 30th email, a Pittsburgher who lectured me, “You don’t understand how much people hate this guy,” I realized I had misread the electorate. So, I began surveying the emailers: What was it about Santorum that triggered such visceral rejection?

I found that some of the opposition was policy related—his conservatism, his unflagging position as the leading voice for life and against abortion in the Senate, his closeness to President Bush’s policies, especially concerning Iraq. Yet, most of the opposition was personal; these people simply didn’t like the guy. The central reason was Santorum’s alleged “hypocrisy”: whether this involved how he schooled his children or that he moved his family from Mt. Lebanon to Washington, which had once been a campaign issue he used to win a congressional seat (and which I had thought he explained adequately). More, the Casey campaign ad that excoriated Santorum for daring to argue that not all moms necessarily needed to go to work, was enormously damaging. “He doesn’t like working moms!” shouted one emailer.

Even now, the dislike appears to not be going away, much like the double-digit deficit Santorum was never able to dent against Casey.

Indeed, a friend last week handed me an op-ed by Reg Henry, a columnist syndicated by Scripps Howard News Service, titled, “Santorum goes into the tank.” Here was another reaction to Santorum that stunned me—placed, ironically, under a cartoon of Richard Nixon, a man who once said, “Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.”