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Santorum's Mystery Kitchen Cabinet: Who Advises Him Besides Himself? Santorum's Mystery Kitchen Cabinet: Who Advises Him Besides Himself?

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Campaign 2012

Santorum's Mystery Kitchen Cabinet: Who Advises Him Besides Himself?

Former senator's campaign hasn't offered any clues about who has Santorum's ear and claim on an administration job.

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Rick Santorum talks to supporters during a rally Monday in Moline, Ill.(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Meet Rick Santorum’s most influential policy adviser: Rick Santorum.

The Republican presidential candidate and his campaign have always touted their lean political operation. The principle apparently applies to the policy side as well. If the former senator from Pennsylvania has teams of economic and national security advisers, they are well hidden. It's hard to know what kinds of people Santorum would tap to serve in an administration, and whether he could be doing better on the campaign trail if he had more input.

 

The only name the Santorum campaign has divulged is Mark Rodgers, who was chief of staff for Santorum while he was in the Senate. Rodgers runs The Clapham Group, a values-oriented consulting firm named after an 18th-century faith-driven community near London that fought injustices such as slavery and child labor.

Santorum spokesman Hogan Gidley said there is a small brain trust of sorts, but he did not identify its members. “He does have a team of folks that are behind the scenes who have been getting his ear,” Gidley said. “It’s not one that we’ve trotted out at a press conference yet.” He said a list would be released shortly in response to media requests. Other aides did not respond to requests for comment.

Rival Mitt Romney, the front-runner for the GOP nomination, has rolled out lists of advisers long enough to fill a White House administration. On the economic side, that includes two former chairmen of the Council of Economic Advisers. The foreign policy roster runs dozens deep, featuring an array of former Bush administration officials and other national-security heavyweights.

 

The notoriously off-the-cuff Santorum frequently contrasts Romney's well-oiled campaign machine with his own scrappy operation and fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants style. Santorum is known for doing scant prep work before debates and has suggested outlawing the teleprompter. It all fits into his strategy of casting himself as authentic and relatable.

“Our model was a MacGyver model. We give Rick a hamburger and a road map and he wins Iowa,” Gidley said. He added pointedly: "He knows a lot of this stuff on his own. He doesn’t need to be loaded up on his talking points. He doesn’t need Washington bureaucrats to tell him what to do and how to think.”

Many members and former members of Congress run for president, and almost all of them have teams of policy advisers. So far things have worked out remarkably well for Santorum, who was not expected to get past the New Hampshire primary, much less Super Tuesday. “It actually is amazing that he’s been able to do this on a shoestring budget without a real policy team,” said GOP strategist Ron Bonjean. He added that a few more innovative economic ideas might have helped Santorum court on-the-fence voters, but the absence of a policy team matters little to those who have flocked to him because of his social-conservative bona fides.

The apparent lack of a deep Santorum bench doesn’t surprise G. Terry Madonna, a Pennsylvania politics expert and director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College. “His whole approach is very personal,” Madonna said. “A lot of what he says and does connects to his philosophy, his ideology, and his personal values. It doesn’t surprise me that he doesn’t have 15 policy wonks feeding him 15-page position papers.”

 

Jim Dyke, a veteran Republican strategist, sees Santorum’s approach as damaging. Policy pronouncements made from the heart and gut “can lead to faulty premises, unintended consequences, and a lack of fact-based decision making. None of which is what voters are looking for in a president,” Dyke said in an e-mail.

Santorum spoke from his gut last week when he said Puerto Ricans should learn to speak English before Puerto Rico can become a state. He was trounced in the territory’s primary, losing to Romney, 83 percent to 8 percent, according to the latest election returns.

“These are the types of things that have cost him a news cycle or two, which can be pretty damaging in the middle of a close-fought campaign,” said Dan Schnur, the director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, and a former communications director for John McCain.

“It’s a little bit like trying to build an airplane while it’s on the runway,” Schnur added of the Santorum campaign’s efforts to ramp up in the heat of battle. “It can be done, but it’s pretty hard.”

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