On Monday, April 24th, Rick Santorum, the former Representative, Senator, and Presidential candidate, made an appearance at Unity Christian School in Rome, Georgia. He was there as a paid speaker for Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) to speak about what he described as traditional American values. Much of the content emphasized Judeo-Christian values and the place they should have in our society, a narrative constructed in large part from Santorum’s own Catholicism.
The following transcript and audio is from a meet-and-greet Q&A before the speech with a select group of Unity Christian seniors and our contingent from Berry College: Dr. John Hickman, Jack Boyette, and myself, Matt Blakely.
As you read or listen to the following transcript, note how Santorum admits that Trump is not a ‘family-values man’ but is given a pass because he is a Republican.
In a response to Dr. Hickman’s question, he seems to slip a bit, saying that he does not believe a moral person can be elected to public office in this time, therefore implying that he does not believe Trump to be moral.
Near the end of the encounter, he begins to become irritated and raises his voice in response to Jack Boyette’s question on climate change, making the ridiculous implication that breathing CO2 is not harmful for you, regardless of the levels of CO2, and then somehow pivoting to the topics of gender identity and abortion.
Mr. Santorum is certainly a polished, well-spoken politician, but he appears to stumble a few times, perhaps because he was expecting only softball questions from a group of fellow white, conservative Evangelicals.
Audio from the Q&A with Rick Santorium
Rick Santorum: I first got to Congress 26 years ago. So 26 years ago I was elected to Congress when I was 32 years old and it was a little different time then. It was before what we call the Revolution which happened in 1994 led by a Georgian Newt Gingrich and things were… there was much more comedy and people got along a little better. But they got along well because the other side had pretty much had their way.
And so Republicans were sort of there to sort of I always said be cheap Democrats. We were cheap liberals. So we voted for what they wanted. We just didn’t want to spend a lot of money on it. And that’s how we got along.
And then a bunch of us came I was one of them but there were others that saw a different path toward this gradual statism that we were headed toward in Washington and add to that a huge cultural divide that was occurring, starting to occur, starting in the 60s and 70s with, really on college campuses, with a whole different view of what our popular culture should be about and it was basically a sexual revolution. And that sexual revolution combined with this onwards march of statism, eventually there were enough people who said ‘enough… we’re not going to sign on to this anymore’ and that’s when the divide really started happening so many folks blame us.
It’s our fault that we are resisting inevitable change. That’s sort of the way I look at it. And so we have fought back, stand up for things that we look at historically have worked well for America but to many our vestiges of a by-gone era that need to go out with the horses, you know with the horse and carriage, the horse and buggy. So that is at the core of it, is this divide as to whether we need to change our, you know try to recover our culture.
And when I mean that I mean the Judeo-Christian principles on which our country was built on or, and whether we’re going to return government (muffled) to the people out of Washington this ever increasing life in the government out of Washington.
And that is, that’s what’s, those are the two things that are really banging at each other right now. They’re just two different visions of what America should look like. And that really wasn’t the case for a long time. And we would go back in different times of American history, we saw this kind of great divide, different visions of what America should be. And many of them did not end in a very peaceful way, a very difficult time in our country’s history. And I don’t know whether that’s not, that very well could happen here. I don’t know, it won’t be, it won’t look the same as divides in the past but it’ll be something that will be difficult for the country. And I think we’re experiencing that now.
Matt Blakely: Do you think President Trump given all that he’s said and done is truly a family-values man?
Rick Santorum: I think President Trump is a pragmatist at his core and he ran as a Republican. I think he could have easily at a different point of time in his life ran as a Democrat. But I think at the moment given all of the things that were going on, some of the things that I have just talked about, he found himself a little more comfortable as a Republican. And he sort of saw the opportunity and started to pursue it, started to talk to a lot of people, myself included, about what his vision for America would be and started to surround himself with people who shared his vision. And the more he surrounded himself with folks who were Republicans, the more influence he got from conservatives. And I think that’s how he eventually got to the positions he holds today.
One of the things I was concerned about even after I endorsed him was, you know, would he stick to the positions he says he believes in. I think one of the greatest gifts we’ve seen is how, from a conservative perspective with respect to the President, is how poorly the left has treated him, how disrespectful they are, I mean how… I mean there’s just incredible antipathy toward this President from the left and I don’t understand it because he’s not an ideolog, he’s not, you know, not me, not somebody who’s strong, upstanding, but’s a little conservative. That’s not who he is and so I would think if I were them I would say ‘here’s an opportunity to do what Donald Trump likes to have done to him’ which is love on him right? And move him in your direction.
