In the run-up to the GOP presidential race in Michigan which is still too close to call, former Senator Rick Santorum has veered about as far to the right as possible on religious, social and moral grounds in a desperate attempt to topple Mitt Romney today in his home state.
Santorum’s provocative recent comments were red meat for the conservative Christians and activists who make up about third of Michigan Republicans. He accused President Obama of wanting to indoctrinate young people in secular values by encouraging them to go to college; declared that President John F. Kennedy’s 1960 campaign pledge to separate church from state made him want to “throw up;” and belittled Romney as a fake conservative lacking in core beliefs.
Addressing a crowd of about 300 supporters in Lansing, the state capital on Monday, Santorum said he was the only GOP candidate who would provide a clear contrast with President Obama and offer a competing vision about where he wants to lead America.
In rekindling old cultural battles over abortion, contraception, the role of women in the military and the respective roles of church and state in society, Santorum is trying desperately to draw sharp contrasts with a top rival who generally agrees with him on most key policy matters.
With polls showing Santorum and Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, running neck and neck, Santorum needed to change the subject from what most Republicans in Michigan and Arizona (which also has a primary today) really care about – mainly, the economy, jobs, the deficit, immigration and gas prices.
A Public Policy Polling survey taken Sunday found that Romney was leading Santorum 39 percent to 37 percent among likely Republican primary voters. A similar poll conducted by the American Research Group over the weekend found Santorum leading Romney 36 percent to 35 percent.
Try as they will to set themselves apart on these and other weighty matters, Santorum and Romney agree on many issues, which was apparent during the GOP presidential debate last week in Arizona.
Read Santorum’s and Romney’s tax and spending cut proposals and you will see that they are remarkably similar. While they both decry an out of control national debt, both Santorum and Romney have outlined tax cut plans and defense spending strategies that could add trillions of dollars to the deficit in the coming decade, according to a study released last week by the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. The plans did not include details on budget cuts that would be necessary to limit the damage to the federal budget.
Both would cut individual and corporate tax rates substantially, repeal the estate tax, cut the federal workforce by at least 10 percent, and convert Medicare to a privately run program. One major difference between the two is how they would tax investment income. Romney would eliminate taxes on capital gains and dividends for people who earn less than $200,000 a year but maintain the current 15 percent rate for those who earn higher.
In contrast, Santorum would lower the investment income tax rate from 15 percent to 12 percent for all investors. What that shows, many experts agree, is that the fabulously wealthy Romney is willing to stick it to the rich more than Santorum, who wants to treat all income groups equally on investment income.
On foreign policy, Romney and Santorum are both highly critical of President Obama’s handling of the withdrawal of the remainder of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by this fall and for apologizing for the burning of Qurans last week at the Bagram U.S. military base.
Romney and Santorum both are ardent backers of Israel and said that if need be the U.S. should back Israel in a preemptive strike against Iran to prevent that terrorist regime from developing a nuclear warhead that it could use against Israel. Their views on immigration generally fall within the hard-line stance of most leading Republican figures, although Santorum takes an even tougher stand on one point – whether to allow undocumented immigrants brought to the country as minors an opportunity to obtain legal status if they serve in the military. The former Pennsylvania senator says he opposes any concession for undocumented immigrants.
Even on social issues, where the political culture warrior Santorum is having his biggest impact, he and Romney mostly see eye to eye. Santorum, a Roman Catholic, and Romney, a Mormon, both identify themselves as “pro-life,” in favor of a constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage, and in opposition to President Obama’s recent push to force Catholic institutions to offer free birth control to workers.
But, whereas Santorum has held these views for his entire career, Romney has changed his positions. During the 1990s and early 2000s, Romney said on multiple occasions that he supported a woman’s right to choose. Also, during his 1994 campaign for the Senate from Massachusetts, Romney reached out to gay voters, promising to be a strong advocate for “full equality” for them.