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TRNN Replay – Max Blumenthal: The radical right would be happy to destroy Romney and position Santorum for the future

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington.

The rise of Rick Santorum as a contender for the nomination of the Republican Party for president in 2012 is somewhat remarkable—at least it was if you look back a couple of months ago, when he looked completely out of the race. But then so did Gingrich for a while.

Now joining us to talk about Santorum, how he got back into this position, and what this means for the Republican Party is Max Blumenthal. Max is a award-winning journalist, best-selling author. He’s a writing fellow at the Nation Institute. He’s a senior writer at Al Akhbar English. And he’s the author of a book about just this, Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party. Thanks for joining us, Max.


JAY: So how does Santorum go from nowhere to a serious conversation of winning the nomination?

BLUMENTHAL: Well, I’m shocked that he’s made it this far. And I’m also shocked that he has taken the discussion in the Republican primary as far right as he has.

After the election of Barack Obama, there seemed to be, from my point of view—and I was saying this—that the Republican establishment determined that the Christian right was extremely destructive, that it prevented them from winning on a national level, and they needed to have an economic message. And so they sort of decided to back the Tea Party, which was brewing on a local level. And the Tea Party was made up of basically the far right. It was the same right-wing groups that we’ve been seeing for the past few decades. But they papered over the Christian nationalism that was at the core of this group. I mean, polls showed that over 50 percent of Tea Party devotees believe that the United States was a Christian nation. But when I spoke to them, they would refuse to discuss abortion or gay marriage, the real divisive wedge issues.

And now Santorum is talking about these issues with a national platform, and he’s bringing the Christian right out of the fold, out of the pews, from out of the shadows, against Romney, a figure that the right finds so absolutely unappealing, more unappealing than even John McCain in 2008. And so Santorum has taken the discussion in the Republican—among the Republican base beyond abortion, beyond gay marriage, the traditional issues, to contraception, because of the Catholic Church’s demand in the United States for an exemption from rules that require them, if they want to maintain tax-exempt status, to provide contraception to their employees under the new health-care rules. And Santorum is milking this for his own—to propel his own political ambitions.

And it’s forced Romney into a difficult situation, this social moderate, to actually say Barack Obama’s attacking religion. He seems extremely disingenuous. We’ve seen an all-male panel convened by Representative Darrell Issa, the Republican from California, to discuss contraception. And now the Republican Party is basing a large part of its electoral strategy on contraception. What do Catholics think about this?

JAY: Well, it’s pretty clear—I mean, I think all the polling shows that that kind of campaign is not going to win a presidency in 2012. So either the Republican elite go to even more serious war with Santorum or they’re positioning themselves for 2016.

BLUMENTHAL: It’s going to—it could doom the Republican Party in the presidential campaign. But at the same time—and many—I think many Republican elites in the Beltway have kind of already thrown in the towel on this campaign. But Santorum could be vying for the vice presidency. I mean, John McCain’s unpopularity required Sarah Palin to be nominated as a vice president because the Christian—she had been exchanging letters with members of the Christian right, leaders of the Christian right, before she was well known or even known to any Americans, and they were pushing McCain to select her. So there could be an effort by Santorum to vie for the VP to compensate for Mitt Romney’s weakness among the Christian right.

The Christian right is actually not—it’s a very small element in the American electorate. It’s like 12 to 15 percent. But these are the people who hammer the yard signs in on election Day. These are the people who do the canvassing for the Republicans. All of them vote. And the Republican Party needs them. And if Santorum can position himself as their leader by being so radical and so outspoken about these issues, which are really traditionalist right-wing Catholic issues that don’t resonate with most Catholics—. And by the way, Catholics are the most important swing voters in the United States and comprise a majority of Latinos. It was part of Bush’s successful electoral strategy in 2004. But if Santorum can do this, he strengthens himself when the convention comes around and makes himself a figure to be reckoned with in the Republican Party for the next generation while he destroys Romney’s chances on a national level, something I think a lot of people in the radical right of the Republican base might actually welcome.

