Where Was Santorum’s Safety Net?

November 22nd, 2011 at 11:26 pm David Frum | 65 Comments |

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Serious question: Why didn’t the Bush administration give Rick Santorum some kind of consolation prize after his defeat in 2006?

Here’s a two-term senator, brought down by no mistake of his own, who had performed well in Congress and stood by the party leadership when called upon–eg, endorsing Arlen Specter in 2004.

Yet when Santorum fell casualty to the wave election of 2006, there was no ambassadorship for him. Nobody conveyed to a DC law firm that it would be appreciated at the White House if an “of counsel” position could be found for him. I don’t want to exaggerate, Santorum made a decent living after his defeat. But in the couple of conversations with him a year or so after his defeat, he projected the air of a man who felt friendless and abandoned. This presidential run seems to emerge from that experience, and of course it won’t end well.

That’s not how political parties normally work. People who take a bullet for the team are looked after. Not Santorum. Why not?

Updated: The commentators are probably right: it must have been Santorum’s toxicity within the gay community that deprived him of his hope of administration patronage after his defeat in 2006. If so, that’s a fascinating glimpse of the actual balance of power within the GOP as it stood five years ago–as compared to today.

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65 Comments so far ↓

  • jen5251

    Maybe because he’s arrogant, sanctimonious, and unlikeable?

    • Ray_Harwick

      …and Frothy.


      His demise came in 2003, not 2006, when he went national during his campaign with his anti-gay bigotry in the most vile, sick way his dominionist mind could imagine. So, in 2003 Dan Savage held a contest to define “santorum”.

      You’re Welcome (as Dan likes to say).

      • Bingham

        That didn’t take long.

      • Carney

        Believers in “Dominionism” are like a prior generation’s belief that Jews controlled both Wall Street finance and the Kremlin in a single nefarious conspiracy.

        Rick Santorum is a serious Catholic. “Dominionism” to the extent that it ever exists or existed is a creature of the most extreme imaginable Protestantism, of the kind that would denounce Jerry Falwell as a sellout. Hard as it may be for liberal secularists or atheists to understand, this matters, and matters so much that “Dominionism” as usually portrayed by those who use that code word is non-existent and/or impossible.

        Yes, Christian religious conservatives certainly agree on cooperating with each other in order to bolster and restore long-standing traditional moral values in the culture and the legal system, such as revulsion at abortion and homosexuality.

        But the more serious and committed a Christian is the less capable he is of cooperating with those outside his denomination to impose a genuine theocracy.

  • JB_

    I was never under the impression that Santorum was tight with the Bush White House to begin with. In fact, it seemed that Bush frequently kept him at arm’s length.

    It would not surprise me if they possible rift between the two men were religious in nature. Bush’s notion of “compassionate conservatism” is essentially the antithesis of Santorum’s virulent and nasty homophobia.

    Plus, if any law firm brought on Santorum they would be asking for a mutiny from their gay associates and partners. Even at conservative firms this could pose a significant problem.

    • Bohemian_Idol_Smasher

      I’m inclined to agree with your surmise about the two men’s religious differences. While I was (and still am) immovably opposed to President Bush’s views on gay rights, it should be pointed out that he always couched those views, and the policy proposals representative of them, in tasteful language that distinguished homosexuality the alleged sin from the person ‘committing’ it– in sharp contrast to the bigoted and lurid way in which Santorum expressed his more or less identical views on this issue.

      • Crime Dog

        I honestly doubt Bush has any true feelings regarding gay rights. If anything, I’d say privately he thinks gays should be allowed to marry (after all his wife and children do). He’s a country club Republican with roots in the Episcopal Church. I’d say the only reason he came out in favor of an anti-gay marriage amendment was to help put him over the top in 2004, which is arguably worse than Santorum’s horrific but genuinely-held homophobia.

        • Bohemian_Idol_Smasher

          Maybe President Bush indeed does privately support marriage equality for gays. But that wouldn’t change the fact that in his public opposition to it he never employed the frankly bigoted language favored by Rick Santorum (or Jim Dobson, Michelle Bachmann, et al.).