Matt Blakely: But do you think he, on the inside he really is family values given his Billy Bush comment and what he did to the disabled reporter?
Rick Santorum: Yes, I guess I would say Donald Trump is a work in progress and I think that could be said for all of us. Now some of us come from different places, and maybe the journey for him might be longer than others but I think he’s a work in progress. I’ve talked to some pastors who’ve talked with him and some have referred to him as a baby Christian.
Clearly from the campaign and from his comments, you know, he, I’ll never forget one of the first events I was out with him during the campaign for 2016 was in Iowa, in Ames, Iowa, where he was asked whether he’d ever ask God for forgiveness and he said ‘nope never thought about that’. So I think that gives you an idea of sort of where his Christianity was at that point a year or so ago, about a year and a half ago now, yeah almost two years ago. But these types of events like you’ll find in your life can form you and change you. And so, we’ll just have to wait and see how that all plays out.
I can tell you that from the stand point of issues, the most important of which was the Supreme Court for social conservatives, he has delivered as promised. And so that’s a good start.
Student: Is there any advice you’d give us, most of us, a lot of us in this room will be going to college next year, we’re high school seniors, is there any advice you would give us as you encounter these college campuses?
Rick Santorum: Yeah, I’m going to talk about that stuff, I’m going to talk about that today. So I’ll hold that for the next meeting because I am going to talk a little bit about that. But you’ll hear, last week I was in Princeton and it was a…
Student: Pretty similar place to here.
Rick Santorum: Yeah and so it was a, I want to just share that experience with you and some maybe lessons learned. So we’ll share that and then we might talk a little bit. (muffled)
Student: You really ask when people think Rick Santorum within like a political realm, they think you know ‘oh the diamond counties guy’ at what point were you like that’s going to be my strategy and when did you know that that’s what was going to make you, when like when did you really believe that.
Rick Santorum: Yeah, it’s… you’ve heard this phrase I’m sure before: necessity is the mother of invention. And I had no choice in that race other than to run a Grass Roots strategy where I was just going to outwork everybody else, because everybody in the race had more money than me. Everyone was a current elected official or someone who just recently left. And I had been out of politics for quite some time. And when I left, I didn’t leave on the best of terms.
I lost the race. You usually don’t lose a race then turn around a few years later and run for President. It’s not a typical path. In fact, had I of won the nomination, I think it would have been a unique path having done that maybe since, maybe go back to Lincoln who lost his last race before he ran for President.
So I saw as I was out there, I saw people relating to the message that I was delivering and so I just figured if I work hard enough and if I can touch enough people, that eventually as this race goes down and candidates rise and fall which they did four years ago, they didn’t this time.
Trump sort of confounded everybody by what he did. He did it because he had a great strategy which was to dominate the airwaves not with advertising but just by being outrageous. I mean, it’s a strategy that very few could pull off and he could pull it off because he was a celebrity.
So he had an unusual path and people say ‘well, you know, Donald Trump’s now set a new template for how you elect a President. No, no because no one else is going to, there are lots of people who go out there and say outrageous things and they’re passed off as nuts (muffled). But if you’re famous and you’re a billionaire then you can say those things and get away with it. And so, unless you’re a famous billionaire, you’re probably not going to take that path. And it’s a perilous path because there’s, as we’ve seen, there’s a lot of downfalls to bypass the media and having the media cover you obsessively.
That was not going on in 2012 when I ran the first time. There were really no media darlings. I could speak of Romney somewhat but even that not much of one. But it was very hard to get attention in the media because it’s… and so I ended up just working hard. And by the time, thankfully, by the time the race came around in Iowa, no one had really caught fire. So they were still on shopping mode. They were still looking around and they said ‘oh we sort of like this guy. We really, we’ve gotten to know him, we like him’ but the rub on me was I couldn’t win.
And thankfully enough, people said ‘well, I’m going to vote for him whether he can win or not.’ And that started showing up in the polls a couple of weeks before the election, my numbers started to creep up. Because people said ‘he’s the best out there. We’re going to vote for him because he’s the best out there.’ And all of a sudden that just steamrolled the last two weeks and we ended up pulling off a big upset.
