One of the perennial realities of campaign politics is the inevitable trajectory candidates take when moving from obscure also-ran to emergent underdog to front-runner: the higher the profile, the greater the scrutiny, and the added importance of “oppo” research. Many media observers have noted, in the wake of Wednesday’s Republican presidential primary debate in Arizona, that Rick Santorum was besieged by his opponents with attacks based on his voting record in the US Senate.
The primary thrust of the charge: While campaigning as a principled, uncompromising champion of cultural conservatism, Santorum’s voting record reveals a pattern of votes on policy that contradict his avowed platform, sometimes in stark ways. This exchange from the debate provides a prime example:
In the immediate term, this problem requires Santorum to manage the apparent inconsistencies between his current rhetoric and his past record. More broadly, this is yet another example of the challenges faced by current and former members of Congress who run for the presidency — ironically, the more experience you have, the greater the paper trail from which opponents can cull decontextualized bits of business to form the basis of an attack. But for me, the most important consequence of this phenomenon is the continuing assault on collaborative negotiation and compromise that resides at the heart of deliberative democracy.