June 6: One year to the day after announcing his bid for the presidency, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania was on the phone, explaining the new venture he will announce on news talk shows this morning -- and expressing profound gratitude for his interactions with the American public during his strong run for the Republican nomination.
"I want to make sure we can give voice to our supporters," Santorum said. "A big chunk of those were lower and middle income workers who don't think anybody is looking out for them. These are folks who may not have college educations but who work hard, yet they get left out of the discussion. Nearly 70 percent of Americans don't get college degrees, but we have to make sure that we have educational opportunities for them to succeed in their chosen path. They can be successful in ways that meet their aspirations for life rather than meet what the elites expect."
Toward that end, among others, Santorum today will announce the launch of a 501(c)(4) organization called "Patriot Voices" -- a "a grassroots and online community… with a goal of 1 million voices united [to] transform the political landscape of our country." Its mission statement includes the following:
OUR CORE FOCUS AREAS: We stand for the defeat of Barack Obama and those who support his radical agenda. We cannot afford four more years of his disastrous policies.
We stand for healthy families and a healthy economy. We want to expand opportunities for all Americans by advocating policies that encourage traditional marriage, support children and free enterprise. Healthy families help produce a healthy economy.
We stand for freedom and its defenders. We stand with our military and veterans. We stand with Israel and against the threats and values of Radical Islam, and we believe that the Iranian Regime can never obtain nuclear weapons. We believe in a strong national defense including a missile defense system, which give us the ability to defend ourselves and our allies.
We stand for the repeal of ObamaCare and other government dependency programs that infringe on our freedoms, including religious freedom. The overreach of government under President Obama will continue to erode the freedoms that our country was founded on if not stopped.
We stand for renewing America as an economic power by protecting our innovative spirit, restarting our manufacturing capabilities and unleashing America's domestic energy potential through pro-growth tax and regulatory reforms that also strengthen working families, struggling communities, and our national security.
We will always stand up for the most vulnerable among us -- the unborn, the disabled, the elderly and the poor. We believe in the dignity of each and every human life and we will support policies that ensure the value of each person.
Santorum said his group would be doing issue-based education and advocacy, plus some independent expenditures in support of various candidates for office.
"We will have everything," he said, "from press people to policy people to field people who can help work in organized political efforts." And: "We're out there trying to raise a couple of million dollars to get things kicked off, and beyond that, as far as having an impact on races, there will be additional money."
Santorum sees Patriot Voices (patriotvoices.com) as a long-term organization, not one just focused on this election year. But both within and aside from Patriot Voices, he said, "My principle objective is to defeat Obama and to elect conservatives to the House and Senate."
Speaking of which, completely apart from his new venture, the subject was sure to come up: What, really, was discussed when Santorum met last month with Republican nominee-to-be Mitt Romney?
"It was an hour and half long," Santorum said. "It was focused on looking forward; we didn't focus at all on looking backward. I laid out what my thoughts were as to what he needed to do to be successful on a macro scale and I walked through a couple of issues I thought should be important to him. On a couple of examples he has picked up on some of those. For example, when he spoke at Liberty University, he spoke of the Brookings Institution study I used to talk about, and the importance of men and women to be married: important to the kids, important for the family, important for the economy….
"I also made the point that he is not going to win this race by moving to the middle. Changing the issue positions to appeal to the middle is a folly. You have to get people excited about you; you have to get them emotionally attached to you."
As for how he sees things going now, he pronounced himself "optimistic": "I think that what Governor Romney is doing is articulating a pretty strong, principled-conservative message, and I am encouraged that he will continue to do that. I hope he will be encouraged, from what happened in Wisconsin this week, to be bold."
Finally, Santorum spent a little time looking back at the remarkable past year that began with him utterly discounted by the purveyors of conventional wisdom, only to see him rise to within a few thousand Ohio voters of becoming an even-money favorite for the Republican nomination.
"I am thinking of writing a book," he said. "It would be a reflection, a sort of thank-you letter to our friends and supporters, and a little inspirational. I mean I feel really good about what happened and where America is and what our potential is. On the campaign trail, it was almost spiritual; I got a real sense of God's providence in this country. It was an amazing journey. The American people are wonderful. I can't tell you the number of people who say the same thing: 'I don't agree with you, but I really appreciate the campaign you ran, I appreciate that you made me think.' I heard it over and over; people really care.... This is the heart and soul of America; this is our watch; this is our job to maintain it. It was good stuff."
Santorum didn't say it, but I will: Mitt Romney still needs to find a way to connect emotionally with this American heart and soul. Polling cross-tabs continue to show that while Mitt Romney enjoys the support of large percentages of Evangelical voters and of pluralities of manufacturing workers, that support is tepid rather than enthusiastic. Romney needs them not just to say they prefer him, but to get out and vote for him and, more importantly, to volunteer for him, make phone calls for him, encourage their neighbors to vote for him, and even drive neighbors to the polls.
Mitt Romney can't pretend to be Rick Santorum. But he can learn something from Santorum's empathy -- empathy, not sympathy -- with (not "for" but "with") the middle-American strivers who provided millions of votes for Santorum this year.
Meanwhile, if Patriot Voices helps rally those middle Americans into civic participation this fall, in a conservative direction, the entire country could look like Wisconsin writ large: active, enthused, dedicated to our republic. After all, as Santorum said, "This is our watch; this is our job to maintain it."