David Brooks has an argument that the co-winner of yesterday’s caucuses is a different type of conservatism. Unlike that upper-class swell Mitt Romney, you see, Santorum offers a frothy agenda directed towards the white working class. He cares about poverty, really! This may seem like an odd argument to make about a candidate who compares Medicaid and food stamps to fascism, and indeed it is. I would refute it, only that Brooks conveniently refutes it himself:
He is not a representative of the corporate or financial wing of the party. Santorum certainly wants to reduce government spending (faster even than Representative Paul Ryan). He certainly wants tax reform. But he goes out of his way in his speeches to pick fights with the “supply-siders.” He scorns the Wall Street bailouts. His economic arguments are couched as values arguments: If you want to enhance long-term competitiveness, you need to strengthen families. If companies want productive workers, they need to be embedded in wholesome communities.
So Santorum is even more reactionary on economic issues than Paul ‘throw grandma from the train” Ryan, wanting to do even more to shred America’s already threadbare safety net. When you hear a Republican use the “tax reform” euphemism you know they’re talking about massive upper-class tax cuts (very partially) funded by spending cuts piled on the working class, and this is indeed exactly what Santorum supports. So how on earth can Brooks argue that Santorum is the representative of the working class? Well, while your ordinary Chamber of Commerce type might be inclined to leave the sex lives of his impoverished and servile workers alone, Santorum wants the government less involved in the social welfare business but much more involved in the imposing reactionary cultural values business. Oh.
As Ed Kilgore says, the idea that Santorum is too much of a bleeding heart might be the excuse that GOP elites use as they act to suppress his candidacy, but substantively it’s a massive fraud. It’s the old Michael Gerson routine — dressing up bog-standard supply-side Republican economics with alleged concern about the poor. Alas, empty rhetoric won’t put food on anyone’s table or pay their medical bills.