Mitt "Landslide" Romney may have won the Iowa caucuses by a whopping eight votes, but everybody knows the real winner was former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.
After wandering in the wilderness, neglected and forgotten, for the past year, Santorum surprisingly emerged as the only serious challenger to Romney. Whether it's because Iowa voters suddenly discovered his social conservative beliefs or because so many Evangelical ministers turned to him at the last minute after striking out with every other possible alternative to Romney, Santorum's near-win catapulted him to the top of the anybody-but-Mitt pile.
Newt Gingrich or Herman Cain might warn him, Santorum may soon discover that it's better to be on the bottom and ignored than on the top and under the microscope. That's especially true in Santorum's case, because he may have more baggage than all the rest of them and because his political opinions are far, far from the mainstream.
For starters, disagreeing with the Supreme Court's 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut decision, Santorum believes states should have the right to ban all forms of contraception. As recently as last October he asserted: "One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country." Birth control, he believes, is "a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be." Santorum also opposes the Supreme Court's 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision, which strikes down the ban on sodomy.
Welcome to Santorum's world: no more condoms, no more pills, no more diaphragms, and no more oral sex. In fact, no more sex at all outside of marriage and, even among married couples, only for the purpose of making babies. Seriously, we expect that from the pope. But from the president?
Those couples still allowed, on occasion, to have sex would, of course, be limited to heterosexual couples. Santorum is solidly against gay marriage. He would not only ban future gay marriages, but -- in a total contradiction to his assertion of states' rights above -- he would autocratically nullify any such unions already sanctioned in Iowa, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, and the District of Columbia.
Santorum would also, of course, reinstate "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." But, he insists, that's not to pick on homosexuality. "It's not, you know, man on child, man or dog, or whatever the case may be," he told the Associated Press. In other words, Santorum has no problem with gays or lesbians, as long as they never have sex and never wear a U.S. military uniform.
Americans might also be surprised to learn that Santorum has a problem with working moms. In his book, "It Takes a Family," he bemoans the fact that so many women are finding it "more socially affirming to work outside the home than to give up their careers to take care of their children." And, while most Americans welcome the winding down of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Santorum, alone among Republican candidates, advocates the use of military force to bring about regime change in Iran.
One other little-known fact about Santorum: While campaigning as an outsider, he is, in fact, like Newt Gingrich, the ultimate Washington insider. After losing his Senate seat, he didn't go back to Pennsylvania. He stayed in Washington, raking in big bucks (more than $900,000 in 2010) by peddling his influence to companies seeking favor from Congress or the administration. Santorum's clients included Consol Energy, a leading player in the controversial natural gas extraction technique called "hydrofracking." He was also paid $341,000 for serving on the board of Universal Health Services from 2007 to 2010, during which time UHS was sued by the Justice Department for defrauding Medicare.
Like Gingrich and Herman Cain before him, Santorum also has his share of ethical problems to explain, including two blatant conflicts of interest. As senator, he formed a charitable foundation called "Operation Good Neighbor," headed by Pennsylvania developer Michael O'Neill -- for whose firm, Preferred Real Estate, Santorum secured $8 million in federal grants. And Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee over Santorum's accepting a $500,000 mortgage on his $640,000 home in Leesburg, Va., from The Philadelphia Trust Company -- even though the bank's policy was to make loans to investors only, and Santorum was not one of them.
With all that baggage, Democrats should hope and pray Rick Santorum becomes the Republican nominee.
(Bill Press is host of a nationally syndicated radio show and author of a new book, "Toxic Talk," available in bookstores now. You can hear "The Bill Press Show" at his Web site: billpressshow.com. His email address is: email@example.com.)