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.

Rick Santorum
Rick Santorum meets and greets in New Hampshire.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

NORTHFIELD, N.H.—You’re angry, you’re confused, and Rick Santorum knows why.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.

“This administration is crushing the business community,” he says at a town hall here, in a rehabbed train station warmed by 150 or so voters and 50 or so reporters. “WHY? Because they know better!”

This is what I have come to know as the Santorum Q-W-A Maneuver. First comes the rhetorical question. Then comes the WHY?, delivered in a rasp that vacates his lungs. Then—phew!—comes the common-sensical answer.

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“The Social Security deficit has been made worse by this president. WHY? Because he’s reduced the payroll tax!”

“There was a push to sign up more people to Medicare. WHY? Because they wanted to get people dependent. They wanted to get you hooked.”

Santorum arrived in New Hampshire on Wednesday after a photo-finish Iowa loss to Mitt Romney that might as well have been a win. His crowds in towns like these, 30- or 60-minute rides from Manchester, are never smaller than 100. Some perspective: At a morning rally in Plymouth, not far from here, in another rehabbed train station (converted into a nursing home), only half as many people trekked to hear Newt Gingrich. In the insta-polls that tell the media who and what to cover, Jon Huntsman—who’s campaigned here and only here since the summer, making more than 100 stops and countless excruciating jokes about his “New Hampshire accent”—is tied with Johnny-come-lately Santorum.

Over 24 hours, I watched Santorum, Huntsman, and Gingrich sell themselves to New Hampshire voters. It wasn’t fair. Winning (or almost winning) one of the early states makes a candidate Serious. In Tilton, I stop into a pizza place near Santorum’s event and meet Joe DiBiase, a nice guy with a Bluetooth headset who has just heard the Gospel of Santorum.

“I don’t like Romney,” he says. “I like that guy who came in second in Ohio, or whatever it was.”

This is a cozy, warm place that only really exists in presidential primaries. Nobody expects Santorum to surge and win New Hampshire. When he leaves the Tilton event, pushing through a crush of reporters like Patrick McGoohan trying to escape The Island’s prison ball, he gets a question about “victory” and blows it off in a totally reasonable way.

“The poll before Iowa had me at 4 percent,” he says. “Second [in New Hampshire] would mean a 20-percent rise, but I had a lot more time in Iowa.”

Well, yeah. Neither Santorum nor anyone on his campaign team says he’ll win. He can only Beat Expectations. So New Hampshire is a sandbox, a demo reel, a way to take batting practice against hard questions before he tries to win South Carolina.

How’s he doing? It helps to see the other Not Romneys in action. At that morning town hall, Gingrich spoke for 24 long minutes, half-heartedly trying to explain why he’s stronger than Santorum—a “junior partner” in the Republican revolution. I caught up with Huntsman, very briefly, as he psyched up supporters at his campaign headquarters. (Ominously, it’s in the Manchester office space that used to be occupied by the Rudy Giuliani campaign.) “Psyching up” is a relative term with Huntsman, who hardly expresses emotion about anything now that he has no reason to trash Iowa anymore.