April 15, 2004,
Say it ain’t so, Rick.
No one can question Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum's free-market and pro-growth credentials. Santorum has been ranked as one of the most fiscally conservative Republicans in the Senate by groups like the National Taxpayers Union. He has led the fight for tax cuts and smaller government. And pro-growth contributors, for their part, did a lot of heavy lifting to help get Santorum into the Senate in the first place and into the leadership position he now holds. It was an investment that has paid off in spades.
That is why Santorum's recent interventions on behalf of Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania Republican primary are so bewildering. Specter is now locked in a razor-tight race against conservative three-term congressman Pat Toomey. Toomey's voting record, especially on economic-growth issues, is very similar to Santorum's and is as impressive as Specter's is dreadful. Specter was one of only three Republicans who tried to eviscerate the Bush tax cut; he was the only Republican in the Senate to vote against the Washington, D.C. school-voucher bill; and he was ranked by the Citizens Against Government Waste as the "Pork Spender of the Year."
Specter often admits his left-wing tilt. Here is how he described his own political persuasion in a recent New Yorker article: "When I came to the Senate, we had a lot of members of the 'Wednesday Club' a weekly gathering of Republican moderates. You had Lowell Weicker, you had Bob Stafford, you had Bob Packwood, you had Mark Hatfield, you had Lincoln Chafee, you had John Danforth, you had Jim Jeffords, you had John Heinz. Now there are only a few of us."
Specter freely admits that he shares the ideology of Jim Jeffords and Lowell Weicker.
Rick Santorum is obligated to publicly back the incumbent Specter. Santorum believes, probably rightly, that he would not be senator today without Specter's help. In a city where loyalty is notoriously a scarce commodity, Santorum can be commended for not his public pledges of support.
But Santorum is actively working to undermine Pat Toomey's candidacy. He has discouraged donors from contributing to Toomey. He has cut TV ads for Specter that portray the senior liberal senator as a friend of the taxpayer. He has staff people in Pennsylvania actively campaigning against Toomey.
Worst of all, Rick Santorum is running around Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., perpetuating the myth that Pat Toomey is "too conservative to win in Pennsylvania." This is precisely what liberals said about Rick Santorum when he ran for the Senate back in 1994. Santorum proved that wrong. So did Ronald Reagan, when he won Pennsylvania with a fairly right-wing message in 1980 and 1984. Pennsylvania is the signature state of the Reagan Democrat voter. These are middle-class, often unionized, blue-collar voters who are pro-life, pro-gun, and anti-tax.
Pat Toomey has a demonstrated record of winning Reagan Democrat voters. Toomey represents Allentown, Pa. Allentown is the steel city that Billy Joel immortalized in song about an economically depressed area where out-of-work unionized steel workers are "filling in forms, standing in lines." Toomey wins the district where few other Republicans prevail. And he wins with a voting record that is for free trade, private accounts for Social Security, and lean budgets with no pork. (In fact, Specter is running as the man who brings home the bacon, and attacks Toomey for his unwillingness to vote for budget busters that have caused the federal deficit to soar into the stratosphere.)
Despite this principled free-market position on issues and his unwillingness to chase pork spending, Toomey won the district even George Bush lost it in 2000.
This contention that Republican candidates lose when they position themselves to the right and when they run on pro-economic growth issues, rather than away from them, is plain wrong. When Republicans run on principles, they win. Santorum sounds like the Reagan skeptics of the 1970s: He's way too right wing to ever win the presidency. How many times does the conservative movement have to disprove this fallacy?
Pennsylvania is a key battleground state for President Bush. The Bush team and Santorum want Specter on the ticket. But our polls indicate that Specter on the ticket may very well hurt Bush in Pennsylvania, not help him. Toomey will turn out hundreds of thousands of conservative voters, whereas Specter will turn them away.
Santorum's attacks against the Toomey campaign are especially unwarranted because many of the thousands of people who have contributed to Toomey's campaign are the same donors who helped Santorum become a Senator himself. I have talked with many Club for Growth donors who are none too pleased that Santorum is now actively campaigning against the Toomey challenge to a RINO Republican. Needless to say, through his actions, Santorum is risking alienating his own donor base which he will have to tap into two years from now as he seeks reelection.
Pat Toomey, as National Review put it so concisely on its cover a few weeks ago, is "the right choice." Rick Santorum, of all people, should recognize that. My worry is that if Santorum keeps up his open warfare against Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania may not only lose the chance to have two conservative senators, we may lose the chance to have any.
Stephen Moore is president of the Club for Growth.