Santorum on O’Reilly

Actually it was the reverse. Fox News host Bill O’Reilly really got on Republican candidate Rick Santorum about his campaign and views and likelihood of success going forward. The day after he was victorious in Iowa.

It’s one thing to ask the tough questions, Santorum and the rest of the field should be used to that or get used to it fast from now on. It’s another to step outside the ‘No Spin Zone’ and pitch the zingers O’Reilly snapped off at Santorum to elicit the responses he was looking for, sometimes without letting the candidate finish his answer. It was O’Reilly-like, and I listened to it again before saying anything.

Here’s what I saw and heard…

O’Reilly was testy from the start. Fair enough to say that’s an impression rather than a fact, but that’s my impression, and I’m neutral on the candidates at this point. It was just a surprisingly terse host in this interview.

O’Reilly starts by asking Santorum: ‘Who are you going to take from in New Hampshire? You’ve got 10 percent now, who are you going to take from?’ in order to rise in the polls. Santorum did his best responding about raising support and resources.

O’Reilly: ‘Are you ready to be demonized? Now it’s a national race, and you’re going to be portrayed as an extremist. And some of your positions are out of the mainstream. You know, 98 percent of Americans think contraception is fine, that states have the right to legislate that.’

Santorum: ‘As you know as a Catholic…’ and he starts to refer to that shared understanding of birth control. 

O’Reilly interrupts: ‘But the majority of Catholics don’t follow that, it’s like the meat on Fridays thing, it’s not that Jesus said it, it’s not a dogma, it’s a doctrine made by man. I’m not justifying it or and I’m not giving my opinion about it one way or the other. I’m just pointing out they’re going to come after you on that, and they’re going to come after you on gays in the military. And they’re going to come after you on gay marriage, on a marriage license that’s already given. You would have them rescind it. All I’m saying is I’m not debating the issue with you. I’m not debating the issue with you, I’m not saying you’re right or wrong. I’m just saying this is going to be put to you, that you’re an extremist, out of the mainstream. How are you going to reply to that? You want to rescind a license that’s already given? That’s a big deal.’

Santorum says defining marriage as between a man and a woman is not extreme.

O’Reilly asks if passing a constitutional amendment defining marraige would be in the forefront of a Santorum administration.

Santorum: ‘As you know Bill, if you’ve been following me out on the trail, I haven’t been talking a lot about this although I strongly believe in it. What I’ve been talking about as I did last night in my acceptance speech, where I didn’t talk about this issue, I talked about getting this economy going. I talked about my grandfather, and coming here for freedom. This is the fundamental issue in this campaign, whether government is going to be big and obtrusive and telling people how to manage their lives, or they’re going to support the values of faith and family that allow government to be limited, that allow our economy to be strong. Those are things I talked about. I did across Iowa and I will here in New Hampshire and…’

O’Reilly interrupts: ‘Alright you’re going to de-emphasize the controversial social stuff, and then get into the smaller government stuff, more self-reliance and the economy stuff. Okay.’ Santorum shakes his head.

After some questions about judges and the Ninth Circuit, O’Reilly wraps up saying: ‘We hope you’ll come on again, and congratulations on the Iowa deal…’

Wherever this goes from here, it may have been a high point last night in Santorum’s candidacy. But it was one of the less than high points in O’Reilly’s professional reign.

That interview was poorly handled. ‘Word of the Day’? Don’t be tendentious, Mr. O’Reilly.

So Rick Santorum wins Iowa

The truth is, virtually no one saw that coming. Media have largely overlooked or discounted the conservative Republican candidate whose values were easier to marginalize than engage. “You ask me what motivates me,” he said late in his remarks onstage at the end of the night. “It’s the dignity of each and every human life.”

Those paying attention knew that. Like the National Review Online editors who ran Santorum’s commentary explaining his worldview. Late in the piece he summarizes:

I have become a radical believer in every person’s human dignity. It is the driver of my worldview, and therefore in conclusion I believe:

Every person, whether the baby in utero, my little girl Bella with her challenges, or the AIDS orphan in the inner city, has inherent dignity, and we must do all we can to preserve and respect that dignity.

Government has to be strong enough to protect human life, but limited enough to never exploit it.

As our founders recognized religion as an “indispensable support” to the health of society and necessary for the understanding of human life, government should never inhibit or discourage its role in the public square.

