The conventional wisdom says Mitt Romney is the candidate that President Obama and his allies fear, while they’re allegedly salivating at the thought of facing Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum. Of course, conventional wisdom didn’t have Santorum coming from sixth place in the polls with three weeks to go and effectively tying Romney in Iowa — where he and Romney ended up separated by just 0.007 percent of the vote. (In Olympic swimming, any race decided by less than a hundredth of a second is declared a tie — as slight variations in the smoothness of the pool’s walls could well be responsible for any smaller margin — and Iowa’s vote counting process certainly isn’t as smooth as the walls of those pools.)
Conventional wisdom may also be wrong about Santorum — as well as Gingrich — in a general election race. To see why (in Santorum’s case), one need look no further than the strong, heartfelt, well-conceived speech he delivered on the night of the Iowa caucuses. It’s a speech that deserves a viewing (see it here), and it showed why Santorum has the potential to be a formidable opponent to Obama.
Santorum’s speech had three main themes: freedom, the economy, and civic virtue — each of which he presented as part of an interconnected whole.
After offering heartfelt thanks on several fronts, Santorum began by discussing his grandfather (from 2:55 to 6:05). He told the story of how his grandfather had fled fascist Italy; how he had come to America and eventually become an American citizen; and how his example had helped inspire his grandson to run for president. Many, including the man who effectively tied Santorum in Iowa, have said that the essential issue in this election is the economy. But when discussing his immigrant grandfather, Santorum conveyed that he doesn’t quite agree:
“This journey started officially just a few months ago in June, when I stood on the steps of the county courthouse in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. I decided to go there, not the typical place someone announces for president — it’s not where I was born, it’s not where I ever lived — but it’s where my grandfather came back in 1925….
“And so to honor him, I went to Somerset County, because I believe foundationally, while the economy is in horrible condition, while our country is not as safe as it was, and while threats are rising around the world, while the state of our culture under this administration continues to decline, with the values that are unlike the values that built this country, that the essential issue in this race is freedom....”
Santorum then transitioned to discussing his second theme, the economy (from 6:15 to 10:15). In that realm, he offered a message that’s not quite orthodox but which could potentially have widespread appeal:
“[W]e have two parties who are out talking about how they’re going to solve [our economic] problems. One wants to talk about raising taxes on people who have been successful and redistributing money, increasing dependency in this country…and passing Obamacare to provide even more government subsidies, more and more dependency, more and more government, exactly what my grandfather left in 1925.
“And then there’s another vision…the Republican vision, which is, let’s just cut taxes, let’s just reduce spending, and everyone will be fine.
“I believe in cutting taxes. I believe in balancing budgets. I propose cutting $5 trillion from this budget over the next five years. I support a balanced budget amendment that puts a cap at 18 percent of GDP as a guarantee of freedom for this country. But…
“But I also believe we as Republicans have to look at those who are not doing well in our society by just cutting taxes and balancing budgets, and that’s why I put forth a plan that Iowans responded to….
“[G]overnment [has] made workers uncompetitive by driving up the cost of doing business here. It’s 20 percent more expensive to do manufacturing jobs in this country than it is in the top nine trading partners that we have to compete with. And that’s why we’re losing our jobs.