Iowa Public Television


Conversations with the Candidates: Rick Santorum (R)

posted on December 8, 2011

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Hello, I'm Dan Miller. Thank you for joining us.  You're about to see something unusual, a conversation about issues and ideas, civil and substantive between one of Iowa's top political journalists and the candidates whose quest for the presidency she covers.  This series of conversations is defined as much by what it isn't as by what it is and it most certainly is not today's typical television fare.  It isn't a debate, a shout fest, nor a game of gotcha.  There are no audiences to play to, no pundits to persuade.  It's a conversation, like the one you might have at the corner cafe, only longer and without incessant interruptions.  It's a conversation where you meet the person behind the politician, the candidate behind the campaign.  Hosting it is Des Moines Register Political Columnist Kathie Obradovich.  She knows the candidates, she knows Iowa and is the perfect person to find out on Iowans' behalf what we haven't heard before.  We've invited candidates Bachmann, Gingrich, Paul, Perry, Romney and Santorum.  Senator Santorum joins Kathie now.

Obradovich: Thank you for being here, Senator.

Santorum: It's good to be with you today, Kathie.

Obradovich: You have often been an underdog in the races that you have had.  I'm beginning to think personally you like being the underdog, right, up to a point?  Are we past that point now?

Santorum: Oh, no, I don't think so.  I think you realize that folks here in Iowa are still going through the process of making up their minds and I feel very comfortable that they're looking at someone who has a, who has worked hard here in Iowa, who has made himself available and accountable to the people of Iowa, something that Governor Branstad and Senator Grassley said, you know, trust the people of Iowa, that Iowa can't be bought, you've got to work and we've done that and I feel like it is starting to pay off.  I feel very good that the momentum is definitely in our favor, that we're growing our base of support and people are volunteering to help us out, the like the message of having someone they can trust as a true conservative, someone who is going to stand by what they believe in and has a track record of having done that.  And I think that is what we have to offer.

Obradovich: Normally by now we would have seen some momentum in the polls for you but this is not a normal year.  Time is running very short though.  How do you seal the deal with Iowans?

Santorum: Well, the way I started.  I believe in Iowa.  I believe that the people of Iowa are going to take this responsibility seriously and they're going to find a candidate, not who the national pundits are talking about today, not who has the most money or who has the most support out of New York and Washington, but the person that they have had a chance to meet with.  I always say, you know, Iowa wants to be first in the nation, lead.  Don't defer your judgment to somebody else.  Don't say, well, it doesn't look like he can win in the polls and therefore I can't be for them.  That's not why you're here.  You're here to make a recommendation to the rest of the country.  Lead.  Do what you believe is in the best interest of our country, not what the pundits say who can win or lose, but who you believe is going to be the best person to defeat Barack Obama and to govern this country.  Trust your own judgment, down defer your judgment to those who frankly haven't put the time and energy in trying to understand these candidates as well as you have.

Obradovich: Is that the big hump you have to get over is convincing Iowa caucus goers that you are, in fact, electable?

Santorum: It's interesting because it is sort of the national polls, if you will, and the pundits that talk about it and I just look at the fact that we just have not gotten the attention from the national media as everybody else and you can do it by a lot of objective measures.  But the reason is, is because I have spent my time here.  I haven't been visiting Donald Trump in New York which I thought was sort of funny that everybody that visited Donald Trump now says they're not going to go to a debate with him.  I never went and kissed the ring of Donald Trump, saw it as endorsement and I'm not afraid of Donald Trump.  And if Donald Trump, by the way, wants to meet with me I'm happy to meet with him here in Des Moines when he comes.  But it's funny that they would go and ask for his endorsement and then not be willing to have a public meeting with him where the public can see what he's talking about.  So, we have been Iowa-centric, we have been New Hampshire and South Carolina-centric and we haven't played the typical political games and we'll find out whether the Iowa caucuses are what they have proclaimed to be which is you've got to spend the time here and earn the respect.

Obradovich: Well, what do you think is going on in the party that someone like Donald Trump can hold so much influence?

