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August 07, 2013 3:46 PM Santorum and the Working Class

By Ed Kilgore

In an analysis of Rick Santorum’s past and future aspirations to become president of the United States, Slate’s Dave Weigel makes an important point about the “blue collar outreach” pretensions of pols like Santorum: he has nothing distinctive to say to working folks about the economy.

Weigel compares several utterances on the economy from Santorum and Romney during the 2012 campaign, and there’s not much difference. And the problem is not just that Santorum would prefer to talk about the cultural issues that are his signature and real source of support. His idea of getting down with blue collar folks is to agitate the air in their direction without offering anything other than the usual menu of tax-cutting and deregulation.

Yet now in interviews Santorum is seizing on the “missing white voter” hypothesis to suggest he’s just what the doctor ordered for the GOP, as opposed to heartless rich guys like Mitt:

Santorum believes in the theory that missing white working class voters stayed home, and thus denied a win to Romney. (He doesn’t say “white,” but that’s the going theory.) “What were the votes we needed in Ohio? What were the votes we needed in Michigan? They were the guys that I connected with — who stayed home.” This is a popular explanation for the 2012 loss; even though Mitt Romney won 1 million more votes overall than John McCain did, he won merely 70,000 more votes in Michigan, and won 10,000 less in Ohio.

Are non-southern working-class folks really the “guys I connected with?” Hard to see how or why:

Keep reading Santorum’s interview and he does, as he did during the campaign, spend more time Feeling the Pain of lower-income voters. But so far he really only proposes changing the rhetoric and changing the focus of possible tax breaks.

Sure, anybody (even someone whose trade-mark is a sweater-vest) is going to look more like a regular guy than Mitt Romney. And Santorum may well have some special downscale appeal to white voters who share his belief that godless baby-killers are running the Democratic Party and the apostate liberal churches as well.

But when it comes to economic issues, Santorum’s “populist” credentials are not even as good as those of Mike Huckabee, who tried the same shtick in 2008.

[As a coda, here’s “The Likes of You,” a fine class warfare anthem from Guadalcanal Diary, performed on Tybee Island in 1989. Please forgive the brief nudity in this video, which has nothing to do with the song but reflects the videographer’s interest in what was happening on the beach as opposed to the stage.]

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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