Iowa Public Television


Former Senator Rick Santorum Talks Politics

posted on March 26, 2014

Back in Iowa.  Former Pennsylvania Republican Senator Rick Santorum isn't repeating presidential campaigning ... at least not yet.  But he is revisiting and we're talking with Rick Santorum on this edition of Iowa Press.

Borg: Pennsylvania's Rick Santorum is currently out of the U.S. Senate but he is not out of politics.  Just this week Mr. Santorum's sharp critique of this nation's actions regarding the U.S. commitment to Ukraine caught national attention.  Iowans know him very well from the 2012 republican presidential caucus campaign, operating that time on meager campaign funding compared to other candidates.  But spending a lot of time in grassroots personal campaigning, Mr. Santorum won Iowa's republican caucuses 34 votes ahead of the eventual party nominee Mitt Romney.  Mr. Santorum is returning now supporting Iowa's Secretary of State and fellow social conservative Matt Schultz's bid for Congress.  I nearly said Secretary of Agriculture but it's Secretary of State Matt Schultz.  Welcome back to Iowa Press.

Santorum: Thank you, Dean.  It's great to be back on the show.  Thanks for having me.

Borg: And you know the people across the table because they covered your campaign at that time.  That is Des Moines Register Political Columnist Kathie Obradovich and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.

Henderson: Senator, let's go back and talk about the results of the 2012 Iowa caucuses.  Caucus night, announcement Mitt Romney won by 8, a couple weeks later Rick Santorum won by 34.  Share your thoughts with Iowans about the differential there and advice to Iowans about making these caucuses relevant.

Santorum: Well, first off, I have to say -- people say, you know, you got ripped off in Iowa.  I say, no I didn't.  I say, the differential between the votes was 42 votes.  I mean, 125, 129 whatever thousand votes cast and the vote differential turned out to be 42.  Well, in most cases that would be who cares.  I mean, 42 votes.  In this case it happened to be the difference between who won and lost.  But the Iowa caucus performed as well as it ever has.  That's the tragedy about the controversy around the caucuses at the time where there was, well, we can't really certify this election.  It was the highest level of certification in the history of the Iowa caucuses and better than probably any other caucus that was run in the country.  So I don't think there's anything for Iowa to apologize for.  I don't look at all that, well, had it been right that election night, had they got it perfect that election -- no election is perfect, everyone makes mistakes -- you transpose a digit and you're calling in all these results.  No result is perfect.  So I felt like Iowa did a great job.  Would I have preferred them to have the error on the other side?  Yes.  But I can't look at the caucus process and see a problem here.

Obradovich: There's still some soul searching in Iowa and around the country about how to run the primary season and in Iowa they're looking at ways to improve the caucuses, on the republican side ways to count better, etc.  Having been through the process, what advice do you have for what they should change?

Santorum: First off, I think the caucus is still a very, very valuable part of the primary process.  There is no other opportunity in the primary process for someone to really get a chance to be interviewed by the voters to have a real knowledge and understanding.  I look at my experience, you say meager funded campaign, that's an insult to the word meager.  We spent $30,000 on television ads in Iowa, $30,000.  That is below meager.  And yet we were able to win because you have the opportunity here in Iowa, which you really don't have in any other state, to get around it, to meet people and to have those activists make a judgment about who the right person is.  I think that needs to be maintained.  I think it is vitally important, particularly to have a state in the heartland that has the values that are right at the center of the republican party, having that kind of impact.

Obradovich: You mentioned money though and one of the things that is a controversy in Iowa is whether the republican straw poll in Ames should continue.  That is a situation where that's a lot of money and you competed but you didn't have the money to have the same kind of entertainment and food and all that kind of stuff that other candidates did --

Santorum: We served pork burgers. That's it, just pork burgers.

Obradovich: Keep the straw poll or get rid of it?

Santorum: Well, I'm not going to tell the Iowa party what to do with respect to the straw poll.  We participated but we didn't spend any money.  We had no expectations or even tried to win.  We just simply wanted to be there, have our -- show the flag, give our team a dry run.  Really that's what we used it for, we used it for a dry run for the caucuses and trying to make sure that we had our -- who are our good county folks?  Who actually turned people out?  Who didn't?  And then you sort of look and say, well, this county didn't do so well, maybe we need to find somebody else --

Obradovich: So for you it was an organizing tool --

Santorum: It was an organizing tool but that was it.  Yeah, that was it.

