The New March Madness: CPAC's Guest List

It's getting very hard to keep track of who is and is not allowed in the conservative movement these days. The issue of how much smaller the tent is getting always comes to a head at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, at which warring factions fight to keep each other off the guest list. In 2011, prominent anti-gay groups boycotted because the gay Republicans of GOProud were allowed to cosponsor the event. Last year, GOProud was banned but white nationalists and anti-Muslim extremists were allowed.

The guest list for this week's conference is even more byzantine. Following last year's bad publicity, the white nationalists have been disinvited. And anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller has been denied a panel slot, which she claims is because CPAC's organizers are "enforcing the Sharia." You know things are getting bad when CPAC has fallen to Sharia.

But excluding white nationalists and an anti-Muslim extremist doesn't mean that CPAC has suddenly become a friendly and open-minded place. This year, gay groups did get a consolation prize: a rogue, unofficial panel "A Rainbow on the Right." But don't look for any rainbows inside -- the conference still bars gay Republican groups from its official proceedings. And even without Pamela Geller, the conference will keep its strong anti-Islam tilt, hosting speakers who routinely attack American Muslims. And it's not just gays and Muslims. New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who vetoed a marriage equality bill in his state, has been deemed too liberal to speak at the CPAC. So has Virginia's Gov. Bob "Transvaginal Ultrasound" McDonnell, who apparently became some sort of leftist radical when he agreed to raise taxes to fund his state's highways.

So who was conservative enough to make the cut for CPAC? War on Christmas analyst Sarah Palin, unhinged former congressman Allen West, and orange birther crusader Donald Trump, for starters. Mitt Romney has also been invited -- presumably holding on to the right-wing makeover he underwent for his presidential campaign -- though he loses top billing to his former running mate Rep. Paul Ryan.

In many ways, CPAC is caught in exactly the same bind as the Republican Party. The party's leaders know that to survive in the long-term it must moderate its positions and expand its base. But they're still in the grips of an extremist fringe that just won't let that happen. Last year, fringe candidates like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock helped sink the GOP's hopes of gaining seats in the Senate. This year, strategist Karl Rove has threatened to launch primary challenges against fringe candidates in an effort to keep the party relevant. But in doing so, he's provoked the anger of the Tea Party, whose leaders correctly note that they're the only reason the GOP has any power at all right now.

This year's CPAC can be seen as a preview of the 2016 Republican presidential primary. The party's main movers and shakers are trying to keep their base happy by turning away leaders like McDonnell and Christie who have deviated, in however small a way, from the party line. But they're also trying to hide some of the most disturbing aspects of their party's fringe.

McDonnell got snubbed for daring to fund a transportation bill. In his place, CPAC will highlight Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who led the legal charge against the Affordable Care Act and who is running to be McDonnell's successor. White nationalists and Pamela Geller were ousted for being too far off the fringe, but Donald Trump, who's devoted himself to claiming that the nation's first black president isn't a real American, is a highlighted speaker.

As hard as CPAC's organizers may try, their guest list is still a mess. But the problem isn't just the guest list, it's what they're serving. They're trying to represent a movement -- and a party -- that wants the American people to think they got the message while still relying on extremists and insisting on a rigid orthodoxy. That's a tall order for any party. And they can't have it both ways.

This post originally appeared at the Huffington Post.

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Importance of the Supreme Court in the Upcoming Election

As Election Day approaches, voters need to keep in mind one of the most important powers given to a president: the ability to nominate Supreme Court Justices. Judicial nominations take even more precedence in this election due to the fact that four current justices are in their seventies, making it likely that the next president will have the opportunity to nominate at least one or two justices, putting major progressive reforms along with a list of other issues at risk with the possibility of even one additional conservative justice to the Court. The stakes are highest for progressives because Breyer (74) and Ginsburg (79, the most likely to retire) tend to lean liberal in their decisions and a conservative-leaning replacement for either would give disproportional amounts of power to the conservative wing of the Court.

Romney has pledged to nominate individuals that align with extreme right-wing justices like Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Chief Justice John Roberts. Under the guise of securing “greater protections for economic liberty and greater scrutiny for regulation” and “judicial modesty,” a more conservative Court would ultimately limit the expansion of gay rights, further extend corporate influence in politics, attack women’s reproductive rights, and threaten the recently upheld healthcare legislation.