My greatest concern is that we are at a crossroads of deep consequence regarding the role of government in the lives of the American people. Without correcting course, the road we are on will lead to the further devaluation of the inherent dignity of our citizens and their ability to live in freedom and safety. I am committed to doing everything possible to respect and protect that dignity, and opposing and reversing any policies and programs that undermine it.

NRO editor Kathryn Jean Lopez knows Santorum well, interviewed him before and posted this just before the Iowa caucuses, saying voters there “see in him something of what they’d like to see (again) in Washington.”

He’s on the road to New Hampshire now, and we’ll be hearing plenty more about him in the immediate days ahead. Which means attention, one way or another, on the guiding principle of human dignity. This should be good.

What matters in Iowa

Nearly all the media focus is on where the GOP presidential candidates stand in the polls and who will have a stronger standing after Iowa, and New Hampshire and North Carolina. I’m interested in what they’re standing on.

How will the Republicans choose their presidential candidate? Or as WaPo put it…

…one question could shape the destiny of the eventual winner: Will the nominee define the party, or will the party define the nominee?

Successful presidential nominees often have helped redefine their parties. Ronald Reagan’s conservatism changed the Republican Party when he became the GOP nominee in 1980. Bill Clinton portrayed himself as a New Democrat, which proved a key to his victory in 1992. In his 2000 campaign, George W. Bush used the term “compassionate conservative” to put distance between himself and the congressional wing of his party that had been defined by Newt Gingrich.

In this campaign, the opposite seems to be the case. “This year, it seems to me, the party is the sun and the candidates are the planets. .?.?. They are trying to prove to primary voters that they are reliable and trustworthy when it comes to the basic platform of the GOP,” said Pete Wehner, a Republican strategist and former Bush administration adviser.

Republicans have a real opportunity to unseat an incumbent president in November, given the state of the economy and public dissatisfaction with some of the president’s policies. President Obama’s standing is as fragile as that of any incumbent seeking reelection in two decades.

But Republicans could see their opening slip away if the nominee is bound too tightly to an unpopular congressional wing of the party that has become the face of the GOP over the past 12 months.

(What WaPo doesn’t note here is how unpopular all of Congress is right now.)

One reason the candidates have been reluctant to chart new philosophical ground is that Republicans are as ideologically united as they’ve been in many years. They are also more conservative than they were even in Reagan’s day, thanks to an infusion of energy and ideas from the tea party movement.

That has put a strong gravitational pull on the presidential candidates.

This is interesting, and more revealing than most press the race is getting. What’s the center of gravity that holds such force? The article says it’s party orthodoxy. Specifically, tea party fervor.

Democrats see the Republican candidates as compliant to the tea party wing of the GOP. “This is a party that is very much defined by the tea party element, and the candidates have submitted to that,” said Democratic pollster Geoff Garin. “That’s their destiny, and they’re going to have to live with it.”

A Republican strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to talk candidly about the election, agreed. “What Obama needs to do now is force the Republican nominee into supporting the tea party wing of the party over the next nine months,” he said. “Can you tie the nominee to the congressional Republicans? If he can do that, now you’re talking about a real problem.”

What you’re talking about as a problem or a strategy depends on who you’re talking to, because the GOP hasn’t ever been this fractured at the beginning of their primaries. And the only thing the best pundits seem to agree on is that predictions are only educated guesses at best. Anything is possible, and the uncommitted voters are still trying to make up their minds.

I attended a reception over New Year’s weekend and my particular roundtable of ten guests was well-informed and animated in discussing this presidential race. They were all concerned over the confusion and lack of clear vision forward, and general lack of leadership in the country. They seemed to represent everyone at this point. Questions tossed back and forth covered social issues, the economy, foreign policy, jobs, religious liberty, fundamental morals.

Who best represents mainstream America? Why does Ron Paul consistently run such a strong race? That question has to be taken seriously by the eventual Republican candidate. Why did Rick Santorum surge just ahead of the Iowa caucuses? And who is really determining that party’s identity?

Everytime I hear about the ‘values voters’ I wonder if analysts are missing the obvious. Everyone is a ‘values’ voter. It just depends on whose values you believe in, and which ones will prevail. That’s what matters in Iowa, and every state that follows in the primaries.

The campaigns began last year. Now, the race begins.