Explaining the Santorum mystery to America

So former Sen. Rick Santorum has dropped out of the GOP side of the horse race for the White House, which is a pretty big deal here in DC Beltway land. After all, nothing in life matters as much as the fine details of political horse races. That's what average Americans wake up in the morning wondering about. Right? Santorum's campaign was, from the beginning to end, a total mystery to the political establishment -- GOP or Democratic -- here in Washington, D.C. Thus, it was a total mystery to the journalists who depend on establishment voices to help them explain the world to the world.

As always, the withdrawal of a big horse from the ultimate national horse race requires a package of Washington Post stories that is supposed to tell readers what this event means. In this case, one of the stories needed to make sense of (a) why Santorum had so much success in certain zip codes and (b) what that success means to the now-all-but-unopposed GOP nominee, Mitt Romney.

Note, in the following passage, the lack of attributions for almost all of the key statements of fact. No, this story did not have an "analysis" label.

Santorum came this far not only by waging an unusually emotional campaign but by carrying out a clever strategy that began more than a year ago in Iowa.

He spent a year campaigning in the state, shifting his family of nine there and trundling from county to county in a vehicle he dubbed “the Chuck Truck,” after an aide. He made up for his lack of official endorsements with a bus full of reality-TV backers: Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and their 19 children, who often showed up at his campaign rallies. ...

Santorum, who prided himself on a shoestring campaign that lacked a professional pollster, struggled against Romney’s better-organized and better-funded operation. He made gaffes and often failed to stay on message. And he was never able to convince voters that he could appeal to independents -- a necessity in the general election.

A few oh-so familiar voices of the GOP establishment show up from time to time, yet they mainly reflect on the big picture -- not offer information that helps establish or prove the details in the picture.

Finally, there is this final trip inside the mind of the mysterious candidate and his mysterious supporters:

Santorum’s unusual, emotionally driven run will probably have reverberations for the rest of the race. By connecting with evangelical Christians and other deeply conservative Republicans, he exposed Romney’s chronic difficulties in winning over those voters. And by invoking his blue-collar roots, he put a face on the struggles of people who work in the manufacturing sector.

Despite the country’s economic focus, Santorum, a staunch Catholic, rose on a message that centered on a conservative vision of family. He argued passionately that the nation could not shed its economic troubles without shoring up heterosexual marriage, ending abortion, and returning God and religion to the center of public life.

Now, here is my main question: How does one establish the central message of a candidate without using any of his own words, his images, his rhetoric? Where is the voice of Santorum offering a few sentences of proof that this Post summary of his views is accurate?

For example, did the candidate voice the direct cause-and-effect sequence that is attributed to him in that final sweeping statement? This one: "He argued passionately that the nation could not shed its economic troubles without shoring up heterosexual marriage, ending abortion, and returning God and religion to the center of public life."

I'll be the first to admit that I didn't follow the GOP primaries very closely. I don't think I ever listened to Santorum's whole stump speech, for example. I did hear him talk a lot about the forces -- moral, social and financial -- that he believes is fracturing many marriages and families and even preventing some of them from forming in the first place. I am familiar, I think, with his views on the individual issues alluded to in this particular Post credo.

Did he ever make this claim about the economy, or did he say that the economic crisis is hurting families? Did he, perhaps, say that attempting to promote intact homes and marriages -- cue up the quotes from the great Democrat Sen. Pat Moynihan -- is one of the only surefire ways to prevent poverty and the development of a downtrodden underclass that hurts women and children?

Perhaps the equation contained in this paraphrased credo attributed to Santorum by the Post is accurate. If this equation was at the heart of his campaign, then it should have been easy to have found that killer quote to back up that point. Has anyone seen one?

WARNING: Before clicking "comment," ask if you are ready to argue for or against Santorum the candidate. The goal here is to discuss the journalism issues linked to the Post article's summary of his views on the economy.

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