To understand the implications of a Supreme Court under Romney, one only needs to look at Romney’s choice of chairman of his Judicial Advisory Committee: Robert Bork, a right-wing extremist and advocator for Constitutional “originalism”, a radically conservative way to interpret the Constitution. Bork opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Roe v. Wade, and in 2007, Romney declared, “I wish he were already on the Supreme Court. He’s the kind of brilliant conservative mind that this court could use.” Clearly, Romney intends to shift the Court’s further to the right with nominations similar to Bork.

President Obama has been quite vocal regarding his opponent’s intentions with vacancies on the Supreme Court. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Obama made it clear that a Romney/Ryan administration would be in a position to overturn Roe v. Wade through the Supreme Court. In a recent appearance on the Tonight Show, President Obama again highlighted the importance of having a diverse Court especially when it came to Roe v. Wade. The President also recently emphasized the importance of the Supreme Court and marriage equality in the coming years during an interview with MTV, expressing opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act and hoping for its eventual overturning.

A more conservative Supreme Court would lead to a radical reinterpretation of the Constitution and a dramatic attack on equal opportunity and rights. If Romney is elected, this sort of Court would almost certainly become a reality.

Click for PFAW’s new report on the Court’s importance.

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Supreme Court Nominations in Campaigns

This year’s election has been heavily dominated by the economy, jobs, and the national debt with less attention given to the judiciary and the consequences of presidential nominations to the Supreme Court. With several of the current justices well into their seventies and increasing speculation on who will retire, the stakes are high for upcoming cases involving women’s rights, LGBT Americans, the environment, voter suppression, racial equality, and corporate power. The next president may name up to three justices, and the Senate will decide whether to confirm those choices. So the results of the presidential and Senate elections will have a huge impact on the Supreme Court and on every American for decades to come.

Recently, the topic of Supreme Court nominations has come up in a number of Senate races throughout the nation – most notably in Massachusetts where during a debate incumbent Republican Scott Brown cited Justice Antonin Scalia as his model justice, resulting in rebuke from the audience and the nation due to Justice Scalia’s extreme conservative values and record. Brown’s opponent, Elizabeth Warren, said she preferred justices like Elena Kagan and has since warned of the dangers of appointing extreme right-wing judges.

Supreme Court nominations also came up in the Senate race in Connecticut, where Representative Chris Murphy criticized Republican challenger Linda McMahon for identifying herself as pro-choice while at the same time being willing to vote to confirm Supreme Court justices who would restrict women’s health rights and ban abortion. In Hawaii, Representative Mazie Hirono expressed interest in ensuring that a more balanced Supreme Court exists so that “ideologically based” decisions would be rejected. She cited such recent rulings like Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and Ledbetter v. Goodyear as examples as to why ideologically based rulings need to be rejected within the Court.  Her opponent, former Republican Governor Linda Lingle, stated she would evaluate judicial nominees based on their level of objectivity in interpreting the law and not pose any questions regarding controversial issues like gay rights and abortion.

Vice President Joe Biden also brought up Supreme Court nominations during his debate with Representative Paul Ryan. Biden advised voters to “Keep your eye on the Supreme Court”, shedding light on a critical issue in this election that voters need to be aware of and making it clear that Romney intends to name justices who would actively seek to overturn Roe v. Wade and harm women’s reproductive rights.

Although neither Obama nor Romney spoke directly about the Supreme Court in any of their three debates, in a recent appearance on the “Tonight Show”, Obama highlighted the importance of having a diverse Court especially when it came to Roe v. Wade. 

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VP Debate Highlights the Importance of the Supreme Court

During his debate with Paul Ryan, Vice President Biden reminded Americans of one of the most important issues of the presidential election: The Supreme Court. When asked about abortion rights, Biden said:

The court -- the next president will get one or two Supreme Court nominees. That's how close Roe v. Wade is. Just ask yourself, with Robert Bork being the chief adviser on the court for -- for Mr. Romney, who do you think he's likely to appoint? Do you think he's likely to appoint someone like Scalia or someone else on the court far right that would outlaw (inaudible) -- outlaw abortion? I suspect that would happen.

Mitt Romney's choice of Robert Bork speaks volumes about what a Romney Court would do to America, not just for four years but for decades to come, since Justices have lifetime tenures. Bork's extremism caused a bipartisan Senate to reject his nomination to the Supreme Court in 1987, and for good reason.

