Now that Rick Santorum is leading in national polls he is softening his social conservatism.

Santorum Used To Talk About Homosexuality, Gay Marriage, and Abortion. What Changed?

Santorum Used To Talk About Homosexuality, Gay Marriage, and Abortion. What Changed?

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Feb. 15 2012 6:14 PM

A Kinder, Gentler Rick Santorum

Now that the man in the vest is surging in the polls, he’s toning down his talk on homosexuality, gay marriage, and abortion. Meet Santorum 2.0.

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Try and get Rick Santorum 2.0 to talk like that. In the final debate before the New Hampshire primary, when he was asked if he’d be a “gay rights leader”—a pretty blunt trick question—Santorum said he’d “be a voice in speaking out for making sure that every person in America, gay or straight, is treated with respect and dignity and has the equality of opportunity.” If his son told him he was gay, “I would love him as much as I did the second before he said it.” In two new ads, his social conservatism is mentioned only in a long rundown of other reasons to vote for him. One mentions that he was “one of the top 25 evangelicals in America,” according to Time, but the point is left out there, context-free.

The result of all this: polls showing Santorum as an electable national candidate. The strategists who worked against Santorum in 2006 are amused. He gave them length after length of rope, they hung him with it, and essentially, he hasn’t changed. He still holds onto his criticism of homosexuality, for example—that it stems from the rise of the welfare state and loose morals. They have destroyed the American ideal of one-income households. Sex is meant to be a procreation-only pursuit, and they’ve ruined that, too.

Santorum’s Senate career lasted from 1995 to 2007. With one exception, the slowdown of 2001-02, his political career coincided with a period of huge economic growth. It was an ideal context for Santorum’s ideas about the welfare state shrinking as more moral Americans took care of their own. In 2003, during a discussion of further welfare reform, Santorum suggested that “making people struggle a little bit is not necessarily the worst thing.” In his 2005 book, It Takes a Family, Santorum suggested that many two-income households were materialistic. “In far too many families with young children,” he wrote, “both parents are working, when, if they really took an honest look at the budget, they might confess that both of them don’t really need to, or at least may not need to work as much as they do.”


How does Mitt Romney take advantage of that? He hasn’t tried yet. His argument against Rick Santorum is all about the former senator’s résumé, and support for earmarks—stuff  libertarians care about, nothing cultural. The digging into Santorum’s theories about contraception has only just begun. Since he’s risen in the polls, he’s tried to genericize that issue, too, attacking a contraception mandate as the “government trying to control your life,” not as some battle in the culture war. How long can this new Santorum keep that up?