          And yes, GWB was raised in the Mainline Protestant tradition, but I think we can say with confidence that his conversion to good ol’ “shout and holler” Southern Methodism is anything but insincere or apocryphal. Unlike a cynical hypocrite like Rick Perry, who never seems to truly exult in– or have any real emotional investment in– the grotesque public displays of religious faith that he uses to collar the votes of yokels, George W. Bush always exhibits a sort of childish awe while publicly discussing his Christian beliefs. It seems a pretty positive mark of sincerity.

  • Bohemian_Idol_Smasher

    This is an excellent observation by Frum– to wit, that Rick Santorum didn’t get the post-defeat lifeline that such mediocre former Senators as Spence Abraham and Carol Moseley-Braun got immediately after they were defeated for re-election. I suspect that President Bush felt that Santorum was either a liability to the GOP, or maybe not fit to hold high office.

    However: Does David Frum seriously believe that Rick Santorum was “brought down by no mistake of his own”? Does Frum not consider Santorum’s comparison of homosexual lovemaking to bestiality a mistake?

  • Jamie McFadden

    Santorum is indeed arrogant, sanctimonious, and unlikable. But, so is most of Washington DC.
    The reason Santorum wasn’t provided with a sinecure after his defeat is that he belongs not in a law firm, but in a pulpit. Quasi-religious babbling has always been Santorum’s only real selling point – which is why he was unceremoniously dumped when Pennsylvania voters developed actual problems requiring non-supernatural solutions.

  • Bobby McGee

    I’m confused as to why this guy being left behind in the wastelands, alone and friendless, is a bad thing. I’d say it is one of the few things the GOP got right in the last decade

  • SoonerHumanist

    Santorum is incredibly annoying. He is really the only one on the stage making an articulate case for the middle class and foreign aid. But his social positions are so vile and reprehensible that it makes me completely unable to support him.

    The Republicans have pretty much one job at this point: to present me with a viable alternative to President Obama. They have not done it.

  • John Q

    Nobody conveyed to a DC law firm that it would be appreciated at the White House if an “of counsel” position could be found for him..

    Thanks for the insight into how Washington (usually) takes care of its own with well paid sinecures, while we in the rest of the country actually have to work for a living – if we can find a job, that is.

  • Troublesome Frog

    Tragic. All this time I was worrying about the social safety net for the rest of us, totally unaware that there were still a few politicians who were falling through the cracks of the think tank welfare system. Surely there are enough sinecures at faux research organizations dumping waste into the pool of human knowledge to go around!

    • Troublesome Frog

      Well, it looks like my worries were misplaced. Rick seems to be doing OK, according to his income disclosure for his campaign. Looks like about $350K in consulting fees to political advocacy groups and an energy company, another $350 or so as a talking head, and the obligatory $200K+ as a “Senior Fellow” at a think tank.

      Sure, it’s only the equivalent of about 20 years of work for the average household, but
      that type of suffering is builds character and gives him perspective.

      Honestly, it’s a little bit jarring to see somebody who normally has a fairly down-to-earth view of things write about this kind of patronage as if it’s the most natural thing in the world and we should really wonder why some people are having to scrape by on less than $1M a year. It’s like hearing police from heavily corrupt nations off-handedly describe the squeeze and act surprised when people seem to disapprove.

  • Watusie

    Don’t you know that Santorum believes that people should suffer?

    During a town hall meeting in Ottumwa, Iowa Friday afternoon, Rick Santorum argued that Americans receive too many government benefits and ought to “suffer” in the Christian tradition. If “you’re lower income, you can qualify for Medicaid, you can qualify for food stamps, you can qualify for housing assistance,” Santorum complained, before adding, “suffering is part of life and it’s not a bad thing, it is an essential thing in life.”

    So by kicking him to the curb, Republicans were helping him be more Christ-like.

    I heartily recommend that they continue to do so.

    • WaStateUrbanGOPer

      “Suffering is a part of life and it’s not a bad thing, it is an essential thing in life”: this is the declaration of a pre-Enlightenment Catholic fanatic, and a view that nicely encapsulates the moral and political mindset of the religious right, both Catholic as well as Protestant.

