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Daily Santorum: Defining conservatism

Published by Tim McNulty on .

What does it mean to be conservative?

As we know Rick Santorum has long tried to stake out a claim on the far right of the GOP presidential class, willing to be criticizing Obama or even his fellow Republicans the most harshly of anyone. Michele Bachmann has taken over that territory and reaped its benefits -- she leads the latest Iowa Republican poll at 25%; RS has 2. In a political culture where "Republican" and "conservative" have all but come to mean the same thing (as Nate Silver has written) one senses he is straining to prove himself all the more.

Santorum signs book

And there are dangers to that. Eyebrows were sprained all around the (apparently suspicous) press section at the NRA convention in Pittsburgh this spring when Santorum took on Obama for questioning aspects of US life pre-1965 Great Society. (Certainly a black guy, even if he did not descend from slaves, might have some strong opinions on its history?) Then there's the latest on the pledge he signed from Iowa conservative Bob Vander Plaats, which contained a preamble suggesting black families were stronger during slavery. It reads:

"Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA's first African-American President."

It's since been scrubbed and it wasn't clear whether Santorum or Bachmann -- it's sole signers, notably -- knew it was in there. Here's Santorum spokeswoman Virginia Davis explaining to CNN:

"Senator Santorum was pleased to sign the Iowa Family Leader's pledge because he is committed to standing up for traditional marriage. The bigger question here is why aren't more Republicans having the courage to stand up for the institution of marriage and signing this pledge," Virginia Davis said in an email. "With that said, Senator Santorum believed it was the right thing for the Iowa Family Leader to remove the language from the preamble to the pledge about slavery."

Publicity about the pledge obfuscated other bad news about fundraising for RS -- he said he will have less than $2 million to show by the 2nd quarter filing deadline Friday. (Mitt Romney showed $18M; Pawlenty $4.2M.) But that should be enough to help his organization get to a 4th, 5th or 6th place finish in the essential Ames, Iowa, straw poll -- a finish he described in positive terms.

Months short of the actual caucuses and primaries, might fundraising numbers be the most important show of a candidate's real chances? (For his sake, it better not be polls.) Not if you are a real conservative -- running without money is the sign of a conservative, you see. “I’m running a different campaign … I always say the little engine that could campaign,” Santorum said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” with Candy Crawley. “I’m running a conservative campaign, very low budget.”

As Dan Malloy has written here, this GOP campaign is all about the pledges. With all the fealty to various morality and economics idols in advance of the election, why even put your hand on the Bible and swear to the defend the Constitution come January 2013?

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