Opinion Brief

Will Rick Santorum's 2008 'Satan warning' haunt him in 2012?

The conservative presidential hopeful once said that "Satan has his sights on the United States." Now the political world has its sights on that comment

Four years ago at Catholic Ave Maria University in Florida, Rick Santorum warned an audience that "Satan has his sights on the United States of America." The former Pennsylvania senator argued that in this "spiritual war," Satan was attacking politics and government — and was winning. Today, of course, Santorum is a surging presidential hopeful, and when these comments resurfaced Tuesday on The Drudge Report, pundits began feverishly speculating whether their extremely religious nature would harm Santorum's campaign. Even Rush Limbaugh conceded that Santorum will "have to deal with it. He'll have to answer to it." Santorum himself maintains that the comments are "not relevant" to the presidential race. Will this years-old "Satan warning" damage his campaign?

Obviously, this hurts his campaign: "Santorum is animated and motivated by an unpleasantly bleak outlook on the morals and manners of the country he now says he wishes to lead," says John Podhoretz at the New York Post. But Americans don't want a "culture warrior" who is "disappointed by America and its failings." Mitt Romney may be flawed, but at least he doesn't think the U.S. "is teetering on the brink of a moral cesspool." It's no secret that America is "in a dour condition." But voters aren't "going to elect a dour president" who warns of Satan at the door."Rick Santorum's real problem"

This faux-controversy can't bring Santorum down: Let's not discount Santorum's "unsurpassed diligence as a candidate," says Robert Stacy McCain at the American Spectator. The media may be trying to "gin up new controversies" that paint Santorum as a "scary religious kook," but in the real world, the Pennsylvanian has climbed to the top of the polls by routinely appearing at more campaign events than his two chief rivals combined. I have faith that "hard-working voters" will see through the latest round of media theatrics and "ultimately choose the Republican who is working harder than any other candidate to win their votes.""Santorum's winning work ethic"

It all depends how Santorum handles this: Santorum will feel the heat at Thursday's debate, says Jed Lewison at Daily Kos. And how he answers the inevitable "are you a religious fanatic and/or would you govern as one?" question will dictate the future of his campaign. "If Santorum betrays even a hint of defensiveness in his answer, it could be a disaster for his candidacy." But launching a well-planned attack against his critics could lead to a breakthrough moment. It "could be the difference between the end of his surge — or the beginning of yet another wave of support.""Easy prediction: Rick Santorum's answer to the religion question will define Wednesday's debate"

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