Rick Santorum: A Religious Right Crusader Masquerading As A 'Blue Collar' Conservative

As the GOP embraces the reactionary politics and anti-government zealotry of the Tea Party, it is steadily purging “moderates” and empowering extremists. Nothing shows this trend more clearly than the lineup of potential Republican presidential candidates. In this new series, we’ll be looking at the records and promises of the Republican Party’s leading presidential prospects. Next up is Rick Santorum:

Since losing to Mitt Romney in the 2012 Republican presidential primary season, Rick Santorum has tried to position himself as the “anti-Romney.” The former Pennsylvania senator isn’t just a conservative warrior on issues like immigration, legal abortion and gay rights; he is also trying to change the image of his party as an organization led by and only concerned about millionaires and billionaires.

In his 2014 book, “Blue Collar Conservatives,” Santorum chides his party for being too focused on cutting taxes for the rich and showing little empathy for workers and the unemployed. His message of right-wing populism, while not exactly revolutionary, captures the mood of many Tea Party activists who see GOP elites as too close to Wall Street and Washington. But his critique of the GOP is mostly cosmetic: Santorum offers the same, tired Republican solutions of cutting taxes and domestic programs, deregulating Wall Street, promoting the fossil fuel industry and curtailing immigration.

Contrary to his rhetoric, Santorum pushes a policy agenda heavily favored by Wall Street: repealing regulations governing the financial services sector and other industries, attacking the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Labor Relations Board, rolling back the powers of the EPA, and, of course, cutting taxes for the very rich. Santorum perfectly embodies the spirit of the Tea Party as he makes overtures to voters who are upset by Wall Street’s behavior while pushing policies that allow Wall Street to continue that behavior unfettered.

Santorum complements his message of economic populism with a crusading stance on social issues, arguing that the GOP must become more conservative, and more aggressive, if it wants to win. Shying away from social issues, Santorum contends, would only undermine the GOP.

In a year-long gig as a columnist for the online conspiracy theory clearinghouse WorldNetDaily that he started after dropping out of the presidential race, Santorum proved himself adept at speaking to the his party’s extreme base. He used the platform to play up right-wing fears about government and gays, stoking conservative opposition to such measures as an international disability rights treaty and the inclusion of gay youth in the Boy Scouts of America.

Santorum also stands to benefit from his deep roots in the first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa, where he built a coalition of Religious Right activists to edge out Romney in 2012. He received a late but critical endorsement from Bob Vander Plaats, a leading Iowa powerbroker who spearheaded Mike Huckabee’s successful 2008 caucus campaign and leads an amalgam of Religious Right groups called The Family Leader. Santorum teamed up with Vander Plaats in 2010 for the successful campaign to remove three Iowa Supreme Court judges who joined a unanimous decision in favor of marriage equality.

Santorum also won the support of a large coalition of Religious Right leaders from across the country in 2012, but only after Romney had already racked up early primary victories.

After coming up short in the presidential primary, Santorum got a job as the chief executive of a conservative Christian film company EchoLight Studios. He has used his new post to push the right-wing narrative that conservative Christians in America are facing widespread persecution as a result of gay rights, Obamacare and the separation of church and state. The way Santorum tells it, marriage equality is a threat to the freedom of speech and religion, and Satan is using universities, mainline Protestant churches and the government to extinguish conservative values.

Naturally, he plans to center his upcoming presidential campaign on putting Bibles in public schools, criticizing the separation of church and state and gay rights, and warning of Nazi-style, anti-Christian oppression in America.

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