As People For the American Way reported earlier this year in our Borking America report, he called legal desegregation of motels and lunch counters "unsurpassed ugliness." As a circuit court judge, Bork routinely ruled in favor of corporate power over ordinary Americans. He has said the Constitution allows states to criminalize the use of birth control and abortion, that the Equal Protection Clause doesn't apply to women, and ruled as a judge that a company could order its female employees to be sterilized or be fired.

This is the man that Mitt Romney would have picking our next Supreme Court Justices.

Vice President Biden has spoken before about the danger of the Romney Court, and it is not a pretty picture.

Check out our Romney Court site to get a full idea of the damage that his right-wing justices would do to Americans across the country.

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Why is Mitt Romney Outraged at Todd Akin and Not at Paul Ryan?

Mitt Romney is outraged! He's insulted! He's offended!

Why? A Republican Senate candidate dared to state a position on choice that is exactly the same as that of Romney's own running mate.

Missouri Rep. Todd Akin is attracting plenty of attention for his bizarre and idiotic justification for refusing to allow rape victims to have abortions. But the extreme policy position behind those comments - a policy that is the GOP standard -- should be getting just as much attention.

Akin explained this weekend how rape victims shouldn't be allowed reproductive choice because they already have access to some mysterious anti-pregnancy control system: "First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

Romney responded today in an interview with the National Review:

"Congressman's Akin comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong," Romney said. "Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive."

"I have an entirely different view," Romney said. "What he said is entirely without merit and he should correct it."

What is Romney's "entirely different view"? That Rep. Akin doesn't have a basic understanding of the female anatomy that he's so interested in legislating? That Akin feels the need to draw a distinction between "legitimate rape" and "illegitimate rape"? That Akin thinks rape victims shouldn't be able to choose whether to carry their rapists' children?

Romney should start by directing his outrage at his own running mate. Rep. Paul Ryan not only opposes abortion rights for rape victims, he was a cosponsor of a so-called "personhood" amendment that would have classified abortion as first degree murder and outlawed common types of birth control. Ryan has also bought into the "legitimate rape" nonsense, cosponsoring legislation with Akin that would have limited federal services to victims of "forcible rape" - a deliberate attempt to write out some victims of date rape and statutory rape.

Romney himself has flirted with the "personhood" idea, telling Mike Huckabee during the primary that he'd "absolutely" support such a measure. When he was later confronted about the comment at a town hall meeting, it became clear that Romney had no idea how the process he wanted to legislate actually worked.

And Romney hasn't always been keen to stand up for the victims of rape. In a Republican debate in February, he actually got in an argument with Newt Gingrich over who was least in favor of requiring hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims they were treating.

Now the Romney campaign is trying to distance itself from Akin by saying that "a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape." But Romney has also vowed to nominate Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, returning to states the power to outlaw or allow abortion as they choose. If Romney and anti-choice activists get their wish from the Supreme Court, a Romney-Ryan administration would have no power to stop states from imposing whichever abortion bans they decide to impose. The promise to carve out an exception for rape victims is not a promise they would be able to keep.

The real scandal of Rep. Akin's comments isn't the faulty sex-ed he's teaching. Instead, his comments expose the anti-choice movement's skewed and condescending view of women. Akin can't accept that a woman who fits his definition of virtue - the victim of a "legitimate rape" - would also need to seek an abortion, and he has made up false science to support that assumption. But with or without the weird right-wing science, that same false distinction underlies all anti-choice policies - including those embraced by Romney and Ryan.

Romney can feign all the outrage he wants at Rep. Akin's misogynistic pseudo-science. But until he can draw a clear distinction between Akin's policies and his own, his protests will ring hollow.

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

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Ryan Budget "Robin Hood In Reverse"

“We think America is on the wrong track,” said Chairman of the House Budget Committee Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his budget plan passed the House on a party-line vote. “We think the president is bringing us to a debt crisis and a welfare state in decline,” he continued.

So what’s his prescription?

It turns out the GOP’s lead budget person is pushing for a debt crisis and a welfare state. Except the debt crisis would be caused by continuing to give massive tax cuts to the 1 percent and the welfare program would be for Big Oil. And one other thing: it would end Medicare as we know it.

The Ryan budget would reduce taxes roughly $400,000 a year on those earning more than $1 million annually. 62 percent of the funding for this tax cut comes from low income programs.

The Ryan budget would keep the $24 billion in subsidies to Big Oil that the Obama Administration tried to end.

