As U.S. Senator, did Rick Santorum really betray us?
Many pro-lifers don’t trust Rick Santorum because of his 2004 support of Arlen Specter for U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania in the 2004 primary election.
On its face, it appears that Rick wandered off the reservation and put party before life by endorsing pro-abortion Specter against pro-life Pat Toomey.
Specter beat Toomey by only 1%, and many pro-lifers blame Santorum, a fact to some extent responsible for the 18-point shellacking Santorum got in the 2008 general election for his Senate re-election. (The magnitude of that defeat is often cited as the main reason why it has taken so long for Santorum to gain traction in the current Presidential primary race.)
When Santorum is asked about this, he steadfastly maintains that he came down in 2004 – and always has – on the side of life, and that his decision was no mistake. Can this be so? Let’s take a detailed look at what happened.
The political landscape in 2004 was very unusual: The GOP had a razor-thin 51-49 majority in the US Senate, which was needed to confirm any Bush (presumably pro-life) nominees to the Supreme Court, and Rehnquist was almost on his death bed. The political lay of the land in PA was such that Specter was well entrenched, and a shoo-in for re-election, provided, of course, that he got the GOP nomination.
But Toomey’s challenge was very serious, and potentially successful. Specter was desperate to keep his Senate seat and his Chairmanship of the powerful Judiciary Committee, assuming GOP could maintain its one-seat Senate majority. Simplistically, this seemed a prime opportunity to replace pro-abortion Specter with pro-life Toomey.
But as is often observed, the game of politics is chess – not checkers. President Bush’s strategists, seeing their Senate majority in peril – had determined that Toomey would likely lose the general election for Senate if he beat Specter in the primary. After all, Bush himself had failed to carry PA in 2000.
Apparently, then, Bush made a deal with Specter: If the Administration supported him in his primary challenge – and Santorum’s support was also essential to this package – Specter would behave himself and usher through his Judiciary Committee any SCOTUS nominees put up by President Bush. In light of the seriousness of Toomey’s challenge, Specter acquiesced.
So with Santorum’s help, Specter defeated Toomey in the primary by 1%, and was re-elected in the general election of 2004.
Thus, the GOP held its majority (actually gaining two seats) in the Senate. Specter got to remain Judiciary Committee chairman – after a very public pledge under pressure from nervous pro-life legislators – whereupon he proceeded to keep his promise, ushering through the confirmation of both Roberts and Alito to the Supreme Court in 2005 and 2006, respectively.
In short, history proved Santorum absolutely right. But the ending got even happier. As his next re-election campaign loomed, in 2009, Specter, facing an even more imposing primary challenge by Pat Toomey on the one hand, and being intensely wooed by Senate Democrats to get him to switch parties to regain their majority on the other, Specter jumped ship and became a Democrat.
Alas, poor Arlen Specter got knocked out by the popular Joe Sestak in the 2010 Senate Democratic primary, and Toomey, who easily won the GOP primary, got elected fairly handily in the GOP/TEA party sweep of 2010.
So now, thanks largely to the faithful and brilliant and courageous action of Rick Santorum, we have Roberts and Alito on the Supreme Court, and Toomey in the US Senate!
Isn’t that exactly what we have been looking for in our President, someone who has the intelligence and moral character to know what is the right thing to do, and the courage do it, even if its complexity makes him an easy target for cynics? “Conventional wisdom” holds that Conservatives should stop looking for “the perfect candidate.” I agree: I think we already found the perfect candidate in Rick Santorum.
Dr. Brind is a biology professor at Baruch College of the City University of New York and co-founder of the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute, is widely known for his research on the abortion-breast cancer link.