BAYHAM: A Rick Santorum Interview

Four years ago, Rick Santorum was the forgotten man on the presidential candidate scene. After having lost re-election to the US Senate five years before, Santorum launched what was considered a quixotic run for the presidency.

Yet despite operating on a shoestring budget, Santorum rose through the throng of GOP “flavor of the month” candidates and emerged as the main challenger to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for the party nod.

The former Pennsylvania US Senator was arguably one Michigan primary victory away from knocking out Romney in the battle for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

At the conclusion of his speech at the National Right to Life convention in New Orleans, the GOP’s most prominent pro-life voice sat down for a brief interview about his 2016 White House bid, the new RNC rules on the presidential debates and why Romney wasn’t successful in the 2012 general election.

Note of self-disclosure: I worked on Santorum’s 2012 campaign though at this time I have not endorsed, nor am I working for, Santorum or any other candidate for president.

Historically the GOP has nominated the candidate who ran second in the previous open contest since 1980. Do you believe that trend will continue in 2016?

Why, I certainly hope so. I won eleven states last time and that I answered the question of whether I was electable. We’re obviously electable when we win eleven states and four million people voted for us after being outspent 4 or 5 or 6 to 1 and basically had the entire Republican establishment on the other side. The fact that we were able to stand up against a strong candidate and do as well as we did shows electability. It’s one of the thresholds every vote has.

 Are you happy with the new role the RNC has taken in coordinating the presidential debates and the polling threshold necessary to participate in the August Cleveland debate?

I could not be more discouraged how we now have more evidence of the establishment of the Republican Party and the media having undue influence on the electoral process. We have primaries because we didn’t want to have party bosses picking our candidates or the media picking our candidates. The party has given the media undue influence to promote candidates to get them high in the polls and then to arbitrarily cut them off, which has nothing to do with electability. It reminds me that two weeks before the Iowa caucuses I was at 2% in the national polls and on the day I won I was at 4% in the national polls. So the national polls have nothing to do with who should be the nominee but it does have to do with who the national press covers and who the RNC and the Republican establishment supports.

In 2012, there were unresolved questions about delegate allocation to the national convention, particularly regarding Florida and Arizona. Do you believe those issues have been definitively resolved for 2016?

I think the idea that elections matter and that all of these primary delegates are going to be bound by votes is a very big step in the right direction. I think the RNC actually has done a very good job dealing with that issue.

What was the biggest regret from your 2012 campaign?

I didn’t win is my biggest regret. I guess I could say that my biggest regret was that we didn’t have the resources early on to build a national organization. Not that you would have paid staff in every state- nobody is going to do that. That you have the ability to get on all ballots. And I think the fact that we did not have that early on undermined our campaign a little bit at the end and in key states and key ways. I would say this time around we are much better prepared on that front and much more comfortable that we will accomplish things. We fixed that problem.

Are you concerned about the national GOP’s perceived lack of enthusiasm on standing by the party’s social issue platform planks, especially when contrasted with the Democrats’ more strident stances?

If you look at how homogeneous the Democrats are in response to these issues and then look at the Republican Party, how fractured we are, it just shows the influence money has and the coasts have, I’m talking about the east and west coasts not the southern coast.

Why do you believe Mitt Romney lost the general election in 2012?

It’s because he was not connected to a bloc of voters that we needed that were in play for us to win in that election and that are in play in this election and that’s lower-middle income Americans, most whom are not college graduates that are looking for someone who understands them and their plight and can connect to them in a way that shows that we can create a better and stronger America.

Four years ago you finished a relatively strong fourth in the Iowa Straw Poll.   Are you disappointed by the Iowa GOP’s decision to scrub the longstanding event?

You know I’ve had mixed emotions on that. With this size of field it became almost unmanageable and nobody really talks about that. It probably wouldn’t have accomplished what they intended to accomplish. I think the Iowa Straw Poll was a good thing though I am not so sure that this time around taking a pass on it wasn’t the wrong thing to do.

In 2012, you were considered the de facto social conservative candidate in the race.   In 2016, you have much stronger competition for that mantle. How do you plan to retain much of your social conservative support with so many other candidates also vying for that status?

There are so many candidates period. We had some strong good social conservatives in that race four years ago, obviously Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, who is also here at the National Right to Life convention where he’s certainly going to make his case. You’re right they have others. I just go back to who has done it on the national stage when all the klieg lights are on when it’s hot and when they are coming after you. As we’ve seen when the national spotlight is on you on moral and cultural issues even folks you think who are on your side wilt because there is nothing like it because unlike standing up to the labor unions 99% of the Republicans are going to stand with you, particularly your money people.

All your money people are going to stand with you if it’s an economic issue.

I know people talk about “well Scott Walker stood up to them” and he did but every money person in his campaign was on his side, every money person in the country rallied behind him. When you stand up the same way on moral and cultural issues almost every big establishment money person, everybody with influence in the party is going to be chewing in your ear to back down. Your whole funding base, your whole establishment was for him on that and they are going to be against whoever is the candidate standing up on moral and cultural issues. That’s where you can tell leadership not on these other issues.

How will the 2016 Rick Santorum campaign be different from the 2012 effort?

More focused and more disciplined and friendlier. More relaxed.

Do you believe Donald Trump will still be in the race come the Iowa caucuses?

I think people who had tried to make a career predicting what Donald Trump would say or do would be broke.

What do you believe is the most important issue in the 2016 presidential election?

Wow. That’s the big problem.   There are so many huge issues in this election, everything from religious liberty and family to life to ISIS and Iran and Russia and China to, as I mentioned earlier, working men and women falling behind in the income gap. There are so many…loss of our freedom here in America…there are so many issues that it’s hard to say…it’s an overall concern about divisive leadership in Washington and that we need someone strong who will stand up for American values.

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