Via BuzzFeed, here’s Santorum springboarding off of Craig Robinson’s post yesterday dismissing Cruz as a “false prophet of social conservatism.” Apparently you can’t be a truly strong social conservative if you’re a federalist on “values” issues.

“Donald Trump has never been a social conservative up until the last few months, and Ted Cruz takes the position, very much a 10th Amendment, states rights, which is, you know, very much Rand Paul, Ron Paul position,” Santorum said…

“If people want to do drugs in Colorado, it’s fine with him,” said Santorum. “If people want have different kind of marriages, it’s fine with him. He doesn’t agree with it. If you want to have an abortion, it’s fine with him, he doesn’t agree with it, but he’s not gonna fight it. That’s not what people are looking for. They’re looking for someone who has a very clear vision of what’s right and what’s wrong and be able to lay that vision out for the American people.”

I wonder if Santorum’s being deliberately dishonest, staring up at Cruz from one percent in the polls, or if he’s misinformed about Cruz’s position. Unless I missed something, Cruz has never said that abortion should be left to the states. As recently as a month ago, he told an audience that he’d support having Congress use its power under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment to protect life in the womb and effectively undo Roe v. Wade. Watch the second clip below for that. Whether a federal court would uphold a congressional statute that purported to do that is an open question — I’d bet heavily against it — but if Cruz’s strategy worked, it would mean constitutional rights for fetuses coast to coast, as a matter of federal law, whether blue states liked it or not. His position on abortion is not federalist. (Ironically, it’d be blue states offering Tenth Amendment arguments to protect abortion rights if Congress and President Cruz enacted a law like the one he describes.)

But abortion is life-and-death. Most other “values” issues are not, and Santorum’s right that Cruz seems willing to defer to the states on many of those, including marijuana laws and gay marriage. To some of us, that’s a feature in Cruz 2016, not a bug. But even if you think it’s a bug, what’s President Santorum going to do for you on gay marriage that President Cruz isn’t? The false choice being offered is between a president who’ll somehow roll back SSM across the country (Santorum) and a president who’ll tolerate its existence in liberal-leaning states (Cruz). But the Senate won’t have anywhere near the two-thirds majority you’d need to pass an amendment overturning gay marriage for many years to come, if ever. So the actual choice you have is between a president who’ll spend a lot of time complaining about that (Santorum) and a president who’ll complain about it somewhat less (Cruz). Supreme Court appointments won’t differ much either. There are plenty of conservative judges who’d vote to undo SCOTUS’s ruling legalizing gay marriage, I assume, but overturning that decision would simply bring you back to the federalist status quo where states are free to govern marriage as they see fit. Is President Santorum going to get Congress to pass a new DOMA law at that point banning SSM in the states? Would that be constitutional on Tenth Amendment grounds? Would there even be 60 votes for a law like that in the Senate given that a majority of Americans support gay marriage? C’mon.

In fact, as a matter of pure strategy, I’d say Cruz’s federalist approach is marginally more likely to reduce the number of gay marriages than Santorum’s absolutist approach is. Liberals will fight their Supreme Court appointments tooth-and-nail either way, but the stakes will be lower if they know SSM will continue in blue states even if a new Republican justice votes to overturn the Obergefell decision. If instead the president is vowing to rid the land of gay unions in one fell swoop — which, again, he has no means of doing — it’ll be armageddon. You’re more likely to gradually turn the tide towards a conservative position, I think, by making the sort of red-blue compromise Cruz has in mind and trying to persuade pro-SSM voters than by starting a cycle where Republican and Democratic presidents try to nuke the previous administration’s marriage laws every four years with new SCOTUS appointments, new federal statutes, etc. By 2020, President Santorum has rolled back gay marriage … only to lose in 2024 to new president Cory Booker, who manages to reinstate the practice. But then President Ben Sasse sweeps to victory in 2028 and vows to roll things back again. And so on, and so forth. If an individual state wants to go through that cycle, that’s on them. Why make the whole country endure it?

How you feel about this depends on how you feel about letting majorities experiment. Santorum would use federal power to cut off a state’s ability to try out things like gay marriage and drug legalization (even though some polls show state and national majorities support liberalization in both cases). Cruz would defer on the assumption that if the experiment doesn’t work out, the state majority will correct itself by passing new laws. If you want your values imposed by legal force coast to coast and don’t particularly care how many other Americans might object to that, you’ve got the Santorum option. If you’re willing to let people see for themselves how unorthodox values play out in practice while urging them to be more traditional, you’ve got Cruz.

Update: Oops, had a typo in the headline. Fixed now.