Elisabeth Meinecke

When the GOP presidential primary field narrowed to the final four late in January, among them stood Sen. Rick Santorum, largely underreported on and often ignored by debate moderators. Santorum spoke with Townhall about why his voice was needed in the race and dealing with those early campaign trail obstacles.

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From Townhall Magazine's EXCLUSIVE March feature, "The Final Four: How Santorum Got There," by Tina Korbe:

Why Santorum’s Voice Was Needed

Those two issues—health care and the bailouts—are two of Obama’s greatest weaknesses, two areas of extreme vulnerability for an already unpopular president.

If the GOP nominates a candidate who is also vulnerable to attack on those topics, the contours of the general election change considerably. If those issues aren’t prominent in the race against Obama, “it makes the argument for us weaker,” Santorum told Townhall. “We don’t have the contrast. We don’t align with the vast majority of people across America who don’t want government to bail out greedy folks on Wall Street. [It] just shows a disconnection.”

As the fast flameout of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann proves, though, it’s also not enough to just be against the president’s positions. The GOP faithful and the general electorate alike want solutions— especially to the persistent problem of high unemployment, which continues to rate as the top issue of concern for voters in most polls. Romney and Gingrich had ample opportunity in the spotlight to present their ideas; Santorum, not so much. ....

Like Santorum himself, Santorum’s views on the economy are lesser-known than the opinions of either Gingrich or Romney. His niche has always been “social issues”—and plenty of voters fail to see that his grasp of those issues translates into a trenchant understanding of the root causes of the country’s economic problems and a unique set of ideas with which to tackle those problems.

At the heart of his plan for the economy is a concern for human flourishing through an open embrace of life—and a desire to see individuals take three simple steps to escape poverty: (1) work, (2) graduate high school, and (3) marry before having children.
In a Jan. 14 profile of Santorum, The Wall Street Journal called him a “supply-sider for the working man,” and the moniker makes sense.

“I’ve always said I’m from a blue-collar town, the grandson of a coal miner who works on small-town and small-business issues, and I’ve got an economic plan that reflects that,” Santorum said to Townhall. “[Romney’s and Gingrich’s plans] don’t.”

Like Romney and Gingrich, Santorum proposes to reduce the corporate tax rate, to reduce spending and regulation, and to reform entitlements—but the specifics of his plan are different enough to appeal to the middle-class workers Democrats have abandoned in a way neither Romney’s nor Gingrich’s would. Most notably, Santorum wants to completely eliminate the corporate tax on manufacturers. For all other businesses, the rate would be cut in half, from 35 percent to 17.5 percent.

“I’m someone who believes that making things creates wealth,” Santorum explained to The Wall Street Journal.

He also wants to triple the per-child tax credit—because, he says, it’s very difficult to grow an economy or fund entitlements with a shrinking population.

On the Radar

For much of the primary season, Santorum polled at less than 5 percent nationally. Consequently, he was relegated to the outposts of early debates and rarely had the chance to go head-to-head with the campaign’s foremost figures. As a conservative who’s unafraid to distance himself from libertarianism, he often sparred with Ron Paul, but rarely with Romney or Gingrich.

In fact, when, at the Charleston debate, he finally attacked Romney for Romneycare and both Romney and Gingrich for their support of the Wall Street bailouts, many prospective supporters asked Santorum, “What took you so long?”

As it turns out, Santorum was as frustrated as his would-be fans by the lack of opportunities he’d received to do that earlier.

“It’s hard to answer a health care question and go after somebody in the middle of answering about something else,” Santorum said. “It was very difficult for me, who didn’t get a lot of time in the early debates, to really get a clean shot where I could spend some time to walk through it, and this was our first opportunity.”

Read more of Tina Korbe's piece in the March isssue of Townhall Magazine.
 

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Elisabeth Meinecke

Elisabeth Meinecke is TOWNHALL MAGAZINE Managing Editor. Follow her on Twitter @lismeinecke.