Have you ever wondered why some people won’t just go away? For the life of me, I can’t imagine why John Mayer still gets airplay, since his music sucks and his personality’s even worse. And if I had to choose a John Mayer in politics, it’d undoubtedly be someone like Rick Santorum.
Santorum is the former two-term senator who lost his Pennsylvania seat in 2006 by a 59-41 margin; right then and there, he should have fallen from the limelight and disappeared into the shadows. Instead, he saw fit to bide his time before running for president in 2012. When that venture didn’t pan out, I hoped against hope that he would take the hint and vanish.
He hasn’t. On April 28, his latest book, Blue Collar Conservatives, was released; the book’s title refers to Santorum’s insistence that Republicans need to appeal more to blue-collar voters in order to win elections. But that’s not all; he continues his call – long a Santorum trademark – of recommending socially conservative policies for society’s ills.
Tragically, conservative media outlets such as The Wall Street Journal and National Review have embraced the book, and Santorum is now poised to be considered a serious contender for 2016. This is tragic not for me, but for the Republican Party.
Polling has demonstrated that young people today – regardless of overall political stripe – overwhelmingly support same-sex marriage and liberalization of drug laws. In May, Breitbart’s Tony Lee reported that 60 percent of college students have reservations about government spying. The GOP needs to decide between taking these points into consideration… or finding some way to win without the youth vote (which, you know, totally worked out for them in 2012).
None of this fazes Santorum, whose record of opposing the “libertarianish right” (his actual words) goes back to at least 2005. To his credit, he did face one libertarian institution, the Fox Business Network program The Independents, to explain himself: “[W]hat our Founders were talking about was the ability to have the right to life… and, number two, to have liberty to pursue what you ought to do.” In other words, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is totally fine if your happiness is defined by socially conservative terms.
When pressed by the program’s all-libertarian panel, Santorum received to concede ground on LGBT rights – an issue where he is, to put it bluntly, a joke. (Santorum first came on the radar on the issue in 2003, when he compared homosexuality to bestiality.) Even when confronted with the reality that young voters would be turned off by his unyielding opposition to same-sex marriage, the former senator held firm: “Marriage is the union of a man and a woman for the purpose of having and raising children, and providing that child its birthright.” These words are fine coming from a religious sermon, but in the context of government policy, it feels like a frightening encroachment on private contracts.
Co-host Lisa Kennedy Montgomery summed it up as such: “Do you really think you’re going to be elected president by going into people’s bedrooms?” Santorum didn’t seem convinced, and he’d be correct.
And yet he remains a figure in the Republican Party – a John Mayer of politics – and a serious contender for the presidency. He’s overshadowed by Bush family heir Jeb Bush, an establishment Republican who supports Common Core and serves as a director for Tenet Healthcare, which encourages Americans to enroll in the Affordable Care Act. If this is the best that the GOP can do, then “tomorrow’s Republicans” are out.
Whitney Neal, the director of grassroots for FreedomWorks – an organization, unlike the Republican establishment, that gauges what young people want – says the new generation of Republicans want a candidate “who fights alongside them and isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo.”
That status quo will fight back, but if it does, it will be like John Mayer – around, sure, but not any good.