Obradovich: And one more thing on the caucus rules, the RNC has made some changes and in the future, at least for the next cycle, the caucuses will have to actually be linked to delegate awards from the state on a proportional basis.  Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Santorum: Well, for me it was a good thing and I think if you look at how some of the caucuses, particularly the ones that I was involved with, Iowa I was out of the race and so as a result when the caucuses were formally organized it ended up going to another candidate, that happened in many states and I think it's a disservice to the voters who went out there that sort of internal games get played later.  I'd rather see the votes reflect the votes of the people in the caucus structure as well as in primaries and if candidates get in and out of the race well then let that be worked out at the convention, not by some sort of back room deals here.

Henderson: One final question about the caucuses.  People, including one of your former colleagues Alan Simpson said this week, the problem with the Iowa caucuses is the people who win.  What is your response --

Santorum: I would expect that from Alan Simpson I guess.

Henderson: What is your response to people who say that it's too much of a social conservative contest?

Santorum: Well, I would make the argument that the last two caucuses the winner didn't end up to be the nominee and we lost both, the nominees both lost.  So it isn't the problem of the Iowa caucuses is it?  I mean, maybe the Iowa caucuses had it right and the rest of the Republican Party had it wrong.  We certainly know the rest of the party had it wrong.  We're not quite sure whether the caucuses had it right.  So I'm not too sure it's a very fair statement to say Iowa is the problem.

Borg: Well, building on what you've just said, and the fact that you have spoken highly of the Iowa caucus process, is this a dry run? And are you back, are you going to go again?

Santorum: I don't -- boy, as hard as I worked in 2012 I hope I don't see that as a dry run.  But no, look, I'm here, I'm going to be around the country, I'm very concerned about our country, very concerned about particularly a lot of people in the middle of America who are full of fear and don't think things are getting better and don't see either party as the answer to the problem.  And that's really what I've had my focus on in the past year and a half, two years since I got out of the race and that's what I took from the race was that sense at the heartland of America that average working people are feeling left out by both parties and so that has been, that is what I'm going to continue to work on and we'll wait and see whether that turns into a campaign or not.

Borg: It's a wait and see but it's a door open then?

Santorum: No question about it.  I'm very open to taking on another run and right now I'm just doing everything that I would be doing if I was going to run.

Henderson: You have also written a book that is coming out soon.  That signals that you, like a lot of people, may be seriously considering running.  That's what most candidates do is write a book.

Santorum: Well, it goes back to what I was saying to Dean.  I really am concerned about where the Republican Party is for working America, average working Americans out there.  Our message has been for now a couple of decades, cut taxes on high income individuals and cut benefits on everybody else and everything will be okay.  Well, if you're that person in the middle who doesn't get benefits and doesn't get the tax cuts where am I in this picture?

Henderson: And you call them blue collar conservatives?

Santorum: We call them blue collar conservatives and I grew up in southwestern Pennsylvania, which is in a steel town, a little town called Butler and I know the folks there who are looking at the republican party and saying, they're not talking about me, they don't say anything about the kind of opportunities that I need for my family and for me and for my children and then you look at the other side and they say, well I don't like that, I don't want benefits, I don't want to get stuff for nothing, I want to work for what I'm doing and the side that talks about work, they only small business people or big business.  They don't talk about job holders, they just talk about job creators.  We need to talk about both and have a real concrete plan as to how we're going to communicate with those of us who want to work for a living but don't want to work 16 hours a day, 7 days a week to run a business.  They want to work 8 hours a day and run a family and help in the community, which is as important as the other.

Henderson: It appears that just as in 2006 at this point in this election cycle, Hillary Clinton is poised to be the leading candidate for her party's nomination.  Who would be the best type of republican to face off against her?