The Ryan budget would transform Medicare from a system that guarantees coverage to a voucher system and raise the age of eligibility, leaving millions of seniors without affordable coverage.

The Republicans have had quite a few chances to lay out a fresh vision for America, but instead keep offering up the same misguided priorities that make the rich even richer and leave the rest of us out to dry. If Paul Ryan thinks that forcing Americans to give up our Medicare benefits while continuing taxpayer handouts to Big Oil is the “right track” for America, then we might not want to board that train.

PFAW

Ryan budget further exposes hypocrisy of the war on women

“There is no way for ‘experts’ in Washington to know more about the health care needs of individual Americans than those individuals and their doctors know.”

Sometimes the Right’s hypocrisy is just that clear.

This statement was made in the “Path to Prosperity” budget (page 28) released today by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.

NARAL’s reaction was swift and strong.

Rep. Ryan and his other anti-choice colleagues in the House have been practicing medicine without a license since they took over in January 2011. They want to take away prenatal care, contraceptive coverage, mammograms, and other basic care made possible by the health-reform law. They voted to defund family-planning programs. They even voted to allow hospitals to deny emergency abortion care to women who could die without it. Now they want to reinvent themselves as patient-privacy advocates. Putting Rep. Ryan and his cronies in charge of protecting Americans from political interference in their private medical decisions is like asking the same group to protect Medicare. It is ridiculous and out of touch with reality.

We agree with you wholeheartedly, Nancy. PFAW has been tracking the war on women on Capitol Hill and in the states. For Chairman Ryan to say that Washington should stay out of the healthcare business fails to recognize how hard he and the Right have been fighting to get into that business.

Just this month:

And there’s plenty more where that came from.

Take action today!

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Ensuring accountability in a post­-Citizens United era

The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision was quickly followed by warnings of the disastrous consequences of opening the floodgates for corporate spending in future elections, but few would have predicted something as bizarre as what was recently discovered in Delaware.

“Restoring Our Future,” a pro-Romney Super PAC, recently received a generous donation of $1 million from W Spann LLC. However, little is known about the firm that only operated in the state for a period of four months, including even the most basic information about its owners. And experts suggest that this arrangement may well be illegal.

“If they put money into the corporation specifically for the purpose of making a political donation that would constitute, in my view, illegally making a donation to avoid disclosure,” says Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center.

While individuals can of course make contributions to PACs and other political organizations, there are disclosure laws in place to help voters and watchdogs understand where the money is coming from. But because the owners of this corporation don’t need to make their names public, Ryan and others suspect the mysterious firm, W Spann LLC, was set up in order to make a large contribution and avoid disclosing any information about the money’s origins.

Ryan’s group along with other watchdog organizations such as the Public Campaign Action Fund and Democracy are calling on Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden as well as officials from the Justice Department and FEC to look into this questionable conduct. But as we wait to see what happens next, it’s clear that this is yet one more of the many examples illustrating how destructive the Citizens United decision has been to our democracy.

With the important elections in 2012 a little more than a year away, it is incumbent on our elected officials to enact meaningful remedies to ensure the integrity of our elections is protected.

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Huntsman Polishes His Magic Mirror to Show GOP Voters Whatever They're Looking For

Just who is Jon Huntsman? At this stage, he is whatever anyone hopes that he will be. As he prepares to officially join the gaggle of GOP presidential candidates, his campaign strategists seem to have adopted an "all-things-to-all-people" approach: play up his conservative credentials for Republican primary voters while courting general election voters by promoting his media image as the only moderate in the race. A CNN commentator, for example, calls him "the lone standard-bearer of the center-right in a crowded GOP field." Katrina Trinko, a reporter at the conservative National Review Online, sees this all-things-to-all-people approach as a potentially winning strategy:

It remains to be seen whether Jon Huntsman can successfully be all things to all men. But if, by stressing different parts of his record, he can successfully sell himself as a moderate to centrists and a conservative to hard-liners, he could be difficult to beat.

An analysis of Huntsman's record shows that, faced with the reality that he must appeal to the increasingly far right Republican base, he is quickly trying to jettison formerly held "moderate" positions. We agree with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who has publicly rejected the notion that Huntsman is a RINO (Republican in Name Only), saying "there's no question he's a conservative."

