POLITICS

The problem with Santorum's Specter defense

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Philip Klein

In his column, Tim Carney does a good job explaining why Rick Santorum's defense of endorsing Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey in the 2004 Pennsylvania Senate race doesn't hold up to scrutiny. But even if we were to give Santorum the benefit of the doubt in this case, his rationale for endorsing Specter undercuts the central argument of his presidential campaign.

Ever since Iowa, Santorum has been urging Republican primary voters not to settle. Instead of being lured into supporting Mitt Romney because of perceived electability, Santorum has argued that voters should "be bold" and choose his principled conservatism. He's also emphasized that not only would he be more committed to governing as a conservative, but he'd actually be more electable because he'd be able to present a strong contrast with President Obama.

Yet in the 2004 Pennsylvania Senate race, it was Toomey who was running as the principled conservative who was the choice of the grassroots, and Specter was the liberal Republican who establishment figures were backing for pragmatic reasons. Every argument Santorum has made in his defense of the endorsement over the past eight years -- from the idea that Toomey couldn't win Pennslyvania to the idea that Specter helped confirm conservative judicial nominations -- has come down to him settling. Santorum's excuses are an argument for caution rather than boldness and for perceived electability over principled conservatism. In other words, the exact opposite of what he's urging GOP primary voters to do in this year's presidential caucuses and primaries.

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