Santorum: Well, I don't think it's the party, I just think it's the nature of the country.  We're a celebrity driven culture and he is a celebrity and that is, you know, television does that to folks and people want to hear and are interested in folks like Kim Kardashian for some unknown reason.  Why?  Because she's a celebrity.  Why?  Because she's a celebrity.  I don't know.  I mean, that is the culture we're in.  Again, I trust the Iowa caucus-goer they're not going to be driven by celebrity politics, they're going to say who is the guy that has got the best record, who can lead this country, who has got the best, boldest plan and who is someone we can trust to make that happen?

Obradovich: Do people recognize you when you go around the country?  I mean, you're somewhat of a celebrity, aren't you, at this point?

Santorum: I don't know, I mean, I do get some folks who recognize me.  No, maybe it's -- I travel by myself, I carry my own bags, I'm sitting middle seats on United Airways flights or Delta flights and maybe they just don't expect to see you but most people are very pleasant as I travel around and no, I don't think I'm at the celebrity status at this point.

Obradovich: Let's talk a little bit about where you come from.  You're a family man, obviously, you have seven kids and your wife Karen has said that you have a passion for doing the right thing.  How did you develop that passion?

Santorum: I look at where I grew up.  I mean, I grew up on the grounds of a veterans hospital and so my mom and dad met at a VA hospital when they were older in life and they married later in life and Karen says, you should tell everybody you grew up in public housing, which is true because I lived on a VA post and we lived in little apartments and little shoeboxes really but we didn't think so, we thought we were living, we were in great shape.  I had to share a room with my brother but who didn't share a room in those days?  So, I felt like I was very blessed to be in this country and I had a father who was an immigrant to this country, who had passion for America, wanted to serve his country, did in the war, World War II, served his country afterwards so we grew up in an attitude of what a great country America is but veterans were something that were just revered and the idea of service and doing the right thing, you know, serving your country, the role of that, I was raised in a good family and Catholic schools and we had the nuns that would, you know, just let us know what was right and wrong and so doing service, loving your country, doing the right thing, those were things that were drummed into me early in life and I found them to be actually pretty good values to hold onto.

Obradovich: A lot of people who are bent on doing the right thing are also very fearful of doing the wrong thing.  Is that something that you worry about?

Santorum: No, I'm not a risk averse person.  I really believe that you go out there and you do your best and you try your best to move whatever it is whether it is raising your children or coaching your little league team, you believe, you try to measure the situation, gather all the information and then go out and make a difference.  This country is not for the timid of heart.  This country is made a great country because people did go out and pursue their dreams, they did take risks and one of the concerns I have about the future of our country is we're becoming risk averse and that we're becoming more interested in security than pushing the envelope.

Obradovich: We'll talk about security for a second.  But you have put yourself out there and your political history shows that you haven't always been successful.  When you lost your senate race in 2006 it was a bad year for republicans to be sure but you also lost by 18 points.  What happened there?

Santorum: Well, it was a horrible year in Pennsylvania, it was specifically bad in Pennsylvania.  We lost the governorship by over 20 points.  We lose five house members, seven congressmen.  We lost the House of Representatives by historic margins.  We had unfortunately two members of Congress in our congressional delegations who were involved in very sordid scandals, one that blew up two weeks before the election.  It was just a -- and we had a democratic governor who is very popular and turned out a huge vote in the city of Philadelphia which is where he's from.  So, it was pretty much a formula for disaster.  President Bush was at 36% favorable in Pennsylvania.  The President thinks numbers are bad at 45, try 10 points less than that.  And I was a leader in the United States Senate, I was someone who was connected to what was going on with the Bush administration even though I certainly could differentiate myself and so I just sort of got wrapped up in a battle.  But I take some of the blame myself.  I went out and fought for things that were unpopular.

Obradovich: Let me ask you about that because, I apologize for interrupting, but during your 2006 campaign some of your advisors had told the Register that they wanted you to kind of stop talking about the crisis of the American family, they wanted you to stop talking about the threat of radical Islam.  You didn't listen to them, did you?

Santorum: No, look, if you go back in the first four races that I won I did so, I ran for those races not because I think I would win, it's because I went out there and I thought there were things that were important for this country and I wanted to try and reflect those in this campaign and create an alternative.  And I won in upset every single time.  My feeling was I may only have this one term, I'm going to try to do what I can to get the best information to make the best judgment I can and then go out and do what I believed was the right thing for our country and not worry about the political consequences of it.

Obradovich: That message wasn't that successful five years ago, why do you think it's going to be more successful today?  It hasn't changed.

