The Devil and Rick Santorum: Dilemmas of a Holy Owned Subsidiary

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By Thomas Ferguson. This article was first published on Alternet.
The father of the Investment Theory of Politics reveals what pundits miss in the GOP’s failure to lead its own electorate and its evangelical problem.
Election night in Iowa was a heavenly moment for Rick Santorum. As he marveled over the late breaking tidal wave of support that in just weeks had swept him from nowhere into a virtual tie with Mitt Romney for first place in the state’s Republican caucuses, the former Pennsylvania Senator gushed to supporters about the secret of his campaign’s success: “I’ve survived the challenges so far by the daily grace that comes from God. . . . I offer a public thanks to God.’’

But it was not God who saved Rick Santorum. He survived Iowa rather like a blind mole rat might someday outlive a nuclear exchange – by simply burrowing underground while Romney’s Super Pac incinerated Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, and while Perry tried to demolish Ron Paul, whom he considered a more dangerous rival. In a state where 60% of those attending the 2008 GOP caucuses described themselves as “born again” or evangelicals, Santorum was the only ultra-conservative left for resigned evangelical leaders to swing behind.

Now, as the wall of Super Money comes down on him like a ton of gold bricks, Santorum is likely fated, like Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Perry himself, to flame out after a brief moment of glory and go back to working with the energy and health care enterprises that helped make him a millionaire after leaving the Senate.

But this leaves a larger question: Why does this curious “shooting star” pattern of flare ups and flame outs distinguish the quest of hopefuls for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination? The answer lies in the party’s tricky long-term strategy to steer ordinary voters into focusing on wedge issues rather than the economic policies. The party establishment wants Romney, but its voters have been so thoroughly trained to focus on gays and abortion that they cannot sit still behind a candidate who concentrates on business and economic growth.

A Party Built for the 1 Percent

Beginning in the Nixon era, and then with ever greater determination and force after Reagan, GOP leaders have carefully built out a very special party structure. But at what should by all rights be a moment of easy triumph, thanks to the combination of the Great Recession and the Obama administration’s repeated economic policy blunders, the GOP is on the verge of chaos. The carefully elaborated structure of primaries, group appeals, and elaborately layered leadership structures is coming apart. Republican leaders now find themselves superlatively prepared to fight exactly the wrong war.

Their dilemma is easy to understand, if one tears oneself away from media talking heads and the endless election chatter that now fills the US press. As perhaps most painstakingly documented by Larry Bartels, in his ‘Unequal Democracy,’ Republican policies are stunningly orientated toward making the richest Americans richer and they have consistently done exactly that, by comparison with Democratic regimes.

This is not to say the Democrats do not also cater to segments of the rich – Bartels, like nearly everyone else writing about American politics, jumped too quickly to the conclusion that the partisan differences he detected followed immediately from the direct influence of mass constituencies rather than the choices different blocs of investors made as they appealed to different segments of the electorate while competing to control the parties. But as far as it goes, his point is true and important.

To summarize and retranslate into the language of my investment theory of political parties: Republicans historically secure the incomes of upper income Americans, whatever else they do. By contrast, Democrats typically compete by offering something – and these days, not much at all – to more of the 99%, even as they go whole hog for financial deregulation amid a raft of money from Vampire Squids, telecom monopolists, and other dark forces.

Thomas Ferguson is Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He is the author of many books and articles, including Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems.

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Thomas Ferguson

Thomas Ferguson is Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston and a Senior Fellow of the Roosevelt Institute. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University and taught formerly at MIT and the University of Texas, Austin. He is the author or coauthor of several books, including Golden Rule (University of Chicago Press,…