Santorum Surge Watch: Republican Jewish Coalition Edition

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Dec. 7 2011 9:48 AM

Santorum Surge Watch: Republican Jewish Coalition Edition

135177011
Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum speaks during the Republican Jewish Coalition 2012 Republican Presidential Candidates Forum in Washington, DC, December 7, 2011. AFP PHOTO/Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

My day will be spent at one of the last full-on cattle calls of the cycle: The Republican Jewish Coalition's big meet in downtown D.C. Six Republican candidates have been summoned to the Ronald Reagan Building. No Gary Johnson, no Buddy Roemer, and no Ron Paul -- even though the last guy is in the top three in Iowa and New Hampshire. Why? The organization opposes his "extreme views" and considers him "so outside the mainstream" that he's not worth bringing in. RJC members are spared a lecture about how Israel doesn't need American aid; Paul is spared a chorus of boos.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

The morning began with Rick Santorum, as all good mornings do. He was on lush, comfortable turf, spinning a narrative of how he spent his time in the Senate goading the Clinton and Bush administrations to get tougher on Iran, with sanctions that would "cripple" them, and how he has spent the Obama years, pulling out his hair and raging about their fecklessness.

Advertisement

"In the campaign, he said Iran is a 'little country,'" said Santorum, quoting Obama. "Iran is not a little country."

One problem: President Obama didn't call Iran a "little country." In 2008, he brushed off the idea that Iran presented an "existential threat" to America.

Iran, Cuba, Venezuela — these countries are tiny, compared to the Soviet Union. They don’t pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us. And yet, we were willing to talk to the Soviet Union at the time when they were saying, ‘We’re going to wipe you off the planet.’ "And ultimately, that direct engagement led to a series of measures that helped prevent nuclear war, and over time, allowed the kind of opening that brought down the Berlin Wall," Obama continued. "Now, that has to be the kind of approach that we take. You know, Iran, they spend one-one hundredth of what we spend on the military. If Iran ever tried to pose a serious threat to us, they wouldn’t stand a chance.

I've always read "existential threat" as a "threat that can obliterate something," and Obama said Iran couldn't obliterate the United States. This, said Santorum, was naive -- and he would double down when a questioner accused him of not seeing Iran as an "existential" threat.

"It will be the United States," he said, "not Israel, that prevents Iran from building a nuclear weapon."

Exactly what the crowd wanted to hear. But the sense here is that Santorum is a sideshow to the Gingrich-Romney test. Former Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer, an RJC board member, told me that Santorum would do fine among voters who liked a "muscular foreign policy." But: "He'll mention serving on the Armed Services committee. People tune out when they hear 'committee.'" Santorum's experience, for whatever reason, doesn't thrill like Gingrich's does.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

An Iranian Woman Was Sentenced to Death for Killing Her Alleged Rapist. Can Activists Save Her?

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

We Need to Talk: A Terrible Name for a Good Women’s Sports Show

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

The U.S. Has a New Problem in Syria: The Moderate Rebels Feel Like We’ve Betrayed Them

Homeland Is Good Again! For Now, at Least.

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 1 2014 12:20 PM Don’t Expect Hong Kong’s Protests to Spread to the Mainland
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
The Eye
Oct. 1 2014 1:04 PM An Architectural Crusade Against the Tyranny of Straight Lines
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 2:08 PM We Need to Talk: Terrible Name, Good Show
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Oct. 1 2014 1:53 PM Slate Superfest East How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 3:02 PM The Best Show of the Summer Is Getting a Second Season
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 3:01 PM Netizen Report: Hong Kong Protests Trigger Surveillance and Social Media Censorship
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 2:36 PM Climate Science Is Settled Enough The Wall Street Journal’s fresh face of climate inaction.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.