Rick Santorum endorses Mitt Romney, the man he once described as the "worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama." The presumptive nominee impressed the former senator from Pennsylvania with his "deep understanding" of the connection between social and economic issues.
If the endorsement was neither surprising nor resounding, it's probably good enough to begin uniting the social conservatives for a tough campaign ahead. A thermometer stuck into the bubble of rhetoric over Santorum's head would reveal the air as pretty tepid, but the white-hot anger that drove the Santorum campaign was gone.
Santorum said his meeting with Romney cleared the air and persuaded him that the governor would work hard to overturn Obamacare if the Supreme Court does not. He was persuaded that Romney economic policy would preserve and strengthen the family. The two men not only agreed to oppose abortion and gay marriage, but to work to lower taxes, reduce the national debt and make government smaller.
This was not earthshaking news, but it goes to the heart of what's expected from conservatives in November -- to make the moral link between economic and social issues, which would unite Republicans, not splinter them. The Santorum rhetoric has often spilled over the top, especially when he talked about birth control and the separation of church and state, and mocked the value of a college education for young people from blue-collar families. But on the economy, the issue essential to attracting independents, the two have much in common.
No matter how it's stated, the issue most on the minds of most American voters is the economy -- and lack of jobs. Even the stupid, in the famous campaign formulation, should see that. The case for growth is fundamentally a moral debate that goes to the heart of what we think is right and wrong. Arguments over moral positions evoke the culture wars of the 1990s and often focus on parochial, social issues, but Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, makes a strong case to Republicans for framing economic policy as a conservative moral issue, one that goes to the nation's roots in individual freedoms and free enterprise.
In his new book, "The Road to Freedom," he argues that it's a mistake for conservatives promoting an economic agenda to make a narrow defense of efficiency and material wealth. Instead, he says, conservatives should appeal to the ideals and virtues inherent in "earned success," in the individual accomplishment, equality of opportunity and necessary fairness that is required to make the system work.