By Luke Brinker
As New Hampshire primary voters prepare to cast their ballots, Rick Santorum is pleading with GOP voters not to settle for a “moderate,” “establishment,” candidate, The Hill reports:
“Let’s put up Bob Dole, because it’s his turn,” Santorum said ironically of the 1996 GOP nominee. “Let’s put up John McCain, because it’s his turn.”
Some in the crowd started booing, while others cried out “No!”
Dole and McCain did not lose in 1996 and 2008, respectively, because voters perceived them as too centrist. Bill Clinton, elected amid a torpid economic climate in 1992, coasted to re-election thanks to robust economic growth. Because economic performance drives electoral outcomes, it followed that McCain stood little chance of defeating Barack Obama in 2008. Coming shortly after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Democratic triumph in 2008 was the natural result of a severe recession occurring under a Republican president. Does Santorum really believe the GOP would have stood a better chance in 1996 by nominating Bob Dornan or in 2008 by putting up Tom Tancredo?
It’s also worth noting that by historical standards, Romney hardly qualifies as a centrist Republican. (And don’t expect a return of moderate Massachusetts Mitt.) Unlike Santorum, Romney tends to steer clear of inflammatory culture warrior rhetoric, so one could argue that he’s a temperamental moderate. But he still opposes abortion rights, stem cell research, and same-sex marriage. On economic issues, he endorses a full repeal of the estate tax, offers a regressive tax plan, and supports the Paul Ryan budget proposal, which would privatize Medicare. For a Republican presidential nominee who would really ruffle Santorum’s feathers, look to Gerald Ford, a pro-choicer, or Richard Nixon, the instigator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
It certainly suits Santorum’s ideological purposes to blame Republican defeats on insufficient conservatism, but a cursory knowledge of political history dispels his self-serving myth.