  • Nanotek

    “Nobody conveyed to a DC law firm that it would be appreciated at the White House if an “of counsel” position could be found for him.”

    respectfully, this is what is so vile about the DC political parasites … that’s not free-markets talking … it’s political corruption and crony capitalism

    if he could bring in business, law firms would scramble for him … but to cover the cost of a gimme-job, someone deserving is denied a job, everyone in the firm who actually rows the boat has to row harder and clients have to support a free-loader in the firm.

    this is why, imo, OWS and the rest of the 99% are sickened by the same crowd who crows we non-elites must suffer as our lot in life is the same crowd who crows that their fellow elites, like Santorum, shouldn’t suffer and are owed a political patronage … btw, doesn’t he have a tax-payer subsidized Senatorial pension to fall back on?

    Watusie + 1

  • Carney

    It’s not just that Santorum lost. 2006 was a tough year. It’s that he lost in a humiliating wipeout, which pointed to factors specific to his race and him. In other words, he did not lose his seat “through no fault of his own.”

    And no, lifestyle-leftists, it’s not his stance on culture war issues that did it. They were well known already and he had been elected AND re-elected statewide before. Step outside your personal opinion and understand that not everyone is like you, and what is outrageous to you is simple common sense to many.

    What was new, I think was , as Frum touches on, that he had endorsed Specter over Toomey in 2004. That would not be a mark against him in the eyes of the DC pooh-bahs, to be sure, but it was an unforced error as far as re-election goes, dampening his support among his base.

    But Santorum also fumbled away his seat by, in my opinion, “going Washington” – not in terms of policy but in terms of attitude and optics. Jesse Helms was intensely controversial but was the soul of courtesy to people he met, and never lost an election. Santorum came across as impatient with and bored by ordinary people. He forgot that care and feeding of the home folks is the vegetables you have to eat to enjoy the dessert of being a big-shot having an influence in national and global affairs.

    I agree that didn’t deserve ostracism by insiders, but I don’t know that I’ve seen evidence of him acknowledging this issue, growing and changing. It’s presumptuous to run for higher office, especially the presidency, after a stunning rebuke from your constituents by 18 points.

    Back to the point of why no job, it may well be that the rich and decadent have eroded and corrupted the attitudes of the DC power brokers. If rather than lip service while doing nothing to stop the steady rot and decline in our culture, you actually stand fast and speak out clearly, you will, it seems, pay a price.

    • Frumplestiltskin

      I am from Pa. It is one of the oldest states in the Union. Santorum pushed Bush’s Social Security privatization plan very hard. If he hadn’t done this he would never have lost by anywhere near that amount.

      • lilmanny

        That’s what lost him PA, but nationally it was his remark about bestiality. This was at a point where the GOP was trying to thread the needle of opposing gay marriage but still appear welcoming to gays. Santorum and his chorus were poison, as evidenced by the change in cultural attitude towards gay marriage. It wasn’t enough for Santorum to oppose gay marriage, he appeared thrilled to have his hate revealed, and that made it impossible for him to be seen with much of anybody who wanted to be elected.

        But I don’t think he was completely ostracized. As I understood he is employed by some kind of think tank in which he is one of the few employees. Wouldn’t this be a way to kind of direct some anonymous gratuity via some influential donors?

    • ottovbvs

      “Step outside your personal opinion and understand that not everyone is like you, and what is outrageous to you is simple common sense to many.”

      Oh boy Carney. Racism showing yesterday …homophobia peeping out today?

      • Nanotek

        it’s his lifestyle

      • Rich T Bikkies

        Too right, otto. That same thing was said thousands of times by Nazis to liberals and progressives in Germany from about 1928 on. If you want to be taken seriously in moral argument, Carney, you’ll have to do better than that.

    • LFC

      I live in PA as well. Your statement that “it’s not his stance on culture war issues that did it” obviously means you didn’t see or hear the statewide reactions from his “man on dog” comment. It was a crazy-bridge too far. Full-throated support of the disastrous George W. Bush Presidency only enforced the view that the guy was nuts.

      The central part of my state (Pittsburgh on the left, Philadelphia on the right, West Virginia in the middle) can handle a lot of right-wing stupid (e.g. Pat Toomey) but Santorum jumped an entire school of sharks. His loss was to a huge degree his own fault.

