Santorum Surge Watch: The Vander Plaats-ening

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Dec. 20 2011 12:11 PM

Santorum Surge Watch: The Vander Plaats-ening

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INDIANOLA, IA - DECEMBER 29: (L-R) Bob Vander Plaat, former U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-AR), Minute Man project founder Jim Gilchrist and Republican presidential hopeful and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee wait to walk off the campaign bus before attending a 'Meet Mike Huckabee' event at Signatures Grill December 29, 2007 in Indianola, Iowa. With less than a week to go before the Iowa caucus, Mike Huckabee has returned to Iowa to continue campaigning. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

When I last talked to Bob Vander Plaats, as the Gingrich bounce was at its fullest elasticity, he was explaining that the former speaker's personal life was a consideration that lots of Christians were dealing with. "Since four or five years ago, he’s shown a very transparent grace and maturity," said Vander Plaats of Gingrich. "He’s been married to Callista for over a decade. He’s healed his relationship with his children.”

Well, there's only so far that you can take that and still be a credible leader of Iowa social conservatives. (Whenever I write this, I get a flurry of e-mails assuring me that he really really isn't.) Today, Vander Plaats -- the top man credited with organizing Mike Huckabee's 2008 upset -- endorses Rick Santorum. Strangely, BVP's Iowa FAMiLY Leader allowed him to make the decision by granting a dispensation; he doesn't speak for the group, the group will remain non-partisan.

"I believe Rick Santorum comes from us,” Vander Plaats told reporters at a press conference in a hotel lobby here. “Not to us. He comes from us. He is one of us."
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Very true. Santorum's lifestyle, alliances, everything, are more in line with those of BVP than of anyone else. In 2007, Vander Plaats wrote a memoir titled "Light from Lucas," about what he and his family had learned from their youngest, disabled son. Santorum's youngest daughter, Bella, is disabled, and he's talked frequently (and cut video) about what he's learned from her. In retrospect it's hard to imagine the kingmaker knighting anyone else.

Gingrich isn't coming out of this with nothing. He made inroads with BVP and his flock. He can bracket this news with his own endorsement from Don Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association, which sort of plays the role of UFC to the Family Research Council's demure WWE. This endorsement is ideological, not personal. "Newt Gingrich recognizes the threat to our country posed by judges and lawyers imposing values upon the country inconsistent with our religious heritage," he says, "and has proposed constitutional steps to bring the courts back in balance under the constitution."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.