It's worth noting that many Americans first met Huntsman when he introduced "my friend Sarah" Palin at the 2008 Republican National Convention, exulting that "history will be made tonight!" He praised her strength, tenacity, authenticity and originality, calling her a rebel and a renegade who is "not afraid to kick a few fannies and raise a little hell." Said Huntsman, "We are looking for a beacon of light to show us the way. We are looking for Sarah!"

Huntsman and the Religious Right: Ralph Reed's 'Great Friend'

There are plenty of reasons that former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed recently introduced Huntsman to a group of right-wing activists as "a good conservative and a great friend."

In 2009, Huntsman told a reporter that he has little patience for traditional "culture war" issues, saying "I'm not good at playing those games." That sounds like a promising and refreshing break from the norm of Republican presidential candidates, but in reality he has played those "games" devastatingly well. He made his efforts to make abortion completely unavailable to women a centerpiece of his address to Reed's "Faith and Freedom Coalition" summit:

"As governor of Utah, I supported and signed every pro-life bill that came to my desk," he said. "I signed the bill that made second-trimester abortions illegal and increased the penalty for doing so. I signed the bill to allow women to know about the pain an abortion causes an unborn child. I signed the bill requiring parental permission for an abortion. I signed the bill that would trigger a ban on abortions in Utah if Roe v. Wade were overturned."

Huntsman has also appealed to the public school-hating wing of the Religious Right. In 2007, he signed a statewide school voucher bill that provided up to $3,000 in taxpayer funds for students attending private schools. That was too much even for voters in conservative Republican Utah, who rejected the attack on public education and overturned the plan through a referendum.

At Reed's recent confab, Huntsman also joined the chorus of speakers warning Tea Party conservatives not to abandon social conservatives. The Republican Party, he said, should not focus on economics to the detriment of the fight to make abortion unavailable, saying that would lead to "a deficit of the heart and soul."

Huntsman and the Economic Right: A Full Embrace of the Ryan Budget

Huntsman, who is making his tax-cutting record as governor of Utah a major campaign theme, has praised Rep. Paul Ryan's radical budget proposal as a "very, very good one." Even though Republicans have been abandoning the Ryan plan in droves, Huntsman has said that he would have voted for the Ryan budget if he were a member of Congress. He has specifically embraced the Ryan budget's plan to essentially abolish Medicare, saying the size of the national debt required drastic policy changes. However, unlike some other Republican governors, Huntsman's concerns about the debt did not prevent him from welcoming federal stimulus funds.

He embraces the Tea Party's warnings about the economy and the suggestion that the nation is being destroyed by internal enemies. He says that America is "buying serfdom" with its deficit spending. Invoking Ronald Reagan's 1964 "A Time for Choosing" speech on behalf of Barry Goldwater, Huntsman says America is at a crossroads, with voters needing to choose "whether we are to become a declining power in the world, eaten from within, or a nation that regains its economic health and maintains its long-loved liberties."

As governor, Huntsman proposed abolishing corporate taxes altogether; campaigning in New Hampshire recently, he suggested that he would cut federal corporate taxes. The 2012 campaign, he says, will determine whether the nation will endure an economic "lost decade" or "unleash the economic magic."

Moving Right on Climate Change

This month the Salt Lake Tribune examined Huntsman's shift on climate issues. Four years ago, he supported a regional cap-and-trade program, saying, "If we do this right, our citizens are going to have a better quality of life, we're going to spawn new technologies and industries, and we're going to leave our most important belongings in better shape for the next generation." That was then, as the paper noted:

But now, in a political environment rocked by recession and a rowdy tea party, and with Huntsman's eyes on a possible presidential run in 2012, his position has evolved. He's still defending the science of climate change, but he has ditched his support for cap-and-trade.

Given that most of the GOP field is in full denial on climate change, Huntsman has gotten some credit for simply acknowledging reality. "All I know is 90 percent of the scientists say climate change is occurring," he told TIME magazine. "If 90 percent of the oncological community said something was causing cancer, we'd listen to them." But, he says, now "isn't the moment" to deal with climate change.
That led the Washington Monthly's Steve Benen to comment:

This is, in general, the worst of all possible positions. Much of the right believes climate change is a "hoax" and an elaborate conspiracy cooked up by communists to destroy America's way of life. These deniers have a simple solution to the problem: ignore it and pretend there is no problem. Much of the left takes the evidence seriously, is eager to address the crisis, and has a variety of possible solutions to the problem, including but not limited to cap-and-trade plans.