  • Traveler

    Remarkable update by David. I have little to add to the commentary, which is priceless as usual. Many of us here in PA really despised the sanctimonious bastard. He really had very little to offer except self righteousness. Frankly, his perspectives on mobility during the debates have made me respect him more, but nowhere near enough to want him anywhere but marginalized.

    I am glad to see that DF reads the comments pretty carefully, at least sometimes. Makes me wonder why he keeps some of his posters the way they fall so far short of his capabilities. But thanks for the forum, DF. I think its the best commentary on the net.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    one other possibility, because Santorum campaigned hard for Specter and against Toomey he therefore alienated the Club for Growth crowd at the GOP. I think people underestimate the Club’s hold on the party. So Santorum had alienated both the country club Republicans (as was pointed out with his social rhetoric) and the growth crowd at the same time, (and considering how much sway Cheney had at the time that was probably fatal) and his not being an evangelical meant he didn’t have them in his camp as well. Plus, he got thoroughly thrashed in 2006.
    However Santorum did push Bush’s social security plan to the hilt and that more than anything else cost him so I am not sure why Bush himself didn’t step to the plate.

  • bamboozer

    Santorum’s an embarrassment and an extremist who can’t stop trying to insert his Catholicism into the government. He may have done “nothing wrong” according to the tenents of the GOP but the voters had simply had enough of this creep for christ and Bush, in a rare moment of clarity, realised he had to go.

    • Cforchange

      +1. Terry Schaivo was the moment when his majority constiuents realized his obsession and that private choices would be drug into the public square. The life movement has been more measured about end of life discussions ever since.

      And for crimedog “roots in the Episcopal Church”, now that’s a hoot!

    • LFC

      +1. I remember reading a number of times that it was a big deal for John F. Kennedy to be elected because he was a Catholic. It was believed by many that the Pope would have control over him via his religion. If Santorum were President (god forbid), those fears would be founded.

      • overshoot

        I remember reading a number of times that it was a big deal for John F. Kennedy to be elected because he was a Catholic.

        And I remember the campaign. However, that was 50 years ago. Can you name the second Catholic President?

        • Houndentenor

          None. In fact, John Kerry was the only nominee of a major party since Kennedy. (Can you name the one that was before Kennedy?)

  • Well, That Was Remarkably Tone-Deaf – Textual Fisticuffs

    [...] That Was Remarkably Tone-Deaf Frum’s made a very silly post wondering why Rick Santorum didn’t get some sinecure from the Bush administration after [...]

  • bdtex

    He also defended GWB’s WMD rationale for launching Operation Iraqi Clusterf**k in the midst of the 2006 campaign. I don’t remember the name of the commission that conducted the study or even the name of the study,but Santorum insisted that it showed evidence of WMD or WMD programs when most everybody else concluded that it didn’t and that Iraq was not “a threat to the peace and security of the United States”.

  • icarusr

    “Don’t raise your hand against the weak, for one day you, too, might fall into an abject position.” This, from Sa’di, the Persian poet and sage of the thirteenth century (who also wrote warmly about “love and youth”, including the forbidden kind).

    It is possible that this odious character is/was just too stinky for even the stinkiest Republican “think” tank.

    • beowulf

      Santorum isn’t hurting, he’s making at least double his Senate salary. I guess what hurt was the sudden loss of prestige and the warm bath of people buttering him up every day (which to someone in office for years would seem like being left friendless and abandoned).

      It could be worse, he could be teaching political science at Texas Tech with Alberto Gonzales.
      (I don’t mean to diss Texas Tech, its simply unprecedented for an unindicted Attorney General to be unemployable in the legal community like Gonzales was.)

  • TerryF98

    Safety nets are Socialist!

  • ottovbvs

    “brought down by no mistake of his own,”

    Is Frum serious? He didn’t just lose he was wiped out because he took a series of typical far right positions on everything from homosexuality to the economy. If anyone was the author of his own misfortunes it was Santorum.

    • Carney

      As I have carefully explained already, Santorum was a well known vocal conservative on social, economic, and foreign issues since forever, and still won statewide election AND re-election already. Therefore tempting though it is for a liberal to blame his issue stances, if you are interested in logic and facts rather than nestling all snug your biases, reality demands you look elsewhere than his issue stances to find out why he lost.

