Rick’s Relevant Now

How far has Rick Santorum come to his place in a virtual tie with Mitt Romney at the Iowa Republican caucuses? Back in June, when Santorum formally announced his candidacy, I rounded up the coverage and noted that more-or-less nobody was taking him seriously.

The general tone was captured by GOP strategist Curt Anderson, in a quote reported by Politico: “I just don’t think his candidacy’s relevant.” Needless to say, it seems relevant today.

Meanwhile, in that same post I argued that Santorum’s migration from big-government social conservative to economic libertarian who saw Paul Ryan’s budget proposal as too timid was a sign of the “perpetual one-upsmanship” among Republicans, with each leapfrogging the others to get further right on fiscal policy.

I still think that’s a fair description of the overall field, but over the course of the campaign Santorum has showed he hasn’t abandoned his roots, calling for industrial policy to support the manufacturing sector and pushing for pro-natalist provisions in the tax code. Santorum’s an economic conservative, no doubt—a big part of that industrial policy is a proposal to exempt manufacturers from corporate taxes—but he’s a somewhat different brand of conservative, as David Brooks noted the other day.

Over the next week, reporters will no doubt be focused on whether Santorum can scale up his campaign for the post-Iowa contest. They should be sure to devote time to his policy ideas, and their implications, as well.

Update, 5:15 p.m.: At the Tax Policy Center’s TaxVox Blog, Howard Gleckman offers a quick look at Santorum’s tax agenda that could be helpful to any reporter covering the campaign. He notes that Santorum’s platform would benefit corporations and high-income individuals, in keeping with the GOP mainstream—but also that Santorum’s proposals for tax expenditures “would likely add significantly to the number of households that pay no income tax,” something that “is anathema to current Republican orthodoxy.”

The upshot of all these tax reductions, even when coupled with steep spending cuts? According to Gleckman, the plan “would very likely add trillions of dollars to the federal deficit.”

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Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.