Huntsman apparently wants to split the difference -- he accepts the evidence and believes the problem is real; Huntsman just doesn't want to do anything about it.

To borrow his analogy, Huntsman has heard the collective judgment of 90% of the world's oncologists, but believes it'd be inconvenient to deal with the cancer or what's causing the cancer anytime soon.

Moderate Image, Conservative Reality

Huntsman's moderate image is based in large part on his 2009 endorsement of civil unions for gay couples. Five years earlier, when campaigning for governor, he had supported a state constitutional amendment that bans marriage and "other domestic unions" for same-sex couples. Huntsman's rhetorical shift did not find its way into any policy that offers legal protection for gay couples in Utah; he still opposes marriage equality, calling himself "a firm believer in the traditional construct of marriage, a man and a woman."

Huntsman has taken some heat from far-right activists who cannot tolerate the slightest sign of heresy against right-wing dogma. But former George W. Bush official Michael Gerson thinks Huntsman's moderate media image could actually help him by setting initial expectations low among GOP activists:

The media have often covered Huntsman as a liberal Republican -- a Rockefeller reincarnation. After all, he supports civil unions. He made it easier to get a drink at a bar in Utah. This easy press narrative gives Huntsman an odd advantage in a Republican primary: He is more conservative than his image. For many Republicans, he will improve upon closer inspection.

Huntsman's campaign is just getting under way, but his positioning is already clear. Tell Religious Right activists you're one of them by emphasizing your support for the most draconian anti-choice measures. Tell the Tea Partiers you're one of them by backing Paul Ryan's radically anti-government and anti-middle-class budget. And encourage more moderate Republicans to believe you're one of them by calling for civil discourse and offering rhetorical support for short-of-equality measures for same-sex couples. It's a calculated strategy that might make some sense politically, but it seems unlikely that trying to be all things to all people provides a path to victory through the restrictive gauntlet of the Republican primaries.

Cross posted on The Huffington Post

PFAW

Rick Santorum: The Hapless Holy Warrior Starts Another Crusade

Former Senator Rick Santorum formally launched his bid for the White House today. Given that Santorum's last run for reelection resulted in a crushing 17-point defeat, and given that his poll numbers are still in the low single digits in spite of his having been running a de facto campaign for the past year and a half, it would seem that Santorum's race is mostly a sign of the self-deceiving wishful thinking that overtakes people who believe they are meant to be president -- or in Santorum's case, who believe God truly wants them to be president.

Indeed, Santorum's campaign has already won him enough mockery that Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Tony Norman recently dubbed him "the Rodney Dangerfield of American politics," saying he gets "as little respect as support."

Part of Santorum's problem is simply that he comes across to many people as annoyingly self-righteous. Norman writes, "His biggest problem is that he reminds everyone, including Republicans, of the annoying kid in Sunday school who memorizes all 66 books of the Bible so he can recite them in reverse order for the old ladies at church." In 2009, as Santorum's plans to run were becoming more apparent, journalist Matthew Cooper wrote, "My favorite Santorum anecdote actually comes from Bob Kerrey. After Santorum denounced Sen. Mark Hatfield, the Oregon Republican, for his opposition to the balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, the Nebraska Democrat was asked what he thought. 'Santorum, that's Latin for a--hole.'"

Fans on the Far Right

In spite of Santorum's huge negatives, he has his cheerleaders among right-wing activists and pundits who think he could still emerge from the unimpressive GOP pack.

Last month, right-wing Catholic activist Keith Fournier published a column that was essentially a mash note, declaring Santorum the winner of the South Carolina debate, calling his demeanor "Kennedy-esque," and gushing that Santorum's "courage to lead" is "what this Nation needs."

In February, columnist George Will praised Santorum as a "relentless ethicist" and said the GOP needs someone who can energize social conservatives who "are feeling neglected and are looking for someone like Santorum." To those who thought his loss would make him unelectable, Will asks, "Well, was Richard Nixon defunct after losing the California gubernatorial race in 1962?" I wonder if Santorum welcomed that comparison.

In January, when Santorum was criticized for slamming Obama's support for abortion in racial terms -- saying, "I find it almost remarkable for a black man to say 'now we are going to decide who are people and who are not people'" -- The National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez praised Santorum for raising the issue of abortion in the black community.

The Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody also praised Santorum back in January, before Brody's crush on Donald Trump burst into full flower.