So it was just a great strategy that everything clicked and was well executed. Same strategy in 2006 didn’t work at all. We went out there, did 99 counties and we worked hard. On caucus night, reporters told me when I would go and speak before all these caucuses that other than Trump and occasionally Cruz, not always but occasionally Cruz. I spoke with about 7 or 8 caucuses in one night, on caucus night, and they were the bigger ones in Des Moines. And from everything I was told, the reaction from the crowd was as positive toward me as anybody out there and one of the top two or three for sure. Yet I did very poorly. And the reason was they wanted to vote for somebody who was going to win and my numbers were down, Trump had dominated and I was never able to get up through there. It was ‘yeah, we love you but were not going to vote for you.’ You know it’s just one of those things that happens.
Student: I’ve always admired the fact that you’ve really held firm to your conservative convictions and I really appreciate that. Now I see that you’re a CNN commentator and such. What is it like to sit on those panels and you know and people with very opposing views and still hold to your core convictions?
Rick Santorum: It’s not hard. You just got to come back to why you’re doing this. And that sort of goes back to ‘what is your purpose in life?’ What is your purpose in life? You also have to ask that we all have a reason for being here, right?
And it… to me it boiled down to an experience I had 20 years ago now and I was a senator at the time and we had three kids and we were expecting our fourth. And to make a very long story short, our fourth son was born and died shortly after he was born. And it was a devastating loss. And lots of folks gave words of wisdom and advice and the only real comfort to me was that my son was in Heaven. And the more I thought about it, the more I recognized that in the end that was all that really matters. And you know that, we all think that.
Okay, you’re in a Christian school, you know that, you think that. Well you know, but you don’t live it. Maybe you get caught up in the world. Don’t be… be in the world, don’t be of the world, right? We’re not just in the world, we’re of the world. We get completely absorbed with everything that the world is trying to do to deflect your attention away from Him.
And if you look at it that way, and look I am guilty every way, every day I’m guilty and all day most of the time. I’m just… I’m a driven guy and I’m working on my business and I’m watching the sports page. And I have my distractions like each and every one of you do. But the one thing that has been important to me is understanding that you know you can have your distractions. You know you’re not Superman. You can’t… you are in the world. You can’t completely ignore it.
There are those who do, they go in monasteries and they close themselves off from the world. And that’s great if you can do that. You can live a life, a cloistered life or life of a hermit and just pray and devote yourself to the Lord. Great. We need people to pray for us all the time.
But if that’s not you then you have to accept the fact that you are going to be interacting with the world and the world is going to grab your attention away from the things that are important. But remember when you are talking about things that are important, you can’t reject Him for the world that he’s always, that you’re always accountable to Him of things of his.
Right, he doesn’t care whether the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup. I do. I care deeply. But when it comes to the matter of life or marriage or whatever the issue is that is of teachings of His, murder and stealing, those things you can’t waiver because that’s what you’re all accountable for in the end. And so it’s not hard. It’s not hard. It would be hard to do the other for me because I know I’m jeopardizing my soul by walking away and denying Him. I don’t want to be that guy denying Him, denying His truth.
John Hickman: My student, that is Matt, asked you a question earlier about family values. I’m John Hickman. I teach political science at Berry College. And I’m wondering, you talked about Trump as a work in progress. How vile would a work in progress’ comments have to be? I mean, he’s made comments about what? Lusting after under-aged girls, about rape, sexual harassment, seems to be approving that sexual harassment. How vile would a, I guess, a candidate’s views or comments have to be before you say that’s a bridge too far? I mean he’s said these things and so he’s not too far. What?
Rick Santorum: Well, I mean he, yeah, he has. He’s said those things and I think most folks who are supportive of him have repudiated those remarks and, excuse me, have condemned those remarks. In most cases, he has repudiated those remarks. Yeah, I go back to we are in the world and he has fallen. You might say that he has really badly fallen. Yeah, my guess is if we knew everything any of us ever said and did, we’ve pretty badly fallen too. And so, my guess is that what most, and I can speak for myself, I never cut Donald Trump any slack.
There are things that I find he does that are wrong. I say that what he is doing is wrong. And, in fact, I was on a show the other night on CNN and I forget what it was, I think it was about the Obama comment that he’s wiretapped him or something and I just said ‘no, that’s just not true. There’s no evidence that that’s true and what the President said was wrong.’ And there was another guy who’s a conservative who’s saying ‘Oh well, it really is, it’s fine.’
