Dispatch from CPAC

Rick Santorum's Strident Traditionalism Captivates CPAC

Sometimes the wonky speech actually works.

In a moving address to a transfixed audience at CPAC, Rick Santorum referenced figures as diverse as the Buddha and Napoleon Bonaparte. Less than 24 hours after Santorum’s nephew Billy passed away in a Pittsburgh hospital, the former Pennsylvania senator gave an emotional speech that he had rewritten only hours before.

Despite the occasionally esoteric references, Santorum’s speech captivated a crowd with its strong social conservatism. Less than a day after a panel on gay marriage packed a room at CPAC, and on the same day as Ohio Senator Rob Portman endorsed same sex marriage, Santorum warned: “for those in our movement, who want to abandon our moral underpinnings, what does it profit a movement to gain the country but lose our own soul?"

Santorum’s entire speech was an ode to traditional values. He said Americans are suffering more today than they have in the past, not because they are less healthy, or less materially comfortable, but because of the moral rot in modern society. He decried “Hollywood and the media promote a culture of titillation and violence that numbs our senses in an attempt to please us.” Instead, he mourned “this has resulted in an epidemic of psychological moral and physical suffering” instead.

The speech seemed like a historical relic in some ways. It was the most stridently socially conservative address given to CPAC so far at a conference that has far more often talked of outreach and changing the Republican message. It was the most old fashioned, with sections devoted to Revolutionary War general the Marquis de Lafayette and the Anglo-Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton, where other speakers talked about the Facebook generation and iPads.

But it may have been the most well received, as Santorum finished his speech to a strong and genuine standing ovation.