For anyone who followed the 2012 presidential-election cycle, Rick Santorum’s speech Friday probably sounded familiar.
In 2012, Santorum had solidified his role as the nice guy in the race. And in his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference this year, he reminded everyone why.
“We’re told we have to put aside what we believe is the best interest of the country so that a Republican candidate can win,” he told a packed audience. “That may result in a win for a Republican candidate but it will be a devastating loss for America.”
He emphasized conservative values like reclaiming the “true beautiful institution of marriage” over fighting with fellow Republicans, and waxed nostalgic about everything he did back in his favorite year: 2012.
“I didn’t run to carry the agenda,” he said within the first few minutes of his speech. “I didn’t run to put forth issues. I ran because I wanted us to win the White House.” He also drew a direct line between his race in 2012 and Reagan’s 1976 race, stressing that Reagan won not because he was a cultural conservative but because he focused on working Americans.
That fed perfectly into one of Santorum’s top gripes from 2012: the term “middle-class,” or class-anything, really.
“Do you really accept the idea that there are classes in America?” he demanded of the assembled conservatives, explaining they should really all use the term “working Americans” instead. Because unlike Democrats (who presumably hate work and love welfare), “we believe work is a good thing.”
“They use the class rhetoric because they’re all about dividing,” he said, “That’s what they do, they divide. Let them divide; let us unify!”
He made that point to considerable cheers. It’s also one he’s made before.
At an event with his GOP primary competitors in January 2012, he chided Mitt Romney for using precisely this language:
The governor used a term earlier that I shrink from. It’s one that I don’t think we should be using as Republicans, “middle class.” There are no classes in America. We are a country that don’t allow for titles. We don’t put people in classes. There may be middle-income people, but the idea that somehow or another we’re going to buy into the class-warfare arguments of Barack Obama is something that should not be part of the Republican lexicon.
Previously he had attacked Obama with a very similar talking point. “You’ll never hear the word ‘class’ come out of my mouth,” he said. “Classes? We specifically rejected that. Look in the Constitution.”
He likes the point so much, in fact, that he kept using it even after he left the campaign trail. While speaking at a GOP fundraiser in August of last year, he told the audience:
Don’t use the term the other side uses. What does Barack Obama talk about all the time? The middle class,” he said at a fundraiser hosted by the Lyon County GOP. “Since when in America do we have classes? Since when in America are people stuck in areas or defined places called a class? That’s Marxism talk.
A tweet by Slate‘s Dave Weigel summed it up: “Santorum giving the same ‘I could have won in 2012 because blue collar’ speech he’s given for a year.”
Indeed, it looks like mostly what we were getting was a sales pitch. Santorum’s book on how the GOP can appeal to blue-collar workers is expected out later this year. And if Republicans’ struggle to capture the blue-collar vote in the last election cycle is any indication, the book will sell.