Santorum: There's a little different time now.  When I was out talking about the threat of Iran we were in the middle of an Iraq war and it was failing, we were in the middle of a war in Afghanistan that was not doing well and here's Rick Santorum talking about a nuclear Iran.  What is he talking about?  Iran doesn't have nuclear, they're not pursuing nuclear weapons.  Who is this theocracy -- and now what is everybody talking about?  Well, we're talking about exactly what I was talking about six years ago that was maybe ahead of the curve.  But that, the other thing I talked about, Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid and food stamps and saying, we're running a small deficit now but we're in real trouble.   Once the baby boom generation comes, 2011 comes we're going to be in huge trouble with respect to these entitlement programs and so I was out in the second oldest state in the country talking about changing entitlement programs.  Why are you doing that?  I said, well because that's the problem, we have to be honest with the people of the state and they didn't want to hear that.  And, look, I was perfectly okay with that.  They didn't want to hear the message that I had but the message I had back then is now the core message of what republicans are talking about.  And so if you want someone who really has a conviction, isn't talking about these issues because it's popular to talk about them but tried to lead, actually lead the fight when it wasn't popular that's what I think I bring to the table.

Obradovich: When you talk about a war against radical Islam you're a little bit different than others.  You don't always temper your remarks by saying Islam is a peaceful religion, that it's non-violent.  You don't always do that.  Is that something that you believe?

Santorum: Well, I use the modifier radical Islam.  I don't say that all Muslims are radicals, clearly they are not.  The folks who are most harmed by radical Islam are Muslims in that region of the world who are living like, for example, in Iran we have a radical theocracy that is in charge of Iran and the vast majority of the Iranians, almost all of which are Muslims, are being persecuted and killed by that regime and tortured by that regime and are oppressed by that regime.  So, I'm talking about a specific group of people that, for example, in Egypt you have the Muslim brotherhood and the Salifists.  Well, Salifi Islam in the Sunni world is an increasingly dominant strain among the countries and you’re now seeing it in Egypt where you have radicals now representing a larger and larger portion of the population and now electing people to office.  This is a very dangerous thing and that is why I have said that the Islamic world has to join and work with us to confront this cancer within.

Obradovich: Let's go back to something you said earlier about civil liberties and security.  You said in the CNN debate on November 22nd that profiling of, based on religion might be a good way to do it because you're worried about specifically radical Islamic terrorists.  How would airport security know, though, who is a radial Islamist?

Santorum: Well, we profile in everything we do when it comes to criminal work.  We profile at the border.  This is a huge dispute at the Canadian border right now about the denying of profiling and the border patrol is apoplectic about not being able to make rational, for example, a 90 some year old woman who was patted down.  Why are we doing that?  That makes no sense.  We need to look at where the threat is.  If it was 53 year old Italian-Americans that were bombing America and were terrorizing this country then I would expect to get extra scrutiny because that's the profile of the people who are doing the harm.

Obradovich: The people who are doing the scrutiny are doing it based on how you look, right?  So, nobody is going to look at you and know whether you're a radical Islamist.

Santorum: When I am talking about profiling it's talking about doing the real work that is behind the scenes, not necessarily at the checkpoint but being able to identify people and do the work based upon a profile of who the terrorists are. 

Obradovich: So, you're saying sort of expand the watch list?

Santorum: Yeah, well you need to look and cast a net where there's the best likelihood you're going to find fish and that is what other countries around the world have done, they have looked and tried to find the bomber instead of the bomb and I'm not just saying at the checkpoint, TSA does more than just do checkpoint security, they do a broader sweep and that is what has to be a factor and it should and I suspect tassedly it is but we need to be more specific and focused on making sure we do find that bomber.

Obradovich: I mean, I think what Americans worry about when you get to that point is that people who look differently and that people who are not the Anglo-Saxon Protestant types are the ones who are always going to be pulled out of line.  Is that ...

Santorum: Black or Hispanic or Asian.  We're talking about a specific group of people who have been attacking this country and to sort of ignore that fact and say, well, we're going to treat Kathie Obradovich the same as we would someone who is from Saudi Arabia and is in this country or someone who is from Yemen or someone who is from that decent that we're just going to ignore that fact and not consider it I think is insane.  You have to consider, you have to factor it in.  Part of it is the only thing you didn't know, there are obviously other things you would look at in that "profile" that would lead you to highlight or focus in on that person but certainly that's one of the things you'd have to consider.