Santorum: Well, I think the best type of republican is a republican to do two things and this is what we have been missing, in my opinion, in the last couple of election cycles, someone who identifies and is an enthusiastic, and gets enthusiastic support from the base of the Republican Party.  That is what Barack Obama was able to do in the last two elections.  He didn't run to the middle.  He got his team, his core supporters excited and drove up turnout among those groups of voters.  But he was able to communicate in an effective way to the folks in the middle that he was someone who could work, you could work with.  Now, he turned out not to be able to do that.  But that's the important combination.  Every election since probably the mid-70s when television became the dominant, over dominant device in elections, one thing has been true about the presidential race.  One characteristic has always prevailed in my opinion and that is the best communicator won.  And you go to every single election and you look at the two candidates, the democrat and republican, and every time the person who best communicated with the American public, painted that better vision, had a connect with them better than the other person, won the election.  And I just think we need to look at candidates that stand by their principles but are able to communicate those principles in a way that relates to the average person out there.

Borg: Who do you see in the Republican Party right now who can do that?

Santorum: Is this a set up question?  Well, obviously I think if you look -- I'll just take the experience in the Iowa caucuses.  I came here with no expectation that I would do anything and we were able to win I think because we were able to effectively communicate that message and connect with people --

Borg: What I hear is Rick Santorum is a possibility then. Kathie?

Obradovich: Well, Governor Branstad, who has had a pretty successful career in politics in Iowa, has been saying that he thinks that the republicans should run a governor next time, that he says you need that executive experience.  What I'm hearing is more about personal qualities rather than job qualities from you.  Is he wrong that a governor would be a good choice for next time?

Santorum: You know, there's certainly some very fine governors out there that should be looked at and should put their hat in the ring if they want to do that.  I think the experience that someone has is important.  I think the qualities that they bring to the table are equally important.  You can say, well, we need a governor.  Well, I think we've seen in the last eight years, excuse me, last five years with Barack Obama having someone in office that has no foreign policy experience can be a very dangerous thing for the country.  We had Ronald Reagan as a governor but he was someone who was steeped in national security.  That was his thing.  He lectured all over the country on it.  I don't know if I can think of any governor that has that kind of depth and understanding and experience.  I served eight years on the Armed Services Committee, I worked on major national security and foreign policy legislation.  Those things particularly in this critical time you might want to look at experience other than executive experience for the role of president which is just beyond running the government, it's actually being the commander in chief of the country.

Henderson: Let us talk about 2014.  Reince Priebus, who is the chairman of the Republican National Committee, said last week that Obamacare will be poison for democrats and this will be sort of a tsunami for republicans.  People thought Obamacare was going to be Barack Obama's albatross in 2012.  How do you see the environment shaping up?  And what is your role in the 2014 elections?

Santorum: Well, as you know because I talked about this a lot in 2012, my biggest concern with the nominee, the eventual nominee was that he couldn't talk about Obamacare and in fact he never did talk about Obamacare and he we won an election in 2010 on Obamacare, we're probably going to win an election in 2014 and the one where Obama was actually up we never talked about it.  And I think Reince is on his way to being right, that Obamacare will be a very critical and central issue.  I think it's really important for republicans not to get caught with just criticizing Obamacare but talking about what they would do to improve the system and create better health care for everyone in America.  And yes, point out the problems, but also point out solutions to those problems.  I don't think in America today where there is such anxiety and fear about both the health care system and people's own personal access to health care, as well as the economy and now national security, that going around just condemning the other side is going to be effective in getting the kind of, I think, hopefully landslide that we need to begin to change the dynamic in Washington, D.C.  I think we have to have positive solutions.

Obradovich: One of the fallout or controversies from Obamacare has been over religious liberty.  And this week the Hobby Lobby case was in the U.S. Supreme Court talking about what employers can do to maintain their own religious principles in the face of mandates from the government.  And an interesting question was raised in court, which was, how can a business practice religion?  Is it the CEO's religion?  Is it the board's religion?  Does that religious background trump that of the employees? And I just wonder as you've been thinking about this issue of religious liberty where you come down on it?

