Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum. Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore on Flickr

Rick Santorum is rallying the base, and base is the operative word. Through carefully crafted dog-whistle messaging, Santorum has appealed to all the hate that occupies the darkest bands of our social spectrum.

When Santorum says that he doesn’t want to give black (or “blah”) people entitlements, when he says gays and lesbians are not socially acceptable, when he speaks with disdain about our public schools, and when he says women shouldn’t benefit from prenatal testing or contraceptive coverage, he inserts his religious dogma before fair governing and elevates his own piety before reason.

Santorum vaulted from a footnote in the Republican primaries to a contender through his appeal to a hostile and xenophobic aggregation of voters. Call Santorum the anti-black, anti-gay, anti-science, anti-woman populist. Worse yet is what he stands for; Santorum believes in religious indoctrination in our schools, and that this nation is a Christian one. If Santorum was a Muslim, those who praise him would vow to fight him. After all, the societal message that he outlines is not at all different from the Sharia Law that the religious right loves to demonize.

Radicalized candidates like Santorum are nothing new in Republican primaries. Pat Buchanan, David Duke, and Pat Roberston all fueled far-right vitriol in the past contests. But it has been the “kinder, gentler” Republicans; the Doles, Bushes, and McCains, who have succeeded because of their broader appeal.

But Santorum thrives in today’s polarized political atmosphere and is threatening to win Michigan, the nation’s eighth most populous state and the boyhood home of Mitt Romney. A win there on March 6 will not only knock Romney from front-runner status, it could knock the former Massachusetts governor out of serious contention in November, if he gets that far.

Yes, Super Tuesday is still far off and the largest remaining states—California, Texas, New York, Illinois, and Pennsylvania have not yet spoken. Romney may do well in those states and win the nomination after all. But the last thing the GOP needs is a bloodied nominee going into the convention. This is not Barack Obama versus Hillary Clinton; this is not choosing between two candidates who differ in style more than vision. This is the fight for the very soul of the Republican Party.

Romney—who once ran to the left of Teddy Kennedy and denied any allegiance to Ronald Reagan—must convince Republicans that he is the prodigal son of the conservative movement and he’s coming home to honor it. If he can’t accomplish this at his Michigan homecoming, he won’t seal the deal nationally.

If Michigan goes for Santorum, the Republican National Committee has three choices: Self destruct in November behind a weak Mitt Romney, put all of its chips behind Santorum and then watch him self destruct, or encourage a white-knight candidate to enter the race in place of Romney. But Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan, and Jeb Bush have all said “no way” on more than one occasion. Also, any Republican who steps in as the “anti-Santorum” risks the wrath of the religious right; to run against Santorum’s social values is to run against their values. Finally, any candidate entering the race now starts with nothing in the kitty; and it’s way too late to begin the fundraising process, the game is afoot.

Michigan is a political firewall, not only for Romney but for any rationality remaining in the GOP. Should Santorum be victorious, the GOP risks reducing itself into nothing more than a Christian Taliban, and a more diverse and progressive American populace will reject the party in November.

American Taliban: The GOP risks becoming Santorum’s Sharia Party is reposted from NYaltnews, a progressive news source for the Empire State.