As we sit back and watch the looming CPAC showdown between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, I have a column up at PJ media which was difficult to craft, but has me seeing another side to the idea of having Rick Santorum as the GOP nominee for President of the United States in 2012. This is a conclusion Ed Morrissey reached earlier, though for far different reasons. While it is a bit lengthy and sure to draw criticism, I would appreciate it if you gave it a read once we finish with this discussion, which I could only describe as “part two” and a conclusion to the process.

We have a number of candidates who are each, in their own way, problematic for various conservatives and members of the Republican Party. It’s a combative process by design, built to eliminate the weaker members of the herd and produce the strongest candidate in the fall, as it should be. But if we are to look through the long lens of days to come, I have arrived at the conclusion that winning one race may not be as important as boiling down this balancing act which goes on between various conservative factions when fashioning a national election strategy.

The fact is that I feel the coming presidential election will be anything but a cakewalk for the Republican nominee. That’s not to say that we should begin composing a eulogy for conservatism by any means. The domestic agenda of Barack Obama, particularly in terms of regulatory overreach, energy policy and taxation are nothing short of disastrous, and should give pause to enough voters to make a Republican victory possible. But it is not assured, given recent improvements in the jobs numbers and the President’s personal appeal. At best, this will be a tight race which depends in large part upon the political skills and messaging of the teams arrayed on each side.

But victory or defeat will not, as I see it, settle the larger challenge facing the Republican Party. As I noted in the aforementioned column, the real battle is being waged inside the tent, not on the front lines, and it involves how heavily the social conservative wing of the party (the Socons) influence the selection of the eventual nominee.

One of the chief sources of internecine scrapping and grumbling among Republicans has come from the ranks of the social conservatives, or Socons as they are frequently known. We have already spent time speculating what would happen if Mitt Romney becomes the nominee. If he loses to Obama in November, the Socons will once again say that it was because cowardly, establishment party leaders failed to push forward a sufficiently conservative warrior who would fire up the base as a champion of socially conservative principles. If he wins, the Socons could quietly grumble that he’d simply gotten lucky against a deeply flawed President running on a failed record and bide their time until the next open seat in the Oval Office came up for grabs.

Similarly, if Newt Gingrich were to lose to Obama, the blame could be heaped on his own shortcomings and extensive, frequently controversial biography. After all, his three marriages and “complicated” history didn’t exactly make him a darling among evangelical Christians. The same excuses could be applied with slight modifications.

But Rick Santorum is a horse of an entirely different color who could serve as the ultimate test of this theory and put the question to rest once and for all. Is the secret to electoral success truly found in a take no prisoners, hard core, rock ribbed conservative? Is this truly what America is pining for?

As I go on to point out, I don’t think that’s where America stands today. I cite a number of positions which Santorum takes which are near and dear to the hearts of Socons around the country, replete with archived video clips of quotes he repeated on these subjects.

These include filmed statements where Santorum comes out in favor of incarcerating doctors who perform abortions on women diagnosed with ectopic pregnancies, claims that the legal availability of birth control technology is “dangerous” and should be outlawed by the states, and proclamations that biological evolution is not only inferior to creationism or intelligent design, but is essentially bunk. These, along with other comments about gays and such are the feature reel items which I predict Team Obama will use to shift the electoral battle from an indictment of the President’s failed policies to a referendum on Rick Santorum’s “radical social conservative agenda.”

This could be precisely what the Republican Party of the 21st century needs. Either these are the true set of values which represent a winning combination for national electoral success or they are an anchor which will hamper the ambitions of fiscal, small government conservatives for years to come. The problem, as noted in the PJ Media column, is that we have never had the opportunity to perform this experiment in real time. Mitt Romney may win in the fall if he is nominated, but that won’t satisfy the social conservatives. They will simply say that nearly anyone could have snuck by when running against a crippled incumbent with a failed domestic agenda, and we could have had much better. And if he loses, they will loudly proclaim, yet again, that the candidate lacked the certifiable, social conservative bona fides required to win over the nation. No… what is needed is a tsunami of social conservative awesomeness.

Socons have been complaining for ages about the propensity of the establishment GOP to back social conservative geckos when they seek a Komodo dragon. With Rick Santorum we could, at last, put forward the social conservative Godzilla, destroyer of worlds. And when the dust settles in November we would finally have the answer to the question once and for all.

So this is it. Perhaps the time has come. We could settle the “big tent” issue once and for all. If the Socons are correct and this is what America wants, then Republicans should continue to cleave to the banner of Leonidas, standing steadfast against the Persian hordes. (Or the RINOs, at least.) A clear, resounding victory by Santorum in November would prove the naysayers right and show us where the GOP’s priorities should lie going forward. But if they are not – as I personally suspect – and Santorum is utterly destroyed in the general election, then the alternate answer will be made clear. It will be time for the social conservative leg of the stool to be kicked out from under the seat, (specifically speaking in terms of presidential elections) converting it into a two-legged walker. This would still allow Socons to focus on winning local elections and single district races, building support of their views for the future, but ceding some ground in the presidential nomination process in the present so that more “big tent” interests can take the helm for national battles.

If Rick Santorum is nominated, it could finally be the end of this debate, and rather than bandying it about in the empty halls of social media we will have put it to the test at the ballot box. Then and only then would we have the hard data to help us find the right “fuel mixture” when building a winning presidential ticket.

Yes, the cost wwould be high if it turns out that America is not ready for that social conservative Godzilla. I have no wish to see four more years of Barack Obama’s destructive and dysfunctional energy and regulatory policies, nor his visions of “fair” taxation. But in the long view of history, we’re only talking about 48 months in a nation which has thus far survived for centuries. We would still endure. And with the knowledge we gain from either a horrific beating or a spectacular victory, we could be better equipped to make high percentage selections in the future.