Santorum challenges Tea Party’s focus on economic issues

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) on Saturday warned fellow Republicans not to shy away from conservative social stances, which some GOP strategists think hurt the party in 2012. 

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Santorum, speaking at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, questioned the focus of Tea Party leaders and centrist Republicans on economic issues to the exclusion of cultural topics.

“There’s a group of folks, interestingly enough, from those on the right of the Republican Party joining those on the left of the Republican Party saying we need to talk about more of one thing and we need to talk about less — or not at all — about other things,” Santorum said.

Santorum mocked the opinion of GOP strategists, the “pros who guided us so well through the last election” who have joined with Tea Party and libertarian Republicans who assert “we just need to talk about economics.”

Republican strategists have sought to downplay social issues in the wake of the 2012 election when two conservative candidates, former Rep. Todd Akin (R) in Missouri, and Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, stumbled over controversial statements about rape and pregnancy.

The party’s rising stars, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), are focusing this summer on a push to defund the 2010 Affordable Care Act, threatening to block any stopgap government funding measure that fails to do so.

All three are considered possible presidential candidates in 2016, and Cruz is scheduled to speak at the Family Leadership Summit later Saturday.

Santorum, who won Iowa’s Republican presidential caucus in 2012, wants to be considered among the party’s likely front-runners and, like two years ago, is carving out a niche for himself as the field’s preeminent social conservative.

“Not everyone in America is a type-A personality that works 80 hours a week and wants to build a business and that money is everything,” Santorum said. “A lot of folks want to spend time with their family, work in the community groups, spend time at their church.”

Santorum said the Republican Party does not make enough of an effort to talk to these voters.

“We need to reject this idea that, well, if we just build the economy, all boats will rise and everybody will be fine,” he said.

He chided Republican strategists who argue candidates should steer clear of cultural issues.

He said Republican candidates fail to win over voters on social issues because they rarely speak about them with the same passion as about taxes and deficit reduction.

He recalled attending a breakfast of wealthy donors early in his 2012 presidential campaign where he was grilled for a half hour about his social views while other candidates who held the same positions were given a free pass.

When Santorum asked why they scrutinized his positions on moral and religious issues so much more closely than his rivals’ he received a blunt answer.

“They said, ‘Because you mean it,’” he recounted.

“Don’t you think the American public knows when a group of people get up in front of them and talk about things when they don’t mean it?” he asked. “How are we going to win this debate if you have people who represent us who don’t mean it, who don’t have the passion that they have when they talk about the economy or they talk about budgets?”

He urged conservatives to wage a broad effort to influence the nation’s popular culture, which he argues has moved the country leftward in its social views.

“I’m the CEO of, believe it or not, a movie and production and distribution company based in Dallas, Texas, and we’re going to make faith and family films,” he said. “We’re going to help to give you, the American public, the tools to be able to go out and change the culture.”

He called on churches and parishioners to once more become leading patrons of the arts as they had been for much of the last millennia. He said that tradition has been lost.

“You as Christians, you want to see films, you have to see inferior productions to see something that reaffirms your values,” he said. “I say to you, can’t we make God beautiful?”

Santorum declared, “If we’re going to be successful as a country, we need to have a revitalized culture, and we need to engage in it.”

He argued that Republicans need to pursue their social agenda outside politics so that it will eventually filter into the political arena.

“Don’t agree with the establishment Republicans that we have to change our policies to be more like Democrats, but we do need to change our tactics to be more like they are,” he said.

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