Santorum: Well, I think clearly in the Hobby Lobby case we're not talking about Exxon, right, you're not talking about a big multi-national corporation.  I think you could have a pretty strong argument saying well, Exxon, I don't think they have a religious liberty argument.  I would make the argument that Exxon doesn't, that they're a big multi-national corporation and it would be hard to say that Exxon, not any other company, Exxon has that culture.  It doesn't.  But Hobby Lobby is not Exxon.  Hobby Lobby is run by a family.  They started this business, they happened to form a corporation but I don't think anyone would argue if it was a sole proprietorship, if that was the structure of the company, that they would say that they don't have the right as a sole proprietorship.  So just because of the corporate structure, who runs the company?  Well, the Green family runs the company.  They don't open on Sundays.  They close early so -- they have chapels in their corporate headquarters, they have chaplains.  Faith is very much a part of Hobby Lobby.

Obradovich: Legally though there are bigger companies that are structured just like Hobby Lobby.  Dell is one of them.  I mean, you get into some legal distinctions then about how religious are you, right?  That's difficult.

Santorum: Well, I would say that if you look at just like Chick-fil-A it's I assume similar corporate structure.  If you have a family that is in control of the corporation and in fact runs the corporation consistent with their religious values, I think that they should be given permission to do so and they should be able to live out their beliefs within their work just like everybody else whether you're an employer or an employee.  An employee should be able to live out their faith, obviously just like Hobby Lobby there has to be restrictions.  I always use the example that if I'm the ferrymen and I'm the only ferry between the island and the mainland and some couple wants to do a same-sex marriage on the mainland and I don't approve of it, too bad.  You're the only place to get there and it's public accommodation so you have to do it.  But that's not the case here.  I mean, the case here is there are plenty of other places you can go to get contraceptive care, right?  The Obama administration could have said, we're going to give it out free at pharmacies.  They could have given it to every pharmacy to give it out free but they didn't.  What they said is, no, we're going to force you to pay for something that we know you don't like.  That's wrong, that's what is wrong.

Henderson: Given what you said about the ferry operator and the debate that recently occurred because Arizona had a religious conscience law, do you think there needs to be a federal religious conscience law?

Santorum: Well, there is, there is already a statute in place and a lot of the states have various versions of that statute.  Look, I think the Arizona state law actually, if you look at the Arizona -- I read the amendment and it actually seemed to toughen the law.  That's what the strange thing was, it didn't seem to weaken -- when I say toughen it, it made it harder to claim a religious exemption, not easier, and yet it was opposed, which I still don't understand.  But I think there needs to be state laws to protect religious liberty from the state period.

Borg: I'm going to take you back to something you just said earlier and a reference that I made to your critique of the Obama foreign policy earlier this week and you were obliquely criticizing earlier in your conversation here.  Are we moving back right now to a resumption of the Cold War?

Santorum: I think Russia has been on that path, Vladimir Putin has been on that path for, well, 1999 he was elected and since he has figured out ways to maintain power through this democratic process I think we see, we've been seeing in this in the works for a long time.  And he is going -- it's very clear he's going to continue to use this rationale of saving Russians from persecution to grow Russia itself and the influence of Russia beyond its current borders.

Borg: To the detriment of this nation?

Santorum: No question to the detriment of this nation, to the detriment to our allies in Eastern Europe who have been samaritely dismissed by this president.  We had an agreement with Ukraine to stand with them, if they gave up their nuclear weapons that we would stand with them for their territorial integrity and frankly we haven't stood by them.  And you go back to the first foreign policy act that the president conducted was to withdraw or not deploy a missile defense system in the Czech Republic and in Poland leaving them exposed and sending a message.  As he said to the Russian president, you know, I'll be more flexible.  Well, he has been very flexible.

Obradovich: How far should the U.S. go?  Should we be sending military aid to Ukraine?

Santorum: We should have a military presence in Eastern Europe.  If NATO is real then NATO has to be real and that means that we need to show our commitment to those NATO countries in particular and stand by our allegiances.  I'm not saying we need to get involved in military activity but we need to have a military presence to show the Russians that we're serious about protecting the integrity of these countries.

Obradovich: I wanted to ask you about a different kind of war, the war on drugs.  Are we as a country at the turning point in the war on drugs?  We've got now states legalizing not only medical marijuana but recreational marijuana.  Here in Iowa the republican party of Iowa chair, the outgoing chair wrote an opet in my newspaper calling on republicans to embrace the idea of medical marijuana.  What is your thought about that?

