Santorum: The next flavor of the month?

As Herman Cain’s star appears to be declining, there is already media speculation on who will be the next “it flavor” of the 2012 race.

Their conclusion: It might be former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) — the only major presidential candidate who hasn’t experienced a polling boomlet. 

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Their reasoning: Santorum has been campaigning in Iowa more persistently than any other remaining candidate and, according to The Des Moines Register, has visited 67 counties in the state and held 172 public events. Iowa’s socially conservative electorate is fertile ground for the Catholic conservative, he continues to win good reviews in the presidential debates, and he even got an endorsement of sorts from conservative talk show host Glenn Beck, who told Santorum earlier this year that he could “kiss him in the mouth” for maintaining a principled stand.

But there are plenty of reasons to suggest Santorum won’t take the title. 

His most obvious departure from conservative orthodoxy came during 2003 — a time when many Republicans were departing from conservative orthodoxy. While serving as Pennsylvania’s junior senator, Santorum supported the controversial Medicare Prescription Drug Act — a costly new entitlement that has been subsequently slammed by conservatives.

Beyond a philosophical problem, there was the little matter of the fact that the program was passed with no discernible means of paying for it — the height of heresy to Tea Partiers.

So far, Santorum’s explanations for his support of the plan have been somewhat vague and only half-convincing. He told The American Spectator earlier this year that he didn’t fight the drug plan because no one agreed.

“I could only go so far because we didn’t have a Tea Party movement,” he claimed.

Maybe he didn’t have the Tea Party to buttress his cause, but in the end, he abandoned it. Congress passed the plan without a way of paying for it, and Santorum was one of the “yea” votes — a choice he admitted regretting in a Fox News interview earlier this year.

Santorum’s supporters might counter by claiming it was just one vote, but President Obama’s healthcare plan was, ultimately, just one vote — and plenty of political careers were extinguished because of that.

The former senator also has been erratic on the highly symbolic issue of ethanol subsidies — an evolution he’s attributed to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“Prior to 9/11, I was not a big fan of ethanol subsidies, but 2001 changed my mind on a lot of things, and one of them was trying to support domestic energy, and this is part of it,” he told the website IowaPolitics.com earlier this year. 

And, in a speech at the Iowa Renewable Fuel Association’s annual summit, he told his audience, “My pledge to you is to work with this industry to create a bigger and bigger place in the market for domestically produced ethanol biodiesel.”

But lately, he’s suddenly reversed himself again — owing perhaps to the Republican Party’s increasing focus on fiscal health. The Santorum campaign now says its candidate supports phasing out ethanol subsidies, “given the overwhelming fiscal burden of our nation.”

Further, Santorum has violated a fundamental point of Tea Party orthodoxy — the near-religious observance of the 10th Amendment. 

Tea Partiers and libertarians often invoke the 10th Amendment to reject federal measures that, they believe, unduly hamper a state’s right to self-determination. These often include amendments on controversial social legislation, which Santorum has stoutly defended at the federal level over the protests of doctrinaire states’ rights advocates.

During an August GOP presidential debate, he said: “I respect the 10th Amendment, but we are a nation that has values. We are a nation that was built on a moral enterprise, and states don’t have the right to tramp over those because of the 10th Amendment.” 

And after Herman Cain seemed somewhat open to allowing states the right to self-determination on gay marriage, Santorum promptly put out a statement: “I have been a longtime advocate for states’ rights. However, I believe — as Abraham Lincoln did — that states don’t have the rights to legalize moral wrongs.”

That’s not the rhetoric of the Tea Party; that’s not the muscular, defiant individualism that has fueled the candidacies of Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain and the speeches of Donald Trump; and that’s not the kind of message that turns a candidate into the next flavor of the month in the 2012 presidential race.

Heinze, the founder of GOP12.com, is a staff member at The Hill.