      • WaStateUrbanGOPer

        Yes, Carney, Santorum had already won two senate races, but let’s put those wins in perspective. The first one came in a year that saw a historic landslide for the GOP, and even then Rick Santorum only won by two points, and with mere plurality of votes. The second one came against an underfunded Democrat, Ron Klink, whose base was depressed by the fact that his views on social issues were similar to Santorum’s.

        Even though Bob Casey’s views on abortion and gay rights are perhaps marginally to the right of Klink’s, by 2006 most liberals in PA (as elsewhere) were so embarrassed and incensed by having Rick Santorum represent them in the U.S. Senate that they submerged their differences with Casey on social issues to achieve the greater goal of getting rid of Santorum.

      • Frumplestiltskin

        Carney, carney, carney. Santorum won in 1994 during the Republican rout. It was a protest vote against Clinton, not an affirmative vote for Santorum. And he won in 2000 against a very weak Democratic challenger. He got destroyed in 2006 by 18 points. Now I admit above that it would have been less if he did not support Bush on SS but lets not get carried away, he would have lost by 10 points instead. He outwore his welcome.
        Now Toomey is the exact same type of candidate Santorum is policy wise, but Toomey also on in a protest vote, had it been 2008 Toomey would have been crushed.

        • WaStateUrbanGOPer

          That’s an excellent point you make about the margin of Santorum’s defeat. Santorum’s offenses to liberal sensibilities on the gay question were probably enough to get him dumped by anywhere from six to ten points, but his position on Medicare no doubt riled up all the oldsters out in central and western PA.

        • WaStateUrbanGOPer

          That’s an excellent point you make about the margin of Santorum’s defeat. Santorum’s offenses to liberal sensibilities on the gay question were probably enough to get him dumped by anywhere from six to ten points, but his position on Social Security no doubt riled up all the oldsters out in central and western PA.

        • WaStateUrbanGOPer

          Cue the editors: there is something seriously amiss with modify button.

      • Crime Dog

        Maybe perhaps some old homophobes died off between 2000 and 2006 and were replaced by some younger more clear-thinking people.

  • valkayec

    You go to Washington to serve, to do the people’s business. Afterwards, you should go home and get a job. – Seems I heard these statements just the other day from a guy describing the corruption created via patronage in DC.

  • camus32

    Ambassadorship? He’s an idiot!

    • overshoot

      He’s an idiot!

      I don’t think anyone was saying that he’s not qualified.

  • midwest guy

    Rick Santorum has alienated virtually everybody who is not a reactionary right wing Christian bigot. If Mr. Frum feels he is a viable representative of current American values, I will extend this to include Jewish bigots. I am amazed that the GOP feels he should be a member, much less hand him assistance for his messages.

  • WaStateUrbanGOPer

    Reading Frum’s update to this post, I was struck by a possibility that everyone seems to have overlooked: that Rick Santorum would’ve had a great deal of trouble getting his former senate comrades to confirm him for an ambassadorship or a cabinet position. The senate had a new Democratic majority, and even if Santorum could’ve mustered 50 votes in his favor (plus Cheney), there’s no way he could’ve overcome an inevitable filibuster.

    Every liberal interest group– with help from perhaps a few moderate Republicans– would’ve raised a tempest over a Santorum nomination for any post. The media atmosphere surrounding all this would’ve been positively circus-like. After the Harriet Miers debacle, I’m pretty sure GWB didn’t want to deal with another contentious, and potentially embarrassing, nomination fight. (And besides, what post would anyone consider this dull mediocrity qualified for? The only one I can think of is U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican.)

  • WaStateUrbanGOPer

    Also vis a vis the update: Frum is right in thinking that the GOP of five years ago, even for all its bawling for the enshrinement of homophobia in the Constitution, was more gay-friendly– or, rather, less anti-gay– than today’s GOP. Take away Michelle Bachmann’s and Jim DeMint’s phony concern with public debt, and one who somehow previously overlooked the fact soon notices that they (and their ilk) are more anti-gay than the Bush people ever would’ve dreamed of being.

