Rick Santorum on the Capitol Riot, Election Results, and Free Speech

The former U.S. Senator of Pennsylvania talks openly about the recent violence in Washington, the integrity of American voting, and offers advice for all Catholics as we move forward under a Biden administration.

Former U.S.  Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., speaks during a news conference on health care September 13, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., speaks during a news conference on health care September 13, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (photo: Alex Wong / Getty)

In the context of President Joe Biden’s inauguration and following the violent riot in the nation’s capital on Jan. 6th, many are apprehensive about the weeks ahead and how to cool tensions and division, as well as what the Biden presidency might bring in terms of policies related to key moral issues like abortion, religious liberty, and matters related to sexual identity.

Former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum spoke to the Register Monday about the riot, the concerns over the 2020 election results, and free speech issues that have arisen. The Catholic father of seven also discussed how Catholics should remain hopeful and prayerful amid concerns over life issues with the incoming Biden administration. 

 

What do you think are some of the forces that led to the incident on Jan. 6 and what do you think of how it was handled both by President Trump and by lawmakers?

People have a right to protest. People have the right to go to rallies in Washington, and they had the right to assemble outside the Capitol and express their displeasure with what was going on. Having said that, I didn’t agree with the premise of the rally which was that the election was stolen from the president — not that I don’t think there was substantial fraud, I do believe there was a lot of fraud in the election. There’s always some element of fraud and with mail-in voting, I think there was certainly more of it, but there was no evidence presented. The way our country deals with this is you go to the courts and you present evidence that a court can look at to determine whether there were these instances of fraud that required some action on the part of the court. And from everything I’ve read, including cases, Trump’s lawyers did not present in many cases, any evidence, much less sufficient evidence.

In Georgia, for example, the state chairman of Georgia is a very good friend of mine, and there was evidence there of not necessarily straight out fraud, but voting irregularities for sure. People who were felons who voted and things like that. You might want to call it fraud, you might call it irregularity. The fact is there were certainly ballots that should not have been counted. Having said that, I think they would admit in Georgia that they probably didn’t get to the number that was needed to overturn the election. 

I understand the frustration of a lot of people, but the reality is for the president to say, number one, that the election was stolen from him and number two, that the vice president had the opportunity to overturn the election, as I wrote in The Wall Street Journal, is patently false and wrong and dangerous. The real thing I blame Trump for is perpetrating among his followers, that this was constitutional and legitimate. It was neither constitutional nor legitimate. I don’t buy into that he incited them, and then wanted them to storm the Capitol and do all the violence. 

He’s to blame for the false premise that got people angry, but he’s not to blame for the activities of a few hundred people who got out of control. I would say that if there was anybody to blame for the mob getting out of control directly, it was the people who were supposed to be protecting the Capitol. Having served there 16 years, the Capitol police force is a very big and professional police force if they have good leadership. That goes up to the top with Nancy Pelosi and the Senate leadership or Mitch McConnell. If they had had good leadership and preparation and the mayor of Washington had been on top of this, there’s no way this should have happened. They would have had sufficient people there, knowing this rally was happening and knowing what was being said online, they should have been better prepared and they weren’t. A lot of bad things can happen when people are in places where they shouldn’t be and they shouldn’t have been up next to the Capitol.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. As far as the role of the legislators, the folks who objected about the election on the floor of the House and the floor of the Senate about the ballots, would I’ve done that? No, but do they have the right to do it? Yes. I was there back in 2005 when Barbara Boxer objected to [the re-election of George W. Bush]. In fact, if I recall, I demanded the vote on it. It was 74 to one. I did say she was repeating unsubstantiated charges and that’s not something that she should be doing, but she has a right to object and to have her case be heard.

It’s not that I am 100% convinced that Donald Trump lost the election. I’m fairly convinced, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is Joe Biden was certified the winner and it’s time to move on. We can fight this battle and I’m not saying he shouldn’t continue to investigate whether his claims of fraud were right, but that shouldn’t change the outcome of the election.

 

What do you think of the move to impeach President Trump and the prudence of that?

