Is Rick Santorum's English-for-Puerto Rico Comment Really a Gaffe?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 15 2012 12:14 PM

Is Rick Santorum's English-for-Puerto Rico Comment Really a Gaffe?

Eric Randall's headline was typical: "Santorum Doesn't Seem to Mind Offending Puerto Rico."

Campaigning in Puerto Rico, Rick Santorum doesn't show any signs that he wants to pander Wednesday, telling voters (erroneously) that they must declare English their only official language to achieve statehood.... Santorum told El Vocero, a local newspaper, "Like any other state, there has to be compliance with this and any other federal law ... And that is that English has to be the principal language."
Advertisement

Santorum has been, and remains, the candidate least-understood by a political media mostly composed of socially liberal urbanites. He says something out of school; obviously it's a "gaffe." But, well, why is everyone convinced of this?

1) Puerto Ricans already learn English, and have for decades. English is taught K-12. The territory's political class is conversant in English.

2) Santorum wasn't saying that Puerto Rico, legally, needs to make English its official language and pull Espanol off the traffic signs. He was stating a fact. There wouldn't be much of an appetite for granting statehood to 3.7 million people if statesiders worried that they were going to hand seven electoral votes to some kind of Spanish Quebec.

3) What are Santorum's stakes in Puerto Rico, anyway? Gov. Luis Fortuno, one of the GOP's best-loved Hispanic stars, endorsed Romney two months ago. The candidate who gets the backing of one of Puerto Rico's parties usually just takes the primary. Ideally, sure, Santorum would win the territory. But it's a win for him if he drives Romney's vote below 50 percent, denying him a delegate sweep.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.