After Rick Santorum's second place finish in Iowa, The Editors of National Review advised Mitt Romney:
Romney should be careful in his attacks on Santorum. If he disagrees with Santorum’s approach to winning over blue-collar voters — and some of the policies Santorum recommends in that regard deserve criticism — he will nonetheless have to express that disagreement in a way that does not deepen his own difficulty in appealing to them. Romney would be well within his rights to stress his business and executive credentials, and implicitly or explicitly Santorum’s lack thereof, and to make the case that he is a stronger general-election candidate. But if he appears to cooperate in a media campaign to portray social conservatism as extreme, he will weaken himself severely.
Campaigning in South Carolina today with Tea Party favorite Gov. Nikki Haley and Sen. John McCain, R-Ari., Romney appears to have found the perfect way to thread that needle: attack President Obama and the National Labor Relations Board. In a new ad now airing in the state, Romney says:
The National Labor Relations Board, now stacked with union stooges selected by the president, says to a free enterprise like Boeing, 'You can't build a factory in South Carolina because South Carolina is a Right to Work state.' That is simply un-American. It is political payback of the worst kind.
Santorum is not mentioned in the ad, but no other Republican candidate in the field is as close to organized labor as Santorum is. Cato's Michael Tanner wrote at National Review this week:
He voted against NAFTA and has long opposed free trade. He backed higher tariffs on everything from steel to honey. He still supports an industrial policy with the government tilting the playing field toward manufacturing industries and picking winners and losers.
And RedState's Erick Erickson reminds us today:
In the 104th Congress Sen. Santorum joined all Democrats and a minority of Republicans in voting to filibuster the bill S. 1788, the National Right to Work Act of 1995. (“On the Cloture Motion (motion to invoke cloture on motion to proceed to consider S.1788),” Senate Bill Clerk, Vote Number: 188, www.senate.gov, 7/10/1996)
Santorum also voted to retain the 1930s-era Davis-Bacon Act that forces taxpayers to pay union wages in government-funded construction and gives Big Labor an unfair advantage over non-union companies and workers (“On the Motion to Table (motion to table Kennedy Amendment No. 4031 to S.Amdt. 4000 to S.Con.Res. 57),” Senate Bill Clerk, Vote Number: 134, www.senate.gov, 5/22/1996)
Santorum supported Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey in 2004 helping Specter secure the nomination. Specter went on to cast the 60th vote for Obamacare and then lost, in 2010, to Pat Toomey. Toomey, now in the Senate, is con-sponsoring Jim DeMint’s National Right to Work legislation — the very legislation Rick Santorum filibustered.
There is plenty, if not more, room for social conservatives in the Republican party now then there was in the mid-90s. Romney certainly has gotten more socially conservative since that time.
But there is also a lot less room for pro-union Republicans in the party. Has Santorum moved right on these economic issues? If so, should Tea Party conservatives trust his free market conversion?