Rick Santorum was the returning champion at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition forum on Saturday. But inside Waukee, Iowa’s Point of Grace Church, it certainly didn’t feel like it.Gosh, what happened?
After his upset victory in the 2012 Iowa caucus -- driven largely by the state’s powerful evangelical voting bloc -- many expected the former Pennsylvania senator to be welcomed back with open arms. But compared to the other eight Republican candidates present at the Des Moines-area conference, Santorum’s speech fell strangely flat.
The audience didn’t clap much, and when they did it was usually polite and perfunctory. Lines that felt like they were meant to be showstoppers were at times met with awkward silences.
Part of that may have been due to his choice of subject matter.... Santorum was selling a populist economic message that didn’t seem to land.Right -- these are conservative American Christians. They don't want to hear about helping the poor and the downtrodden with their struggles.
He called the Republican Party’s supply-side, free trade message outdated and pushed for a minimum wage hike. “We’re keeping down the wages of American families,” he said. “We need to say we’re on the side of American workers.”
Observers believe Santorum may be misreading his audience this time around. “It didn’t resonate,” said Dennis Goldford, a professor of politics at Des Moines’ Drake University. “Santorum sort of moved to that blue-collar conservatism, populist kind of approach ... That’s not what will sell this particular crowd.”
Now, you might think Santorum bombed because he's just not connecting with any voters this year -- he's very low in the polls, after all. But Bobby Jindal is also struggling in the polls, and Bordelon says that his speech went over like gangbusters:
Bobby Jindal is barely breaking 2 percent in Iowa polls -- but you’d never know it from the way he wowed the crowd at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition summit on Saturday.So what did he do that Santorum didn't? Well, he was a cheerleader for Jesus:
“Our God is an awesome God, can I get an amen?!” he began, spreading his arms wide and striding away from the podium. “Amen!” the audience responded loudly.He talked about himself as a Christian:
Veering away from policy specifics, Jindal instead spoke at length about his personal journey to Christ -- thanking his high school friend for giving him his first Bible and describing the moment he came to Jesus during a choir performance at LSU.And he attacked the enemies of conservative Christians:
“Here’s my message for Hollywood and the media elite,” he shouted, in the first standing ovation of the evening. “The United States of America did not create religious liberty. Religious liberty created the United States of America!” ...See, Rick? That's the winning message: (a) tribal solidarity plus (b) rallying the troops against social-issues liberalism. Compassion for the needy? Don't even bother.
“We saw corporate America team up with the radical left to come after our religious liberty rights,” he said, referring to Indiana Governor Mike Pence’s fight against gay rights groups after he signed a religious freedom law last month. “They might as well save their breath, because corporate America is not gonna bully the governor of Louisiana!”
The point of Christianity, for this crowd, is to identify the saved (us) and the damned (everyone else) and to say, "We saved people are so much more awesome than the damned." All that "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me" stuff? Lose it, Rick. These people don't care.