Rick Santorum, Closet Populist?

by Alec MacGillis | December 29, 2011

Amid all the talk of Rick Santorum's surge in Iowa, I'm a little surprised more people aren't noting that he has something in common with 2008 caucus winner Mike Huckabee other than the obvious, their shared base of support among the state's social conservatives. Namely, that Santorum, like Huckabee, is coming the closest to articulating an economically populist in a message in a field that is otherwise in thrall to tax-cutting, upper-crust orthodoxy.

Four years ago, Huckabee proudly took  up the mantle of the Sam's Club Republicans, arguing that the party needed to do more to address the economic insecurity of its working class supporters, even if it meant causing some anxiety among its Club for Growth and Wall Street backers. "The Wall Street-to-Washington axis, this corridor of power, is absolutely, frantically against me," he said in December 2007 . "The president ought to be a servant of the people and ought not to be elected to the ruling class." Such talk alarmed conservatives like David Keene, the head of the American Conservative Union and a Romney supporter, who warned that Huckabee "is not a conservative who is an evangelical, he's an evangelical populist. It's not the evangelical part that conservatives worry about. It's the populism. It's his economic views."

With Huckabee out of the running this year and voters even more economically insecure than they were four years ago, it seemed likely that someone else would emerge to make the populist case. Perhaps Tim Pawlenty, the son of a truck driver? But even before Pawlenty made his early exit, he had passed up the Sam's Club mantle, instead adopting a tax-slashing economic plan that could have been written by the Club for Growth. The only candidate who has come closest to the semblance of a populist message is Santorum. He has not been nearly as outspoken on that score as Huckabee was. But he has talked eloquently about the decline of manufacturing in his home state of Pennsylvania, and he has dared to speak the truth that social mobility in the land of Horatio Alger is now below that of supposedly class-bound Western Europe. It may just be that what some Iowa voters are responding to in Santorum is not just his talk of faith and family but his acknowledgment of their anxiety about their future in an increasingly unequal and insecure economy.

And just as happened with Huckabee, the powers that be are taking note and moving to quash such talk Thus we have Erick Erickson warning that Santorum is in fact insufficiently conservative on economic matters:

Most damning to me is Rick Santorum’s actual record in the Senate and House of Representatives. I keep hearing him say he was such a paragon of fiscal conservative virtue, when he was anything but that. He was as go along to get along as all the other Republicans who led to our downfall. Making Santorum worse, he was always the guy saying, “I had to do this, but wait till I get to leadership. I’ll be there for you in leadership.” It’s what he is saying now. Only it isn’t true and never was.
He supported steel tariffs in Pennsylvania, which did him little good in his own re-election effort. He supported No Child Left Behind. He supported the prescription drug benefit. ...He voted against the Farm Bill in 2002, but he voted to extend milk subsidies to save the poor Pennsylvania farmer. In the House, Santorum opposed NAFTA and offered legislation to impose steel tariffs. He wanted to tax imported honey and Chinese imports.

Taxes on imported honey! Man the barricades, the pitchforks are banging at the gate.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/the-stump/99017/the-other-huckabee-santorum-connection