Rick Santorum: “I Was Basically Pro-Choice All My Life, Until I Ran for Congress”

In a 1995 Philadelphia magazine feature, the 2012 presidential candidate was depicted as a Newt Gingrich acolyte, a Congressional bully, a class clown … and someone who changed his mind about abortion because of “science and religion.”

THE DAY SANTORUM WAS REELECTED in 1992, he told friends that in two years he would run for the Senate against Harris Wofford; he said he had to get there by ’94 to be a vice presidential contender in 1996. Meanwhile, Gingrich helped him get a seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, where, according to a fellow committee member who’s a conservative Democrat, “he spent most of his time grandstanding for his Senate race, speaking vague, cost-cutting rhetoric designed to get him on C-SPAN. He would be very polite in person, but when he got in front of the microphone he was a monster. You had to wonder how much of an act it was.”

“Santorum had no depth on tax issues,” says a staffer to a Democratic committee member, “but he could run a long ways with nothing. He was assigned to make life crazy for Democrats. They always knew he would be a little pit bull to take us on on issues simply for the sake of slowing things down, but he couldn’t keep his facts straight. It got to the point that other Republicans would have their staff draft the issues for him so that at least he’d have some facts to work with.”

The Republican overclass in Pennsylvania—the core group of which is moderate—tried to discourage Santorum from running for the Senate. “We felt it was presumptuous on his part; he didn’t exactly have much of a record in the House,” says a powerful Republican who has worked for Heinz, Thornburgh and Governor Tom Ridge. “But it was more than that. Of course, there was his personality—he had rubbed a lot of us the wrong way, and in Congress he’s been a bull in a china shop. In the end, the problem was that nobody knows what Rick stands for. He kept trying to tell us what a moderate he was, but there was the Christian thing that turned us off. I think Rick stands for Rick.”

Anne Anstine, who chairs Pennsylvania’s Republican Party, has been a firm Santorum supporter, but concedes he was not her first choice when candidates were drafted. “It was important to a lot of people in the party to have a pro-choice candidate,” she says. “We felt we owed it first to Teresa Heinz [wife of the late senator], and then we sought out Julie Nixon Eisenhower, who was not interested either.” In fact, Anstine—along with Senator Arlen Specter and Elsie Hillman, Pittsburgh’s wealthy Republican National Commiteewoman—were so unhappy with the prospect of a Santorum candidacy that they courted some half-dozen others to run against him, including Julie Eisenhower’s husband David (neither Julie nor David has ever run for office), former gubernatorial candidate Sam Katz; state auditor general Barbara Hafer; and Sandra Schultz Newman, recently elected to the state Supreme Court. None of these people bit, and when Santorum took the primary, party elders had no choice.

Hillman, for whom Santorum worked one summer, is said to have raised little money for his campaign. “His being pro-life,” she says, “was a problem at first. The Christian Right makes me uneasy. Nevertheless, he was our candidate.” Specter, who is Jewish and pro-choice, did finally endorse Santorum, dispatching his chief of staff, Pat Meehan, and his son, Shanin, to work on Santorum’s campaign. But there have been whispers that Specter and the majority of his staff actually voted for Wofford. (Specter refused to comment.) Santorum reciprocated last March by formally endorsing Specter’s presidential bid, but he had difficulty containing his reservations and proceeded to roll his eyes and make agonized faces on the Capitol lawn as Specter, declaring his candidacy, spoke in warm tones of America’s liberal tradition.

“Santorum does the impossible,” jokes one Specter associate. “He makes Arlen the more pleasant senator from Pennsylvania.”

SANTORUM IS ALONE AT HIS DESK, waiting to meet Gingrich and Bob Walker at a luncheon. He reads aloud a press release his office will be sending out. He puts it down to take a phone call from one of his Pennsylvania offices.

“Hey,” he says. He pushes the flat of his hand back along his head. His hair is sticking up. He runs his hand forward over his head; his hair sits in place.

“Mmm-huh,” Santorum says into the telephone. His hand runs up one side of his head; a wing of hair stands in suspension.

“Yeah, maybe,” Santorum says. He pats the wing back down. And then he works the other side: the wing goes up, the wing goes down.

He hangs up and dials his scheduler in Pittsburgh. “Hey,” he says, “it’s Rick. You know, this education thing that I’m supposed to speak at for an hour? It sounds like a real yawn.”

He listens to the other end. “Has it been scheduled yet?” he asks. “I can’t talk for an hour at an education seminar.”

He listens some more.

“See, this is some pretty detailed stuff. I can’t talk for an hour on this stuff. I’ll go if it’s like a greeting or a photo op. Can I, like, just answer some questions or something?”

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