And afterwards I get up and said ‘you’re not doing him any favors,’ ‘you’re not doing the country any favor’ by apologizing or being apologist for something that is bad behavior. I said ‘all you do is you become a facilitator.’ I’m not going to facilitate his bad behavior.
But here is what I do know. Hillary Clinton would put people in place who would kill millions of babies. Hillary Clinton would do things, put things in place to continue the cultural revolution to a point which is detrimental to the future of our country, expandable in size of government and cripple the ability for us to be a prosperous nation, to defend liberty.
So is he an imperfect vessel? Absolutely. Do I have trouble defending him? Yes. Actually no, because I don’t all of the time and I won’t. But just like God lifted up imperfect leaders in the Old Testament, you can look at David as an example, that you have to hold people accountable for their actions but never lose sight of the larger picture, which is the future of, I believe the future of western civilization rests here in the United States.
And as imperfect a vessel as Donald Trump is, and he is, he is the better choice, not necessarily a good choice, but a better choice. And that’s what we’re left with. We live in a followed world. How do you expect… how do you expect the United States of America, who has gone through the kind of moral changes that have taken grip of this country, how do you expect us to nominate and approve of a moral person? Why would we? What would lead you to believe…
John Hickman: Did they have a chance in the Republican primaries?
Rick Santorum: Did who?
John Hickman: The Republican voters? Christians?
Rick Santorum: Sure, they had…
John Hickman: But they chose Trump instead.
Rick Santorum: Yeah, they had alternatives. But the alternatives weren’t a whole lot better to be honest with you. I mean, when it got down to the end, there wasn’t a lot of great choices.
Matt Blakely: Were you not one of the alternatives?
Rick Santorum: Not at the end. I was at the beginning. I was weeded out earlier on. So…
John Hickman: So Cruz wouldn’t have been a better choice? And Rubio?
Rick Santorum: Yeah, again, I mean Rubio was there for a while but when it got down to the two or three, they weren’t great choices. I think people saw that. Yes?
Jack Boyette: So in the past, in regards to the Pope and the Catholic Church’s position on behind the change, you have stated that science should be left to the scientists and that the Catholic Church is better off, you know, sticking with what it does best which is theology and morality. So what part of your Catholic morality, you know, allows you to be okay with this subjecting future generations to a toxic planet?
Rick Santorum: Well, see, I don’t see CO2 as a toxin. CO2 is not a toxin.
Jack Boyette: So you would breathe it?
Rick Santorum: I mean, we breathe CO2 all the time. We exhale CO2. I mean, so, we ingest CO2. CO2 is not a toxin. I mean, I know there’s a report by the EPA that suggests that it is, but it’s not. CO2 has been with us, will continue to be with us. It is a gas that if it does not exist, we would not exist. So to suggest an essential gas is a toxin is ridiculous.
Now, can there be excess amounts of that? Sure there can be. But you just, you have to keep going back to the whole Genesis of this. You’re not old enough to know but I am old enough to remember back in the 1970s where they were talking about the coming ice age, that the world was cooling and this was going to be a disaster. We’d all starve because no place on the Earth would be able to grow crops and they would all die. Now it’s the coming, you know, global warming.
The reality is, I know, because it’s true, the climate, the planet warms, the planet cools, and there are hundreds of reasons to why that happens. Hundreds. And what we have is we have a political, this is not real science, this is political science. We have people who have taken one element that could cause warming and made that the exclusive tail that wags this entire dog. Nothing else can be considered and if you don’t buy off on this, then you’re not a real scientist.
I find that to be very troubling. Particularly coming from people who have more science on a regular basis. For example, you’re a woman but they ignore that on the left. No, you are what you say you are. No. No. You are genetically male or female but they ignore that for purposes of their own ideology.
Jack Boyette: No, I don’t think that they are referring to her biological anatomy.
Rick Santorum: No. Yes, they are because gender is different than biology. So they can say, you can be whatever gender you want. That is not scientific. You are a particular gender. Gender is determined by your genetic code.
Jack Boyette: It is a social construct.
Rick Santorum: It is not a social construct. It has become a social construct. Just like global warming has become a social construct.
Matt Blakely: You said leave science to the scientists but they’ve seemed to reach a conclusion. What do you say to that? That you’re saying that scientists don’t know science?
