Is Rick Santorum really the most conservative presidential candidate?
By Rachel Alexander
The anyone-but-Romney conservatives have currently latched onto Rick Santorum as their candidate du jour, providing him with a surge shortly into the Republican primary elections. But is he really that conservative? Santorum is known for taking strong stands on social issues like abortion and gay marriage. As a result of his outspokenness on the sanctity of marriage, he has been the target of a cruel gay activist.
Up until his surge, most people took his conservative claims for granted without closely scrutinizing his record in Congress. But his record is sketchy. Santorum's lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union is only 88. Newt Gingrich's lifetime rating is 90. Santorum's record was even worse in the past; during his first two years in Congress he received ratings of 83 and 81, which dipped to a low of 70 in 1993.
Santorum really hurt his conservative record in 2004 by backing abortion-rights supporter Arlen Specter for Senate over conservative challenger Pat Toomey, deciding that Toomey was unelectable. Specter narrowly won. Toomey went on to win the next election, as Specter switched parties and lost in the Democratic primary.
Santorum is not necessarily the best candidate for the Tea Party either, considering he expressed his distaste for the Tea Party a couple of years ago, "I have some real concerns about this movement within the Republican party…to sort of refashion conservatism. And I will vocally and publicly oppose it."
Liberty Counsel Action put together a list of not 10, not 50, but 100 of Santorum's disappointing votes on major issues over his 16 years in office. His record on social issues does not entirely live up to his rhetoric. He voted to fund Planned Parenthood as part of an appropriations bill that provided money for Title X family planning. He voted three years in a row against bills to end the National Endowment for the Arts, famous for funding artwork like a cross in urine.
The fiscal watchdog organization Club for Growth describes his performance in Congress as merely "above average." Santorum voted for union-backed legislation that restricts steel imports. He opposed repeated attempts to reimpose the "pay-go" rules that would hold down spending increases and tax giveaways. He voted against the National Right to Work Act and voted for Fed Ex unionization. He supported a bill by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) increasing the minimum wage. He voted for practically every "emergency supplemental" spending bill sought by the Bush administration, which added tens of billions to the deficit. He voted to increase the debt ceiling and voted against a flat tax. He voted against reforming welfare programs numerous times.
He requested billions of dollars of earmarks for his home state of Pennsylvania, and defends this practice by claiming that "there are good earmarks and bad earmarks." He was one of only 25 Senators who voted for the Bridge to Nowhere, part of the $284 billion 2005 highway bill known for its bloated earmarks.
Santorum does not appear strongly principled, since he now admits some of his past votes were mistakes. He voted for the expensive Medicare Part D prescription-drug program, the largest entitlement program since Lyndon Johnson, which is expected to cost $68 billion this year. He said after the fact that his vote was a mistake since the program did not have funding. During last week's presidential debate in Arizona he admitted that voting for the No Child Left Behind Act, which expanded the federal government's role in education, was a mistake and he "took one for the team."
There is a reason why presidential candidates rarely come from Congress. Their records are more extensive and visible than governors or non-politicians. The nature of being a member of Congress means voting for bills that include items you don't agree with in order to get your own agenda passed. This kind of compromise will translate into compromising as president, since the president will need to sign bills in order to get anything accomplished. The question is whether a president will stand firm and compromise on very little, like Ronald Reagan, or whether a president will compromise their principles more often like both presidents Bush.
What may ultimately turn conservatives away from Santorum are the robocalls he ran in Michigan recently attacking Mitt Romney. They were directed into Democratic households, urging Democrats to vote in the Republican primary against Romney since Romney opposed the auto bailouts. The calls sounded like they were coming from Democrats until the very end when the Santorum campaign was identified. This kind of dirty campaigning, which tricks opponents into voting for you, crosses the line, especially since Santorum also opposed the auto bailouts.
Santorum may be reasonably conservative, but he is not clearly the most conservative candidate in the race. To claim that he is the best choice for conservatives is debatable. Gingrich's record is slightly better, and it is difficult to compare Santorum with Romney since Romney's experience as governor was different and brief. Ron Paul has the most conservative record when it comes to fiscal issues, but the least conservative record on foreign policy and defense. Perhaps conservatives who claim Santorum is the best candidate are basing their preferences on criteria other than his record in office.
Rachel Alexander and her brother Andrew are co-Editors of Intellectual Conservative. Rachel practices law and social media political consulting in Phoenix, Arizona. She has been published in the American Spectator, Townhall.com, Fox News, NewsMax, Accuracy in Media, The Americano, ParcBench, and other publications.