Love him or hate him, let's be clear about Rick Santorum. He doesn't hold back. He doesn't mince words and conservative Christians and Catholics find this quality to be his best attribute. If and when he dives into the 2012 GOP mosh pit, he's going to be the guy that won't hold back and in the process he'll put some of these other 2012 contenders on the spot by bringing up issues that everybody whispers about but rarely talks about in public.

Hard Right Record

Santorum's far-right rhetoric and policy positions are what keep hope alive among some of his supporters. He is campaigning as a hard-right candidate who can appeal to every stripe of conservative. And he certainly has the record to back up that claim.

Speaking to a Tea Party gathering in February, Santorum embraced an extreme view of the constitutional separation of powers and the role of the federal judiciary, reportedly saying that Congress has the power and the right to declare what is constitutional or not. He said Congress has the power to disband the federal courts and that "I would sign a bill tomorrow to eliminate the 9th Circuit [Court of Appeals]. That court is rogue. It's a pox on the western part of our country." He told the Conservative Political Action Conference in February that "America belongs to God" and the judiciary has no right to "redefine" life or marriage.

He's a fierce critic of federal health care reform legislation, saying it will "destroy the country," portraying it as the equivalent of drug dealing and telling a group of Christians that getting hooked on health care would make them "less than what God created you to be." He has said that "if Obamacare is actually implemented," then "America as we know it will be no more."

Today, after he announced his candidacy, Santorum declared that American troops at D-Day had been fighting for Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to effectively end Medicare. "Those Americans risked everything so they could make that decision on their health care plan," he said.

He pushes the Tea Party's small-government ideology, saying the problems in the housing industry will be resolved by "getting regulators to back off" and letting the markets work their magic. Similarly, he says the answer to creating jobs is to get rid of all the government intervention that he believes is strangling businesses -- health care reform, financial regulation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and more.

In a bid to salvage his sinking 2006 reelection campaign, Santorum turned to bashing immigration reform and "amnesty" for illegal immigrants.

Santorum has a social issues record to make the Religious Right cheer. He made a name for himself on the national scene with his attacks on gay rights, most notably in a 2003 interview comparing gay relationships with "man-on-dog" sex. (In the same interview he argued that the Constitution does not protect a right to privacy. Recently he said that allowing loving gay couples to adopt children is "trying to defy nature" and should be illegal, as should gay marriage. He says that the Obama administration's decision to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court meant that the "free exercise of religion will be eviscerated."

Although, while in the Senate, Santorum supported the occasional pro-choice Republican, he calls Roe v. Wade a "monstrosity" and supports criminalization of abortion, which he says is the reason Social Security is in trouble. He backs right-wing attacks on funding for Planned Parenthood's family planning services, actively taking part in the right-wing propaganda campaign against Planned Parenthood. Santorum has slammed the Griswold decision, in which the Supreme Court recognized a constitutional right to privacy and overturned a state ban on contraception, as a "constitutional wrecking ball."

Santorum gave Religious Right activists a powerful tool for pushing religion into public school classrooms when he sponsored an amendment to the "No Child Left Behind" law that encouraged the teaching of intelligent design in science classes. The amendment, written in part by the creationist Discovery Institute, became a force behind creationists' bogus "teach the controversy" strategy. Santorum wrote in 2002 that "Intelligent Design is a legitimate scientific theory that should be taught in science classes." Scientists and courts disagree.

Santorum has been a severe critic of Islam from his perch at the "America's Enemies" program at the right-wing Ethics and Public Policy Center. He says Islam is incompatible with western civilization because Shariah is both a civil code and a religious code. But he also says of Christians that "it is our obligation" to make civil law in America "comport with God's laws."

Santorum has tried to get attention to his desire to be the second Catholic president by slamming the first, saying he was "appalled" by John F. Kennedy's "radical" support for the separation of church and state - a centerpiece of Kennedy's vision of America. Speaking of the Kennedys, Santorum criticized church officials for praising former senator Ted Kennedy at his funeral, saying there was "no excuse" for it and arguing that it was harmful to send the message that it was okay for Catholic politicians to dissent from church teachings.

Although Santorum has been quick to slam progressive Catholics for not hewing closely enough to the doctrine of Church hierarchy, he's shown no compunction in casting aside Church teaching when it conflicts with his extreme ideology, as he did when repeatedly supporting "enhanced interrogation" techniques like waterboarding -- which has been clearly labeled "torture" and "an intrinsic evil" by the Catholic Church.