Rick Santorum: The people who are reaching the conclusions are looking at the Earth warming. I’m not denying the Earth is not warming. No one’s denying that. But the question is ‘what is the cause of that?’ and it is not knowable.
Matt Blakely: 97 percent of climate scientists say that it is man-made. But statistics?
Rick Santorum: I hear this number all the time 97 percent. It’s just not… 97 percent of a certain group of scientists who responded to the questionnaire. Not 97 percent of all scientists. Number one.
Jack Boyette: It was not a questionnaire.
Rick Santorum: Number two. Number two, there are all sorts of factors that are causing warming and cooling. Do you deny that? Do you deny there aren’t all…
Jack Boyette: I do not deny that. I accept…
Rick Santorum: Then how can you isolate one and say that is the determinant. Because it’s, you can’t. It is, this is man playing God just like we are with gender. It is man playing God. It’s saying we can accept the world and we can make things the way we believe is best as opposed to what is true. And they’re not, there’s no pursuit of truth. Do you see anyone out there who’s arguing the issue of climate change? Who says, who has, who questions climate change? What happens to that person? Bam, they’re squashed like a bug. You can’t question that. You’re unscientific. You know what’s unscientific? Not questioning science. That’s unscientific. And what happens is, this is why it’s political science, when you say to me…
John Hickman: Excuse me, but I teach political science. You want politicized science as a term because that’s what I do for a living. Political science is what I teach. It’s about elections and stuff.
Rick Santorum: Ok, politicized science.
John Hickman: Thank you. Thank you.
Rick Santorum: It’s a euphemism. So, excuse me for the euphemism. So it is politicized or political science? It is, it’s not real hard science because real hard science, every one of these climatologist, every one of these folks who can’t predict tomorrow’s weather who can say ‘a hundred years from now this is what the Earth is going to look like.’ They’ve been wrong every step of the way.
Every… if you go back twenty years and look at what they said was going to happen, none of it has happened. None of it. This, no, it hasn’t happened. Yet, we still believe them. We still believe that this is the case and you can’t question them.
I reject any real science, any real science, where there isn’t a real debate. Because if there’s no real debate, then it’s not real science. If you have real science, you have a real discussion, and this is what’s happening.
They… as I mentioned I came from Princeton, they are shutting down debate ‘anybody who doesn’t agree with us? Shut up.’ You can’t… you’re not allowed in. You’re not allowed to talk about different, you know, what’s true about gender. You’re not allowed to talk about what’s true.
How about science about the baby in the womb? That’s a baby. No, according to them, it’s not. It’s a blob of tissue. It’s not… ’it’s pre-human. We don’t know what it is.’
That’s baloney. Yet they’re the scientists… the same people who are making, who you are making to me, say gender is a social construct and the baby in the womb, we don’t know if it’s a real baby or not. That’s just a lie. How… why would you believe these people? In fact, they’ve come up with their third new invention. They’ve invented the fact that the baby was a blob of tissue and that way we can kill that baby.
Now they’ve come up with, well you know, gender is a social construct, and now their newest thing, which is ‘ah, we need to have the government pass more laws to control your behavior.’ Why? Because the climate’s changing. At some point, aren’t you going to figure out what’s going on here? That this is simply an attempt of those who have an ideology that wants to impose their value structure on you and giving the means of government the power to do so. I reject it.
Unknown: I don’t want to kill spirited debate but we are getting close to our program time and so [student]…
Rick Santorum: We can continue this later if you want.
School Administrator: I wanted to give you an opportunity to thank everybody for being here today. And also thanking Mr. Santorum on behalf of (muffled), if you’d like to say a couple of things.
Student: Yeah, I just want to say thank you all for coming especially all of you from the community and also thank you for coming to speak. Again, I haven’t introduced myself to everyone, I’m [Hannah], I’m the chair of Here in America’s Foundation here. At the end we will have a Q&A session, so there’ll be time to continue with your questions if you have a few more. I’m sure that Mr. Santorum would love to answer them but we have to get going…
Rick Santorum: You can see I’m a little reticent about getting involved in this kind of (muffled).
Student: We have to give a short break along with a mic check. So if you guys will make your way to the gym which I’m sure (muffled) would love show you there.
Author’s Note: I am grateful to Darla Fox, Administrative Assistant in the Department of Government and International Studies, for transcribing the audio.