Obradovich: When you're balancing civil liberties and security it is a balance and you have to give up on to have more of the other sometimes.  It sounds to me like you are balancing more on the security side at this point.

Santorum: Well, I am when it comes to certain things.  If you're going to get on an airplane, yes, we're going to probably try to find some more information about you if you're coming on an airplane as if you're walking down the street here in Des Moines.  So, it's not a civil libertarian issue with respect to how someone should live their life but if they are engaged in certain activity that is high risk activity then we need to find out some qualities about these people and make sure that we're not opening ourselves up to potential harm.

Obradovich: So, how would your leadership on family values make a greater difference than say another religious conservative who was in the White House, George W. Bush?

Santorum: Well, I haven't written 28 books, I've written one and I wrote it in response to Hillary Clinton's book.  She wrote a book called It Takes a Village, in other words, the government, if you will, and those outside of the family will have an impact on raising children.  And I wrote a counter to that saying, no, it takes a family, that the building block, the essential building block of America is the American family and that we need to have policies structured around to support and nurture the traditional family in America, to help those families be the best possible atmosphere for children to be raised.  And so I look at it as my role as president is to look at public policy that supports the family but also one of the roles the president has is the ability to communicate to the American public and talk about issues that are important.  Having a president go out and talk about the importance of marriage in our society, of fathers taking responsibility for their children we see, for example, that you have these heroic mothers who are out there, single moms who in many cases have been abandoned by fathers, children who were born out of wedlock and fathers took no responsibility for their children who are out there trying to make a go of it and they're doing as good as they can, as well as they can but it's harder to do with one what was really made for two.  And so we need to have a national discussion about how we can repair that very big fissure in American society that harms not just children, not just moms but also men, society, our economy and the like.

Obradovich: I want to get back to that but one of the ways that American religious history and traditional values play into policy is toward Israel.  That is something that has been talked about a lot on the campaign trail.  How far would you actually go to protect Israel?

Santorum: Well, I mean, they're an ally of our country and we would stand by their side to make sure that they can and will survive and that is what I think we've made that explicitly clear, that is why I've been very forthright in saying that we should be working with Israel right now on a policy to make sure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon because if they do whether they end up using that weapon on Iran, excuse me, on Israel where they use it as a shield to be able to project terror and fund more robustly and encourage more robustly Hezbollah, Hamas and others to attack the state of Israel or by proxy, either way Israel is in much more jeopardy as a country if Iran has that capability.

Obradovich: Do you go as far as authorizing a pre-emptive nuclear strike from the U.S. to prevent Iran from getting that nuclear weapon?

Santorum: I wouldn't authorize a nuclear strike but I would authorize a strike that would be, in fact I've been very public about that, we should be working on a whole variety of things, sanctions, helping overthrow the regime by funding the pro-democracy movement, using covert measures to try to disrupt their weapons and missile production capability and then also openly saying that we will work with Israel, that if Iran does not open up these facilities to inspectors and begin to dismantle this capability that we will take out that capability, they will not get a nuclear weapon under our watch.

Obradovich: But you would stop short of a nuclear strike if they're not already a nuclear power?

Santorum: I'm not too sure we need a nuclear strike, we need to degrade the capability of them to be able to manufacture these weapons as well as the missiles that would deliver those weapons and I don't think you need a nuclear strike in order to do that, I think it would be a conventional strike that would degrade that capability.

Obradovich: Let's talk a second about taxes because that is a very important issue for Americans.

Santorum: Let's talk about taxes.

Obradovich: Yes, well, should Congress let the payroll tax expire?

Santorum: You know, I said this the other night at the debate, the democrats can't have it both ways.  They can't go out and criticize republicans for jeopardizing the Social Security trust fund and raiding the Social Security trust fund and for not protecting Social Security as this entity that is a promise that you paid into and therefore you get out and now we're saying, no, you don't have to pay into it and we're still going to give you the same amount of benefits.  So, it's either a trust fund that is funded by taxpayer dollars and that we have the integrity of the system that we're going to protect or it's simply just another tax in which we raise money and it really doesn't matter if it doesn't connect to the benefits that people are receiving.  If it's the second then we're going to have a very different discussion about how we're going to fix Social Security.  If it's the first then we have to look at the integrity of the system and be able to deal with it and what the democrats have done they're trying to have it both ways.

