Rick Santorum: GOP must woo Sam's Club, not Whole Foods, voters

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Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,2012 Elections,2016 Elections,Ronald Reagan,Rick Santorum,Mitt Romney,Middle Class

Former 2012 GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, who took his sweater-vest Image and Blue Collar message to victory in several primaries, is joining a growing chorus of Republicans who claim the party has forgotten about the poor and lower middle class with its push to help businesses and cut taxes.

“Do Republicans really care less about the person at the bottom of the ladder than Democrats do? To be painfully honest, I would have to say in some ways ‘yes,”' Santorum writes in his new book out Monday, Blue Collar Conservatives: Recommitting to an America That Works.

“There are some in my party who have taken the ideal of individualism to such an extreme that they have forgotten the obligation to look out for our fellow man. The rhetoric is often harsh and gives the all-too-willing media an opportunity to tar all Republicans with the same brush,” he writes.

Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator who won 11 GOP contests in the 2012 Republican primary season, breaks with party orthodoxy in suggesting that it’s time to dump the simple call for more tax cuts. He said that individual taxes, beginning with former President Reagan’s efforts, have been cut so much that further reductions won’t have much of an impact.

Instead, he calls for a slashing of regulations and corporate taxes to generate jobs for the middle class.

The book provides a policy blueprint for Santorum to use if he decides to run again in 2016. He has said in interviews that he is unsure of his plans and that he won't decide until the spring of 2015, about when every other potential candidate is expected to make their mind up too.

Besides slamming the Republican's economic agenda for being too focused on businesses and not the middle class, Santorum blasts 2012 nominee Mitt Romney for being out of touch with voters and too easy for the Democrats to paint as a Wall Street president.

“It’s hard to win an election when most voters don’t think you care about them,” writes Santorum, an executive with a family-friendly movie company.

He calls for a new “game plan,” one that promotes “work, education and marriage,” and that focuses on middle America. “If we only promise more growth without addressing the 70 percent of young Americans who will not earn a bachelor’s degree, we will be shirking our responsibility to them and handing the Democrats an electoral club to beat us with.”

Santorum's book includes calls to change Obamacare and other social welfare programs that he says make people dependent on the government instead of a job. But he dwells more on Blue Collar Americans who he connected with in his 2012 bid.

He describes two Americas, one of economic elites clustered in big cities and who fund the Democrats and Republicans. “The people there shop at Whole Foods, listen to National Public Radio, and read the New Yorker. If they drink beer, it’s imported or micro-brewed.”

Instead, he wants the party to reach those outside that urban cluster. “Most of America doesn't live like this, of course. Most of America shops at Sam’s Club, drinks Coors, likes to hunt or fish, and goes to church or the American Legion.”

Will it work? Santorum provides some polling that suggests it could. In the acknowledgements section at the end of his book, published by Regnery, he notes that after withdrawing from the primaries in 2012, he met with Romney's pollster who gave him some revealing data.

Pollster Neil Newhouse was curious to find out why Santorum had done better in elections than exit polls were showing. The answer: His voters were Blue Collar workers who voted late, after exit polling was completed. “Those who weren’t going to vote ‘till after five favored me by 21 points! Working Americans and busy mothers who couldn’t get to the polls during the day were voting for me in a big way, making all the prognosticators look bad on election night,” he writes.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.