Just three days after kicking off his campaign for the White House, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum stopped in Fort Mill on Saturday where foreign policy and education took center stage.
“South Carolina is one of the few states that’s got it,” he said at the Rinehart Realty offices in Fort Mill. “You’ve done a great job at attracting manufacturing and what’s happened? You’ve got lots of folks moving into this state. We need to take back America and take back the pride we had in making things here.”
Santorum fielded questions from a small crowd of about two-dozen people who shifted the tone quickly to foreign policy. He called for more, and tougher, sanctions on Iran to force closure of its nuclear facilities, and criticized the United States’ approach to dealing with the Islamic State.
“They want to bring back a seventh-century form of Islam – well, let’s bomb them back to the seventh century,” he said, noting his hyperbole. “Which means, let’s eliminate their ability to communicate. Let’s eliminate their ability to conduct modern warfare.”
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A strong sense of national security is necessary for a Republican candidate to win in 2016, he said.
“Republicans lost five of the last six (elections) on the popular vote,” he said. “The only one we won the popular vote on is 2004. That was the only election of the last six where national security was an important issue.”
To help middle class Americans Santorum said he will offer an economic plan with a “flat, fair simple tax” on all forms of income. “We get rid of, I’d say, 90 percent of the complexities of the current code,” he said.
On public education Santorum said, “I’m a strong believer in parents having charge of their kids’ education, and parents being able to get what’s best for their child.” He said he voted for the “No Child Left Behind” act, a vote he said he now regrets.
“I don’t think anybody in America believes the problem in American education and the reason people are not doing well is because we have low standards,” he said. “The problem is because we have low parent participation in the lives of their children in school.”
Kaitlyn D’Alessio, one of the younger attendees at Saturday’s event, asked Santorum to elaborate on his vow to “drive a stake through the heart of Common Core.”
“We’re going to end every single federal program that encourages states to adopt Common Core. There won’t be any federal incentive at all,” he said. “Lots of states, if we release them of the nexus between the money and the program, will go off and do their own standards and go back to what the local community wants instead of what a bunch of folks in Finland want.”
Wayne Bouldin, a member of the Fort Mill School District Board of Trustees, was one of several elected officials present Saturday, including fellow trustee Tom Audette and Fort Mill Mayor Danny Funderburk.
Bouldin said he hopes the new president will pull back “higher-level government control” on education and push it down to the local level.
Santorum is the latest Republican to seek the 2016 party nomination and Bouldin said the senator has distanced himself from the pack because of his foreign policy experience.
“I’ve got a lot of concerns, but that is our No. 1 concern,” Bouldin said. “We’re seeing the news every day of horrendous attacks all across the world. People don’t feel safe.”
Santorum also attended a town hall-style meeting at the Sun City Carolina Lakes Community Center in Indian Land.
Teddy Kulmala • 803-329-4082