If Santorum wins …

What would the race for president look like if Rick Santorum won the Republican nomination?

His candidacy would do a lot to put social issues into play. While he would rev up the base of social conservatives who might be left cold by a Romney candidacy, Obama would welcome the distraction from his economic record. He would likely try to bring such fringe issues as contraception, back-alley abortions, stem-cell research and others into the dialogue. His insistence on the inclusion of birth control in health insurance policies issued by Catholic institutions is a foretaste of his probable tactics against Santorum should he win the Republican nomination.

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In a sense, Obama would use on Santorum the same tactics Republicans used in the last decade by turning elections into referenda on gay marriage. While any Democrat can move to the left of almost any Republican on social issues, Santorum’s purist record in this area makes it easier for Obama to do.

On the other hand, Santorum is far less vulnerable than Romney on the issue of flip-flopping. His reputation for stubborn consistency will save him from this accusation. He would also be able to attack ObamaCare with a clean record of opposition to individual mandates and without the specter of RomneyCare lurking in the background. (Of course, the Supreme Court could remove the entire issue by ruling the mandate unconstitutional before the election.)

The former Pennsylvania senator will have a hard time dragging the issue back to the economy. While Romney is tailor-made for a campaign about jobs and the recession, the topics are a bit of a reach for Santorum. Even in the primaries, voters largely ignore his program for reviving American manufacturing and back him either because of a dislike for Romney or their fervent support of his social agenda.

Santorum also has a 12-year voting record in the Senate that Obama could use against him, picking out votes that make him appear callous and doctrinaire. While Romney will have to defend his record at Bain Capital and in Massachusetts, he has the luxury of never having had to cast votes in Washington on controversial issues.

On a personal level, Santorum’s earnestness, youth and idealism will be very attractive to voters in November, as it is showing itself to be during the primaries. But, unlike Obama, Gingrich and even Romney, he has not proven himself a great debater. His surge in the polls comes not so much from any knock-it-out-of-the-park debate performance but rather as a byproduct of the exceedingly negative campaign between Romney and Gingrich. The record ugliness of their exchange has wounded both men and left Santorum unscathed.

But, of course, there is a flip side to youth and earnestness — inexperience. Santorum does not have Romney’s track record of having run for president before and of campaigning in the bright spotlight as the front-runner for all of 2011. His record in Pennsylvania does not do much to stoke confidence in his ability to take a punch in the campaign.

And there is a flip side to his idealism — stubbornness. He clung to his defense of the Iraq war throughout his 2006 race for reelection, refusing to flinch even as the war’s popularity took a nosedive. Santorum’s friends will tell you that he is loyal to a fault and consistent even at the price of political disadvantage. While admirable traits for a friend, they are not necessarily conducive to winning the presidency.

The bottom line?

Would Santorum have a good chance to beat Obama? Certainly. The president’s record would make any Republican look good.

Would Romney be the safer bet? Obviously.

Who should you support? Santorum if you want purity. Romney if you want to be pragmatic. It doesn’t so much depend on who these two guys are as on who you are.

Morris, a former adviser to then-Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and President Clinton, is the author of “Outrage,” “Fleeced,” “Catastrophe” and “2010: Take Back America — A Battle Plan.” To get all of his and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by email, or to order a signed copy of their latest book, “Revolt!: How to Defeat Obama and Repeal His Socialist Programs — A Patriot’s Guide,” go to dickmorris.com.



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