It’s been many years since I’ve been excited about an announced Republican candidate for the presidency. And judging by the crop of the current field, it will be a few more.
In late 2007, I campaigned for ex-Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. I knew he had no chance of being nominated, though I suspected he could make things interesting in Iowa. Furthermore, my support for Huckabee was intended to be a social conservative protest vote as the one-time Baptist minister was the closest thing to that in the race.
The person I wanted to see run in 2012 is New Jersey governor Chris Christie.
While he is not an ideal conservative, Christie is conservative enough and, pardon the pun, had the guts to challenge the entrenched special interests who have wrecked the Garden State.
Christie personifies the kind of boldness both the Republican Party and the country needs.
But alas, Christie isn’t running and worse yet has endorsed the last candidate not named Huntsman I would support in the primaries.
So I once again find myself in social conservative protest mode.
Ex-Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich has largely resurrected his candidacy through the free medium of the debate circuit and watching the political corpses of better-funded and better-organized candidates float past him.
Though he possesses 100% name recognition amongst likely primary voters and is the smartest presidential candidate in the room, Gingrich carries personal baggage that might make his nomination an act of party seppuku.
And then there was the Scozzafava endorsement, when Gingrich backed the candidacy of Republican Party-endorsed moderate Dede Scozzafava over Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman in a special election for a New York congressional seat.
While conservative notables embraced Hoffman, Gingrich made waves lining up behind Scozzafava, defending his choice in a “finger wagging” internet post to conservative critics of the move.
What really made the Scozzafava endorsement toxic was her decision to drop out the race and support the Democrat over Conservative candidate. To Hoffman’s credit, he put out a statement asking conservatives not to hold Gingrich’s “toe the party line” position against him.
That said, the Scozzafava endorsement is unsettling in that when the base of the Republican Party was going in one direction, Gingrich chose to stand with the politically tone-deaf country club.
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s campaign has the distinction of its high-water point being in the same 24-hour news cycle that it crashed. After an impressive demonstration of strength at the Ames Iowa Straw Poll, Bachmann had the rug yanked out of her by a candidate that didn’t even show up. While I agree with Bachmann on many of the issues, there seems to be more showmanship than substance in her candidacy.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, the one who yanked the rug out from under Bachmann, went from being instant frontrunner to Texas toast. Though his hazing of Romney is appreciated, I just can’t get past “PerryCare’s” mandatory HPV vaccinations and the bumbling debate performances.
We’re going to need more than an arrogant ambler facing off against Barack Obama next November.
Ron Paul is the ultimate protest candidate, but I don’t want my social conservative protest statement to get caught up with 9-11 truthers.
And that leaves me with the individual I had hoped George W. Bush would have picked to be his running mate in 2000: the man whose name none dare Google.
Former Pennsylvania US Senator Rick Santorum is the only candidate who has unapologetically carried water and produced results for social conservatives.
Santorum is relatively telegenic and his youthfulness represents a departure for a party with a tendency to nominate “seasoned” (or “out of touch”) establishment candidates.
He’s won two statewide contests in a state that Democrats must win in order to reach 270+ electoral votes.
The two biggest knocks on Santorum are his blowout defeat for re-election in a terrible year for Republican congressional candidates (2006) and his endorsement of then-Republican/then-US Senator Arlen Specter against conservative Pat Toomey’s insurgent primary challenge.
But compared to the ideological gaffes and personal/political shortcomings of the rest of the candidates, I can easier look past Santorum’s.
Iowa will hold the GOP’s first actual delegate contest just after New Year’s Day and if Santorum doesn’t finish first or second in Iowa, his bid won’t leave the Hawkeye State’s frozen fields.
And if that happens it’s back to the drawing board for this social conservative. And perhaps a few more.
Until then, Rick Santorum is a presidential candidate I can support with a clean conscience.