  • Fastball

    Concur with WaStateUrbanGOPer, plus I would add that Bush’s people might have regarded Santorum as a lightweight who would embarrass the U.S. in any ambassadorial posting. Recall that Mark Salter said he had never met a “dumber senator” than Santorum. Too harsh, perhaps, but if Salter was in the ballpark, then Santorum would not have been a good fit for joining the striped pants set.

    Oldtimers from the West may recall the late Chic Hecht of Nevada, another senator with limited intellectual heft who railed about the “nuclear waste suppository” and was packed off to our embassy in the Bahamas after his failed bid for re-election in ’88.

  • nepr

    Come on DF, what’s the subtext? Surely you didn’t think that the non-DC-insiders who comment at this blog would know the answer better than you. Could it be that you’re aware of that diverting new pastime called, “Googling Santorum”?

  • nitrat

    What is wrong with these people going home to the states that sent them to Congress and try to do something for the poor besotted voters who sent them to Washington in the first place? Does it always have to be about what is the next governmental teat for these bums? They’re entitled to ongoing support from the taxpayers?

    If Santorum is such a loser that he has to be one of the perpetually campaigning, book selling hucksters pretending to be GOP presidential contenders because no one will hire him for a real job? Tough patooty.

  • Bingham

    Jesus, this is frightening.

  • RLHotchkiss

    Frum is a Marie Antoinette of our times. Though he may speak about poverty issues more than other people on the right he lives in a world completely divorced from the world lived in by the average American. For the average American losing their job is an unmitigated catastrophe from which they never really recover. An adult who loses his or her job, is unlikely ever to regain their earning potential that they would have had if they had not been laid off.

    Frum will never create a reputation for empathy for the Republican party when he regularly bemoans the misfortunes of his peers that would be undreamed of good look for the majority of Americans.

  • Houndentenor

    So he had to go get a job? Poor thing. How terrible to actually have to work for a living rather than mooch off the government!

    Maybe they didn’t offer him a job because he’s a slimeball and no one wants anything to do with him. That’s just a guess but I certainly would never hire him. That reminds me I need to go google him. LOL

  • chephren

    This is a very disappointing post. Why should Santorum, having lost re-election to the Senate, have been “looked after”? Frum implies that the people, via their government, somehow owed him a living after deeming him unworthy to hold office as their representative.

    “Safety net”? Who the hell has a safety net these days?

    Senators are supposed to be people of unusual probity, intelligence, judgement and skill. The kind of people who can make their way in the world once their limited time in the upper chamber has ended, voluntarily or otherwise. Let Santorum get a job like everyone else – as his own conservative beliefs certainly dictate.

    We’re talking about the US Senate here, not the Canadian version (a well-paid lifetime sinecure for lucky, politically favoured appointees, one of whom happens to be Frum’s sister Linda).

  • jorae

    Frum is the son of the late Barbara Frum, a well-known journalist and broadcaster, and Murray Frum, a dentist, who later became a real estate developer, philanthropist, and art collector.

    I honestly don’t think Frum has a clue in certain areas of reality.

    He had suggested a woman of welfare/Mediaid should have known to taken her child to the ER…even though it was a tooth problem, and teeth are not covered under Mediaid – unless life or death…He just assume she knew more than he very limited life knowledge has been subject to….and blamed the woman for the child’s death due to a tooth infection.

    He had no idea, if you have no money … you are required to follow the rules… the system requires you to get permission from the case worker…he had no idea, that the case worker seldom returns the call on the same day. Some on this OP suggested she just pay for the dental visit up front…they have no idea what it is like living from pay check to pay check.

    His view…She had Medical coverage … but it never occured to him, that she lacked the knowledge to understand she did when it came to a tooth ache

    My answer would have been…live in the UK…

    I think David needs a lot more ‘real life’ to become a real, caring person.

  • ObservantTexan

    Rick Santorum is a bigot who was more than willing to be a useful idiot to the Bush-Cheney Republican Party in order to have a platform to spew his, for lack of a better word, santorum. Bush himself was not privately the right-wing zealot so many liberals love to paint him as. More likely than not, he had little fondness for Santorum and had no desire to lift a finger to help him after he was defeated for reelection.

    When dealing with the Bush Family, you are either sitting at the table with them or you’re wearing a white jacket and serving them coffee after dinner. Santorum was relegated to the latter position.