I think it’s imprudent and unnecessary. Why don’t they impeach me? I’m a former elected official, I can be impeached. I guess they can go out and impeach anybody they want, who used to hold public office, but that’s not a very good idea. Joe Biden, throughout the course of the campaign and particularly in the aftermath of the campaign, was Mr. Unity, ‘I’m trying to bring this country together. We’re not enemies. We’re neighbors, we’re friends,’ and yet the one thing he can do right now to put this behind us is to tell his colleagues in the House and Senate ‘Stop this nonsense, he’s leaving office, let him go and let’s be done with him and move on. I’ve got an agenda to try to bring the country together and having the Senate fight about impeachment isn’t going to bring the country together.’ That’s not what he’s saying. He’s saying we can do both at the same time. 

We can’t try to bring the country together while we divide it. It shows, unfortunately, what I really thought ,which is that Joe Biden says things he thinks people want to hear and doesn’t do things that need to be done on a policy side to actually bring people together.

 

In the wake of the election and the events of Jan. 6th, there’s a drive underway to purge Trump supporters and also some conservative viewpoints, from social media platforms. I’d love to get your thoughts on that.

On social media platforms, I’m apparently a minority within the Republican Party these days, but I just look at the objective reality which is before social media platforms, if I wanted to get my message out to a broad number of people in the public, I’d have to pay for it. Donald Trump wouldn’t be president if it wasn’t for Twitter and Facebook and all the social media posts that allowed him to get his message to a huge number of people instantaneously. And the idea that we’re going to now take social media and we’re going to regulate it, like The New York Times or CNN or The Washington Post or Fox News, to me limits speech. If we’re going to turn all these social media platforms into publishers and they can all be sued then they’re not going to let any content on. The idea that Republicans think, that having the government or trial lawyers and courts regulate these people is going to result in conservatives having more of a voice — where have you been the last hundred years?

I agree that they’ve made some bad calls on silencing people. I agree that some of this is unwarranted and should be fought against. But the reality is these social media platforms have rules and in enforcing the rules, some people have gotten nailed for saying and doing things on their platforms that are against their rules. You can say, well, their rules are not uniformly and fairly enforced left and right. That may be true and it probably is true, but at least there are rules. 

If we decide to throw in with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and Jerry Nadler, and everybody who wants to regulate internet content, we’re done. My big problem with what I see from Republicans is that so many of these young politicians don’t know what it was like before social media existed. I can tell you, you want to be frustrated, how about there is no Twitter? How about there is no Facebook? How about the only way to get your information out is if The New York Times or CBS or ABC, or whoever it is who controls the media access, want to tell your side of the story? And that’s never.

 

What do you think of people attempting to silence their opponents in political discourse?

If you’re truly a liberal, you actually believe in the First Amendment. You actually believe people can have opinions that you don’t approve of, and that they have the right to say them. But the left doesn’t believe that, socialists don’t believe that. Their religion does not allow for dissent. They don’t have tolerance or grace or forgiveness as part of their religion. I’m not surprised to see it. 

I think Americans are going to see more and more of this, unfortunately as time goes on, which is the intolerance and hatred of anybody who dares to offer a different point of view than the prevailing secular religion of the day. They don’t like dissent and they have a whole game plan of how they slam people who disagree with them and try to bully them. Whether it’s costing them their job or their reputation. 

 

For faithful Catholics, the presidency of Biden is going to pose some serious problems due to his known positions with respect to abortion and LGBT issues. What in your opinion is the most constructive way for Catholics to deal with this situation?

Most importantly, pray for him because I always believe in conversions. I believe that, maybe even more so someone his age who is facing the reality that life isn’t forever, he might come to terms with what he was taught from very early ages about the Church’s teaching on these moral issues. We can continue to pray and hope. I was just off the phone with a relative, and they’re expressing hopelessness as if this is somehow, ‘Oh my goodness, the end is near,’ We don’t believe that as Catholics. One of the little plaques that I have in my office is the famous saying by St. Padre Pio, which is ‘pray, hope, and don’t worry.’ I think we need to do more praying, hoping, and not worrying. We just need to pray for God’s will because God’s will is always better than what we want. Maybe going through this time is what we need. I believe if we’re prayerful and we pray to God that He can make some really great things with this and more people can be in heaven. 

Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to supporters during a campaign rally at West Allis Central High School on July 23 in West Allis, Wisconsin.

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