For Rick Santorum, It’s 2012 All Over Again

Santorum’s linguistic gripes and emphasis on the blue-collar vote is the same speech he’s been giving for years.

National Journal
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Lucia Graves
March 7, 2014, 11:02 a.m.

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.