2016 Caucus

August 13th, 2013
 

Santorum Would Be Wise Not to Rest on His Laurels

Rick Santorum blazed a path across Iowa last week that was reminiscent of his grueling 2012 presidential campaign.  With 2016 still far in the distance, politicians kicking around a presidential run typically drop into Iowa for a few hours, or maybe even an entire day, but not Santorum.  Santorum’s first trip to Iowa in 2013 spanned three days and three nights.

Santorum’s trip to Iowa took him to major population centers like Council Bluffs, Sioux City, Des Moines, and Ames.  He also made it to conservative northwest Iowa to headline a multi-county Republican fundraiser in Lyon County on Thursday night.  After strolling through the Iowa State Fair the following day, the 2012 caucus winner made his way to rural Oskaloosa to be the special guest at a large gathering at the home of Steve Boender, who is also a board member of The FAMiLY Leader.

Santorum’s final appearance after barnstorming the state in the same pickup truck he used in the final weeks before the 2012 caucuses was at the FAMiLY Leader’s Leadership Summit.   His speech there was one part reminiscent of his 2012 campaign, another part conservative populism, and a final part call-to-action for Christians to engage in the battle over our culture.

As Santorum has done in all of his Iowa appearances since winning the 2012 caucuses, his most recent appearances included a heavy dose of reflection on his previous run for president.  It is completely understandable why he so often reminisces about his Iowa campaign, but at some point, he will have to get past his successes of yesteryear if he intends to be a viable presidential contender in 2016.

It appears that the 2016 Republican presidential contest may be a referendum on just how much libertarian philosophy is good for the Republican Party, but Santorum didn’t even touch on that subject on Saturday.  Instead, Santorum provided the audience a healthy dose conservative populism.  He blasted the Romney campaign’s laser-like focus on entrepreneurs and big successful businesses.  Santorum quipped that not once at the Republican National Convention did someone who worked for one of those businesses get an opportunity to speak about working for one of those companies or about what business owners meant to them.

Santorum’s argument that the Republican Party needs to message to the two-thirds of Americans that will not receive a college degree or start a business is a valid point.  That message helped Santorum win eleven states in the Republican primary, but it’s easy to see how it would have also been effective in the general election.   Besides lamenting the need for the Republican Party to broaden its message to a wider swath of working Americans, Santorum offered little to no policy ideas that Republicans could use to reach out to those working-class people.

The final segment of Santorum’s speech was a plea to the religious and social conservatives to fight back against the leftward drift of our culture.  Santorum said that the politicians in Washington, D.C., are not the ones who changed our culture, but rather we are all to blame.  He also stated, “The left lives out their beliefs in every aspect of their lives.”  He then admitted that the same is not true for those of us on the right.

Santorum, who is now the CEO of Echolight Studios, a producer and distributor of high-quality, family-friendly movies, then asked the audience who is really raising our kids in America.  He provided the stat that the average child in America today spends eight hours a day watching television, while spending only ten minutes talking to their parents or attending church.  “Who’s raising our children?  Santorum asked again, “Popular culture.” He then charged the audience to engage in the culture war and begin to fight back.

As one would expect, Santorum’s speech resonated with the conservative audience, but it lacked the energy and excitement that Texas Senator Ted Cruz received later in the afternoon.  Santorum’s speech, while good, also did very little to cement himself as the conservative to beat in Iowa should he choose to run for president in 2016.

While winning the caucuses in 2012 gives Santorum a number of advantages if he should decide to run again in 2016, it also means that Santorum will have to deal with something he never had to deal with in Iowa before – expectations.  This means that Santorum will be expected to raise a considerable amount of money, perform well in early Iowa and national polls, and win the first contest – the Iowa caucuses.

Santorum also needs to realize that having won Iowa doesn’t necessarily mean that he will instantly win back the support of everyone who voted for him 2012.  Santorum beat Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Michele Bachmann.  The field in 2016 could contain fresh faces like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, two candidates who will likely make a play for those former Santorum supporters.

A Cruz candidacy could be very problematic for Santorum.  As the new darling of the conservative movement, Cruz has caught the eye of Iowa conservatives, including some of Santorum’s most ardent supporters in 2012.  Essentially, he’s the shiny new toy on the toybox.  While it is true that Cruz has only served in the U.S. Senate for just eight months, he appears to have become the great hope for conservatives.  That is the position that Santorum should have occupied after having been the alternative to Mitt Romney in the 2012 Republican primary, but Santorum has not been able to establish himself as the conservative to beat.

Unlike Cruz, Paul, Congressman Paul Ryan, Governor Scott Walker and other elected officials, Santorum is at a disadvantage because is he doesn’t hold an elected office, which would help him remain relevant and engaged in the issues of the day.  Saturday in Ames provided Santorum with a big stage and national audience that would have allowed him to make his case, but Santorum came off as the guy who won the previous contest, not the guy who wants to win the next one in 2016.

It would be unwise to write off Santorum in 2016.  One lackluster speech isn’t about to close the books on a 2016 presidential run.  However, Santorum must realize that he’s competing against an entirely new set of candidates in the pre-2016 jockeying contest.  Santorum has proven himself to be an outstanding retail politician, and there is no denying his passion when it comes to advocating for socially conservative policies.  That will still be a potent combination when it comes to campaigning in Iowa, but Santorum would be wise not to rest on his laurels.

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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson serves as the founder and Editor-in-Chief of TheIowaRepublican.com. Prior to founding Iowa's largest conservative news site, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa during the 2008 Iowa Caucuses. In that capacity, Robinson planned and organized the largest political event in 2007, the Iowa Straw Poll, in Ames, Iowa. Robinson also organized the 2008 Republican caucuses in Iowa, and was later dispatched to Nevada to help with the caucuses there. Robinson cut his teeth in Iowa politics during the 2000 caucus campaign of businessman Steve Forbes and has been involved with most major campaigns in the state since then. His extensive political background and rolodex give him a unique perspective from which to monitor the political pulse of Iowa.




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