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Morning Jay: The Challenge for Rick Santorum

6:00 AM, Feb 24, 2012 • By JAY COST
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Additionally, Republican majorities in the Bush era hardly acted in a manner consistent with the Tea Party ethos. Non-defense discretionary spending increased in most years, and No Child Left Behind and the Medicare Part D program were two of the biggest legislative achievements during this period. It was not a time of great budget discipline, including on the Republican side, and Santorum was right there in the middle of it.

So Santorum was a good conservative who was caught up in a bad process – and rather than rage against the machine, as Ron Paul usually chose to do, he claims that he played along to bend the policy needle in the conservative direction when and how he could. But, as we saw is Wednesday night's debate, Romney could argue just as aggressively that he was part of the problem.

And the bad news for Santorum is that, should he win the nomination, this problem will only become more acute. Not only will Team Obama go after Santorum for all of those earmark votes, they can also use the “gotcha” votes that the Democratic leadership engineer to make Republican senators look bad. Both sides regularly do this, forcing meaningless votes to prove that Republicans want to cut taxes for trillionaires or Democrats want to stop oil exploration. In context, these votes have no meaning whatsoever, but taken alone they can make a mainstream conservative like Santorum look like a dangerous extremist.

This is all a consequence of running for the presidency after having spent twelve years in a massively unpopular institution. Even though he was a good, hardworking senator during his time in office, he was part of a broken branch of government. So, Romney – and eventually Obama – can make him look like he was part of the problem, even if he really wasn’t.

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