Learn To Talk Like Rick Santorum

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Jan. 5 2012 6:38 PM

Learn To Talk Like Rick Santorum

The Q-W-A Maneuver, the Pop Quiz, and more of the Republican candidate’s best rhetorical tricks.

(Continued from Page 1)

At Hunstman HQ, I spotted former Pennsylvania governor and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, who shared ballots with Santorum throughout the 1990s, and who never thought of endorsing him. “I’m a governor-centric guy,” he explained. “I say, with enormous respect, it’s one thing to give big speeches and vote, but it’s another very different quality to articulate a broader vision, implement a plan, build consensus around the plan, and execute.” He rhetorically patted Santorum on the head. “He got, what, over 6 percent of the registered Republican voters? That’s basically what he got.”

But just look at what he’s doing with it. He’s the only lifelong Catholic (Gingrich is a recent convert) in the primary; four years ago, 38 percent of New Hampshire Republican voters were Catholic. Between Huntsman, Romney, and Gingrich, he’s the only one who didn’t grow up with money or get wealthy in the Bush years. The Q-W-A Maneuver is one of many Santorum rhetorical tricks, habits developed during four Pennsylvania campaigns to stoke social conservatives and convince blue-collar voters that he’d be a great drinking buddy. Other Santorum techniques include the Interactive History, in which he plays a game of charades to re-enact some key period of his life or argument he lost. At a town hall in Brentwood, N.H., he swept his arm to describe the scope of the Monongahela Valley, which he once represented in Congress. “The river used to be lined with steel mills, as far as you could see,” he said. “There’s one now. Well, one, and then one or two steel-rolling mills.”

At the same event he held up a Sharpie, and told us it was the social security trust fund. “What did the Federal government do with the money?” he asked. “Gone!” He pointed to an invisible box. “It’s over here, in a file drawer in West Virginia with a piece of paper. We’re going to take that piece of paper, and go and get another from—WHO? China.” This is an argument Santorum lost in the 1990s and in 2005. Other, clumsier Republicans have since made him sound more reasonable. “I don’t believe social security is a Ponzi scheme,” he explained, assuring older voters that he wasn’t out to take anything away from them.

Advertisement

Somewhere between the Interactive History and the Q-W-A Maneuver is the Pop Quiz. Santorum reserves this for the voters who doubt that he’s right, a group that’s more numerous in New Hampshire than they were in Iowa. In Brentwood and in Tilton, he saved foreign policy questions for last, then asked a series of questions about Iran— “I’ve focused like a laser on Iran for seven years”—that he had the answers to. Did anyone know where Iran was enriching uranium? Qom, a city of great religious importance (and he could tell you why). Did anyone know when the coming social security eligibility age increase was scheduled? In 1983, “which shows you how brilliant those guys were. Brilliant politicians!”

The average New Hampshire Republican is seeing this for the first time. It’s wearing well so far, even among voters who expect Santorum to lose.

“Romney’s gonna take New Hampshire, no question,” says Kevin Mochen, a retired firefighter. Four years ago, he voted for the man who actually won the state, John McCain. That guy was a war hero, but if we’re just talking about politics, Mochen prefers Santorum.

“McCain didn’t seem like he was a strong guy, like his father the admiral was,” says Mochen. “He wanted to be the friend of everybody.”

What does Santorum want?

“I think he wants to be respected.”