John Baer: Santorum? Really? He's atop the GOP heap. Are they nuts?

Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during a campaign stop at the Christ Redeemer Church, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012, in Cumming, Georgia. (AP Photo / Eric Gay)

HERE'S A THOUGHT for Presidents Day: President Santorum.

Did you just shiver?

How in the name of all that's holy is Rick Santorum atop national polls for the Republican nomination?

Get it? All that's holy? Maybe that's the answer. You know, the Tebow factor; the Jeremy Lin effect? Well, I have another theory.

I wrote Rick off after his strong showing in Iowa, a state that - in an example of what a wacky year this is - he officially won weeks later by one-tenth of 1 percent.

I predicted that after Iowa, members of the national media would find what Pennsylvanians found in 2006 - namely, that Santorum's core beliefs and personal traits are untenable in a general election.

They did not.

Instead, they continued to ignore him as he finished third or fourth in subsequent contests in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and Nevada.

Then came three wins on Feb. 7: two in low-turnout caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota; one in a nonbinding primary in the "show-me state" of Missouri.

(His combined vote total in these three wins, by the way, was 35,296 votes fewer than he got in his third-place finish in Florida.)

Still, national media did not "show me" the roiling Rick whom many Pennsylvanians came to know and loathe.

To the contrary, they helped elevate him (as it did Trump, Bachmann, Perry, Cain and Newt) to the level of an alternative to the mushy Mitt Romney.

How did we get here? And how does this prove that GOP voters are nuts?

We got here via media overhype, Mitt's underdeveloped political skills, finance laws allowing rich guys to keep any campaign afloat and the fact that stuff Rick says plays well in primaries, which forces candidates to appeal to base voters.

Santorum's rise proves that GOP voters are nuts because every significant poll (Pew, CBS/New York Times, CNN and Fox) shows that, even after the rise, President Obama leads Santorum by larger margins than he leads Romney, and even after the rise voters say that Mitt's more electable in the fall.

Yes, polls change, as we've seen. But some things do not change.

For example, everybody knows that Santorum doesn't like gays in relationships and doesn't like gays in the military.

But he also doesn't like women in the workplace, doesn't like women in combat, doesn't like women (or men) using contraceptives.

He says that contraception is "harmful to women" and society, and that "radical feminism" ruined society by encouraging women to work outside the home, which is one reason an Inky reviewer of his 2005 book, It Takes a Family, called Rick "one of the finest minds of the 13th Century."

(This is an asset in many GOP primaries.)

The problem is that women vote in national elections. They vote more than men. They've done so in every presidential race, by proportion since 1980 and by raw numbers since 1964, says the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics.

Santorum's beliefs energize women's fundraising and turnout.

As to his personal traits, think preachy arrogance and doctrinaire judgmentalism.

Over the weekend, he slammed government-supported public education as "anachronistic" (he home-schools his kids), and said that President Obama's agenda is based on "some phony theology . . . not a theology based on the Bible."

If you're shaking your head thinking, "Here we go again," believe me, I feel your pain.

But, he perhaps said it best in a recent Fox interview: "He believes he's the smartest guy in the room and he should tell people what to believe and how to run their lives."

He was talking about Obama. But his words are a perfect self-assessment.

So, enjoy Presidents Day. I doubt it'll ever be associated with Rick Santorum.


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