Obradovich: But why does that have to be the choice, though?  What's wrong with Ron Paul's idea of let's continue the payroll tax cut but just pay for it somewhere else so we aren't involving the Social Security trust fund?

Santorum: It is -- the money comes out of -- there isn't enough money in Social Security payroll taxes to pay for benefits.  So, you've got to get the money from somewhere else and if you're saying let's just use the general government to do it well all of a sudden now Social Security is not connected to the payroll taxes you're paying, it's now a general fund program and the left has made that you can't do that, no, no, no, you've got to keep the system sound.  Well, you either do or you don't and so they're playing probably the most despicable kind of politics which is hypocrisy, attacking republicans for raiding the trust fund or for using the trust fund for other purposes and at the same time saying well, we can do it though if it is politically advantageous to us.

Obradovich: Let's talk about your tax plan.  You have proposed eliminating the corporate tax for manufacturing jobs and I think that makes a lot of sense because that's where a lot of really good jobs and that we need more of those jobs in the U.S.  But how do you stop the problem of companies going overseas not for tax reasons but just because they want to take advantage of lower wages and benefits overseas?

Santorum: Well, it's the same issue which is that they're going overseas because they can be more profitable.  And so the answer is, how do we compete against that?  And one way to do it is to lower our tax rates.  If you look at the National Association of Manufacturers had a forum in Pella the other day that Governor Branstad co-sponsored and they told us that if you exclude labor costs that manufacturing in this country is 20% more costly than it is with our nine top trading partners.  So, if you take the fact that we can't compete for the manufacturing jobs that are not heavily labor intensive, if we still have this huge cost differential, 20% is a big deal, then we're not going to bet those jobs back and we're not going to be able to keep jobs in this country.  So, what I'm trying to do is eliminate that 20% cost differential irrespective of wages and be able to compete for the jobs that are, in fact, higher wage jobs that have a lot of automation in it, a lot of computer technology involved in it, upgrade their skills.

Obradovich: We're getting short on time but I do want to ask you quickly about immigration.  The Catholic bishops have called for comprehensive immigration reform that includes an earned path to legalization.  Are they wrong?

Santorum: Yeah, they are.  I mean, we are a country of laws and we have to enforce our laws.  If we develop the program like the Catholic bishops suggested we would be creating a huge magnet for people to come in and break the law some more, we'd be inviting people to cross this border, come into this country and with the expectation that they will be able to stay here permanently. I compare that to my grandfather who came to this country in 1925 to escape Mussolini's Italy but he came by himself.  My father was left behind.  My uncle was left behind and eventually my aunt and what happened was he had to work here for five years, earn his citizenship and then bring the family over.  What are we saying to all the families who are doing it the right way, who are separating from their families, who are making those sacrifices and then we say well, everybody who broke the law came here and we're going to let you in and those folks, well sorry you're chumps, you played by the rules.  We have to have rules and we have to keep those rules in America or we would be a magnet for more people who want to break the law.

Obradovich: Before we started taping here we were talking a little bit about how you're run a pretty old-fashioned caucus campaign.  You have spent more time in this state than anybody else.  Do you still think that was the right approach?

Santorum: Absolutely.

Obradovich: And do you think that the Iowa caucuses are still the type of event that is going to reward that?

Santorum: Well, we'll find out.  We'll find out in a few weeks whether the people of Iowa, and I've said this before, are going to lead, are going to make the decision based on what they see and the experiences they have had in meeting and talking to the candidates and I think see that clearly accelerating and our crowds are getting much, much bigger, people are paying a lot more attention, a lot of folks are still really undecided in this state and I think the candidates who have made themselves available, who have been there to answer the questions, like we're doing here, spending the time here are going to be rewarded.

Obradovich: If you don't get one of the fabled three tickets out of Iowa, is that your ticket home?

Santorum: Well, there's six people in the race really right now and if you look at how we're going to do I think we have to finish ahead of some other people in the race.  Right now every poll from the very beginning has us behind and so if we can finish ahead of some of the other folks who are competing for the same space, and I would say you're looking at ...

Obradovich: We're running out of time.  So, thank you so much for being here, Senator.

Santorum: My pleasure, thank you.

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