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Will the culture war shape the 2012 race?
As the economy improves, unemployment is again being overshadowed by birth control, abortion, and gay marriage with inevitable consequences for the campaign
 
An election season dominated by heated social debates could favor Rick Santorum over Mitt Romney.
An election season dominated by heated social debates could favor Rick Santorum over Mitt Romney.
REUTERS/Joe Skipper

"Everyone thought that the 2012 election would be about jobs, jobs, jobs," says Michael Brendan Dougherty at Business Insider. "They were wrong." The unemployment rate has dropped for five straight months to its lowest point in three years (8.3 percent), and, for the moment, headlines are dominated by social issues, from Komen vs. Planned Parenthood to Catholics vs. President Obama's birth-control coverage mandate. And social warrior Rick Santorum just trounced business-savvy Mitt Romney in three GOP presidential nominating contests. Will the culture war define the campaign in unexpected ways?

No question, social issues are changing the race: "The culture war is back," says Rachel Weiner at The Washington Post. "That is good news for Santorum, a Catholic known for his strident opposition to abortion and homosexuality," and bad news for Romney, whose past support for abortion makes conservatives uneasy. And even if the White House takes lumps for making Catholic employers provide contraception coverage, "a weakened Romney is good for Obama."
"The culture war is back"

The culture battles rile up politicians more than voters: "While the culture wars [will be], to Santorum's delight, with us at least until November," says Stephen Prothero at CNN, they won't sway voters as much as candidates think. "Ordinary Americans are nowhere near as divided as are pundits and politicians." Voters increasingly agree that birth control and gay marriage are OK, and that making abortion illegal in all circumstances isn't, so there's "less and less political hay to be made" on these issues every year.
"Welcome back, culture wars (and Rick Santorum)"

Actually, the culture wars will shape 2012, and 2016: "Santorum's success shows the tectonic plates of the GOP are still in motion: social conservatives and the establishment aren't completely fused," says Daniel McCarthy in The American Conservative. The establishment is weakening ("thanks to the lingering contamination of the Dubya debacle"), which bodes well for conservatives like Santorum but "augurs ill for the party's November prospects." Look out for "a reckoning before 2016 that will reshape the GOP's identity."
"Is Santorum Pat Buchanan 2.0?"

 

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