Santorum blamed the church's sex abuse scandal on the liberal political culture of Boston:


Priests, like all of us, are affected by culture. When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm.


Obama as Enemy

At least one columnist has suggested that Santorum is angling for a VP spot, where he would serve as the GOP campaign's attack dog. He has repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to savage President Obama in the most extreme terms. Obama he says, does not have "a love of this country and an understanding of the basic values and wants and desires of its people." If Obama is reelected, he says, "Democracy and freedom will disappear." Santorum says Obama's talk about his faith is "phony" because the president, like other liberal Christians, has "abandoned Christendom" and has no "right to claim it." In fact, he says, Obama and "the left" are actively seeking to "destroy the family and destroy the Church" because that is the only way they can "be successful in getting socialism to be accepted in this country and that's what their objective is." During the 2008 campaign, Santorum was declared one of Keith Olbermann's "Worst Persons in the World" for continuing to spread the right-wing lie that Obama "won't wear the American flag pin."

When President Obama criticized cable news, Santorum ridiculously portrayed it as a prelude to tyrannical censorship: "This reminds me of what Hugo Chavez is doing down in Venezuela, trying to shut down the voice of opposition in the media." He says Obama "doesn't believe in the foundational principles that made this country great, which is limited government and free people." He said his own grandfather came from fascist Italy to a country that would allow him to be free: "That's the kind of change we need in Washington, DC."

In an April 28, 2011 foreign policy speech at the National Press Club, Santorum declared that "unlike President Obama I believe we were a great country even before the Great Society Programs of the 1960s." He went on to say, "Freedom has been our watchword, our anchor and our moral guide for nearly every cause both here and abroad. But today we have lost this mission because our president doesn't believe in it." After another (now-GOP-requisite) slam on Obama for not believing in American exceptionalism, Santorum slammed Obama for not doing more to support protesters in Iran: "We sided with evil because our president believes our enemies are legitimately aggrieved and thus we have no standing to intervene." Last year Santorum reportedly told a Pennsylvania crowd "that Obama seeks to make the United States like Europe, a continent whose citizens have turned their backs on faith and grown selfish, and where governments bestow rights upon the citizenry, rather than a place where all are born with God-given rights."

Violating Reagan's 11th Commandment

One reason Santorum might not be very popular in spite of his reliably right-wing record is that he is a habitual violator of Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment. Santorum seems quite happy to speak ill of his fellow Republicans. He has slammed Romney as "Obama's running mate" (a reference to Romney's support for health care reform in Massachusetts) and criticized Newt Gingrich for criticizing Paul Ryan.

During the 2008 campaign, he repeatedly criticized John McCain. After pledging that he would never support McCain, he tepidly endorsed him after Sarah Palin joined the ticket. Santorum even wrote a snide column after McCain's loss predicting (wrongly) that McCain would seek historical redemption by leading the charge in Congress to help Obama move his agenda.

One of Santorum's less-successful slams on a fellow Republican came when he criticized Sarah Palin for not attending the Conservative Political Action Conference and suggested that her duties as a mom to five kids may have made her too busy. Palin in turn suggested that Santorum might be a "knuckle-dragging Neanderthal."

God's Candidate?

Santorum sees politics in spiritual terms. He says that government gets bigger and more intrusive without a "moral consensus" to guide society. In 2008 he told faculty and students at right-wing Ave Maria University, "This is not a political war, it is not a cultural war; it's a spiritual war." Santorum suggested that his opponents were agents of Satan: "The Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on -- a good, decent, powerful, influential country: the United States of America." He warned the students that if they signed up for God's army, "you'll be ridiculed and you'll lose most if not every one of your battles. But you know who's going to win in the end, so you warrior on happily."

The Campaign Limps Along

Last spring, Santorum said he saw "an opening for someone who can unite the various primary factions -- economic libertarians, party establishment types and cultural conservatives," according to CBS News' Marc Ambinder. But after more than a year of campaigning, Santorum is polling at just two percent among Republicans.

Santorum is unfazed, saying that his poor showing in national polls is only because he's focusing on important early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, where he won a GOP straw poll earlier this year. Though to keep that win in perspective, Santorum was the only candidate to show up to the GOP dinner and took 150 votes out of the 408 cast.

Cross posted on The Huffington Post

It's hard to predict what could happen in the GOP primary, but at this point, Santorum's barely-limping-along campaign seems in need of divine intervention.

PFAW