Santorum risks GOP nomination with religious rhetoric

Rick Santorum’s language on religion and values is coming under deeper scrutiny and raising questions about whether he should be the GOP standard-bearer in the fall.
 
Santorum has always been bold about discussing his faith, but his comments took center stage after he criticized President Obama’s “phony theology” on the environment.
 

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On Tuesday, the Drudge Report ran a story about Santorum’s statement from 2008 that Satan was threatening the United States, while the liberal group Right Wing Watch produced a 2008 clip of Santorum saying liberals could not be Christians.
 
Mitt Romney has already seized on the stories by questioning whether Santorum has been vetted sufficiently in the race.
 
“Sen. Santorum hasn’t been as carefully viewed by the American public as have the others,” Romney said Tuesday at a campaign stop. “We had Donald Trump for a while and we had Herman Cain and we had Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich — they’ve all been vetted very carefully. Rick Santorum is now just being seen for the first time in many moments, and his background and mine are very different.”
 
Santorum has framed his discussion around theology, Obama and the environment as one of “different stripes of Christianity.”
 
In making his comment about Obama’s “phony theology,” he said he was not criticizing the president’s faith. Instead, he said he was highlighting the views of extreme environmental groups that elevate the Earth above man, and saying that Obama was wrong to side with them.
 
Sarah Posner, the political editor of Religion Dispatches, which covers politics and religion, said Santorum’s message is meant to resonate with social conservatives upset with what they see as secularism in government trumping their beliefs.
 
Santorum has argued that rejecting new drilling for oil and gas, for example, can conflict with the Christian view that man has “dominion” over the Earth — an idea expressed in Genesis, the first book of the Bible.
 
“The claims Santorum was making about the environment weren’t even a dog whistle — he was being completely explicit in saying that these are two competing views,” Posner said. “There are many conservative Christians who believe the government shouldn’t get involved in regulating this stuff because God gave dominion to man over it.”
 
As a result, Santorum’s comments could help him in the GOP primary. The former Pennsylvania senator likely believes he is benefiting from his message and rhetoric: He has surged in national polls and could be on the verge of defeating Romney next week in Michigan, where Romney’s father was a popular GOP governor.
 
But Santorum’s discussion of religion and Obama has also led him into rehashing the controversy surrounding the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s former pastor. This is something that GOP strategist Chris Perkins said is a losing issue for Republicans.
 
“He’s trying to appeal to hardcore religious voters in the base to win the primaries and caucuses, and it’s working very well for him right now,” said Perkins, who is not affiliated with any candidate in the GOP primary fight. “But even among Republicans who might see something in him, the more they start to hear this rhetoric, I think they’ll turn.”