Santorum: Well, I oppose that.  I think anything that causes more drug abuse is not good for society.  The jury is still out although I think the preliminary reports are pretty clear that states that have legalized marijuana, even for medical use but certainly for recreational use, are having bigger and bigger problems and more and more drug use.  And that's not a good thing for young people.  Believe it or not there are still people in this country who don't do drugs because it's against the law.  And when it's no longer against the law and it is approved by society you're going to get more of it and that's not a good thing for young minds.

Obradovich: Should the federal government be restricting states, enforcing federal law to make sure that states cannot do this on our own?

Santorum: I have this funny notion that if there's a law in the books you should enforce it.  I don't know, maybe as a president I'm sort of passé, maybe that's a stupid idea for a president to actually have to enforce the laws of the country.  But I believe if the law is there you need to enforce it.

Henderson: You now have a job as the head of a movie studio and you're sort of engaged in let's call it the culture war since we've been talking about wars here.  It seems as if Hollywood is producing movies about Noah with Russell Crowe and there's going to be a Moses Exodus movie in December.  Do you see a changing tide here in Hollywood?

Santorum: I am encouraged by what I see.  I think our involvement in Hollywood has been a positive thing.  We've gotten some real positive feedback from the films that we've done.  We had one just the other night on the Hallmark movie channel that did really well, well over a million viewers in a tough space on a Sunday night. And we're encouraged by something I've been calling for, for quite some time, which is people who have values that are traditional values need to get out into the culture and produce art that communicates those values in an entertaining and uplifting way.  I don't knock Hollywood at all for what they make.  They're allowed to make whatever they want to make. But we need to also go out and talk about the truth as we see it and present it in an uplifting and entertaining way.

Henderson: What do you think about this Noah movie?

Santorum: I haven't seen it yet.  So I've seen all sorts of different reports that it's not, it's certainly not in keeping with the biblical Noah movie and it is made by the folks that made Avatar so it's probably going to be a little sensational in that way.  So I'll just have to hold my judgment until I see it.

Borg: Kathie?

Obradovich: The reason you're in Iowa is, as Dean said, to endorse in the 3rd district race.  Will you also endorse in the U.S. Senate race that is going on in Iowa?

Santorum: I haven't made a decision about that yet.  I have a very, very good friend who is in the race, Sam Clovis, who is a terrific guy, a good friend and someone who is a great supporter of mine and Sam is A-number-one top flight kind of a guy.  So right now I have sort of not gotten engaged in that race.  I may.  We've still got a few months to the primary.

Obradovich: What is holding you back?

Santorum: I've been hesitant to get involved in a lot of races this time around.  I've gotten involved in a few.  I tend to try to sit back and sort of see how races play out whether I should be involved or not and this is one I just haven't made that decision yet.

Henderson: So what does your endorsement of Matt Schultz mean?  Do you have a network of people still in place that you keep in touch with and you can flip a switch and say, hey, look at this guy?

Santorum: We have an organization called Patriot Voices that we started right after I dropped out of the presidential race.  Karen and I decided that we couldn't just sit on the sidelines in 2012 or beyond and so we formed this organization and we have chapters all over, I think we have 350 Patriot Voices chapters across the country, almost 150,000 people who belong to the organization and we have a bunch of them here in Iowa who have been terrific.  And certainly everyone is certainly free to get involved with whatever candidate they want to get involved with but we certainly give people our opinion as to who we think is going to be the best for the job.

Borg: So your endorsement carries that organization's people along with it, at least your endorsement?

Santorum: That's right.  Well, to the extent -- look, I'm not one of these guys, you will support whoever I -- these are folks who are part of the organization to the extent that they consider my judgment they're going to support it but the organization itself, yes, we'll support it.

Borg: I am pretty hard and fast on time and we're out of it.  Thank you, Mr. Santorum, for being with us today.

Santorum: My pleasure, thank you.

Borg: On our next edition of Iowa Press, Tom Vilsack, and this is where I got the agriculture earlier in the program, Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, former Iowa Governor, that's next week.  You'll see Mr. Vilsack next weekend, same times, 7:30 Friday night and noon on Sunday.  I'm Dean Borg.  Thanks for joining us today. 

Tags: government Iowa Caucuses news political campaigns politics Rick Santorum