JAY: I mean, it’s a somewhat dangerous situation. One looks ahead towards 2016. If the world economy tanks again sooner than later, which a lot of the economists we’re talking to thinks it will—to a large extent because of what’s happening in Europe, but not only—you could wind up with severe recession/depression, and then in 2016 the table then gets set, and they have that many more years to try to build a right-wing, some people might call a kind of neofascist movement in some sorts. Is that, do you think, a longer-term thinking behind those around Santorum?

BLUMENTHAL: That’s not part of Santorum’s thinking. And I’ve heard this theory discussed. One thing I pointed to in my book, Republican Gomorrah, is a study showing that evangelical church attendance goes up in times of recession and that there are cycles. So this does—you know, economic downturns do strengthen the Christian right.

But what I would say about Santorum is that he’s not a completely rational political actor. He is what George W. Bush might call a gut player. In other words, he really believes this stuff. He’s not coming to the Christian right; he’s coming from the Christian right.

I saw Rick Santorum speak in 2006 when he was on his book tour for this book It Takes a Family. And if you don’t believe that Rick Santorum is a true believer, read this book. It’s just a book-length attack on feminism and on modernity itself.

And Santorum was speaking at the Heritage Foundation, which is the think tank in Washington that’s basically the outsourced brain of the Republican Congress. Inside the Heritage Foundation there are dormitories for interns who are being trained as the next generation of Republican leaders. And the interns were there for a Santorum speech, and I was sitting with them. And Santorum launched into an attack on Republican libertarians, and he said: the libertarians say, get the government out of the bedroom; but I say, there are human beings in that bedroom. And I heard gasps among these Republican, you know, right-wing interns, that Santorum openly said he wants to legislate what happens in the bedroom. And then I talked to some of them afterwards, and they said that this completely went against their ideas of what conservatism was supposed to be and what they learned from Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk and these conservative thinkers. Santorum didn’t care that he was alienating them. He was just speaking from the heart.

One of Santorum’s key mentors is Hadley Arkes, a far-right Catholic professor from Amherst, from UMass Amherst. And he has compared the assassins of abortion doctors to Jews shooting their way out of Auschwitz, and he has compared homosexuality to bestiality repeatedly. And this is where Santorum got his man-on-dog sex reference from. It’s become famous. So Santorum is really a product of this kind of thinking. And I would look more to his personal ideology than to any long-term strategy.

JAY: Well, then, for the Republican elite it’s a real quandary. You can’t win with them, you can’t win without them.

BLUMENTHAL: Yup. Yup. I mean, the Republicans are—my book, the subtitle of my book is Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party. And when I was on book tour, the midterms were coming up, and a lot of the Republican hosts who would agree to talk to me would say, the party isn’t shattered; look, we’re going to win the midterms. I said, yeah, you’re going to win the midterms in gerrymandered congressional districts.

But the Republican Party can no longer win on a national level because its base is too extreme. The swing votes are in the suburbs, they’re among Latinos in the Southwest, and you’re not going to win them, because you’re anti-immigrant and you are verging on proto-fascism when it comes to social issues, which you can’t seem to not talk about. Rick Santorum’s key funder, the key funder of his super PAC, Foster Friess, made a quip this week that in his day, women used aspirin for contraception—they would hold one pill of aspirin between their knees. I mean, it’s this kind of rhetoric that’s coming to define the Republican Party in the eyes of Americans and making elections for centrist Democrats on a national level into a cakewalk.

JAY: Thanks for joining us, Max.

BLUMENTHAL: Thanks for having me.

JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author whose articles and video documentaries have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, The Nation, The Guardian, The Independent Film Channel, The Huffington Post,, Al Jazeera English and many other publications. His book, Republican Gomorrah: Inside The Movement That Shattered The Party, is a New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller.