So far, Republicans have tried two legs of the proverbial stool: Why not try the third?

Election 2012 was always supposed to be about the economy — the persistent high unemployment rate, sluggish growth, the increase in the debt and deficit — but, with the administration’s announcement that it would uphold the contraception mandate included in Obamacare, the electoral focus expanded to include “culture wars” nobody knew were ongoing. Now, with Syria in crisis and Iran on the brink of nuclear capability, it’s only natural that the election should also be a referendum on the president’s foreign policy. Or so says Rick Santorum:

“That may be the issue of the day come this fall — a nuclear Iran. Or on the precipice of it [with] Israel potentially having to go to war to stop that development,” Santorum told a crowd of more than 500 at an electronics security systems manufacturing plant here shortly after declaring victory in the caucuses in neighboring Kansas.

In the face of increasingly good jobs numbers, he argued, the economy may be taking a back seat to foreign policy. Romney repeatedly has sought to make the case that the election revolves around his ability to bolster the economy better than President Obama.

“I may not have been a Wall Street private equities fund manager, but I served eight years on the [Senate] Armed Services Committee,” Santorum said, in a clear attempt to discredit the experience of his rival, Romney, who has centered his campaign around his business experience. “I led the charge identifying Iran’s nuclear program nine years ago. Authored bills to put sanctions to stop it. We’re not electing a CEO, we’re electing a commander-in-chief and there’s one person on the stage with experience.” …

Santorum responded to his critics who have said his strong rhetoric on Iran is war-mongering by arguing that he authored a bill in 2004 to support the Iranian people against their leaders.

“Not only did Barack Obama vote no, but Joe Biden led a filibuster against my bill. If you want to know what position to take on any national security issue, I got a tip for you — find out what Joe Biden thinks and take the opposite opinion, you will be right every time,” he said.

Perhaps now would be a good time to acknowledge that all three areas — fiscal, social and foreign policy issues — are important. It’s certainly not time to cede the economy to Obama; his policies exacerbated the weak economy he inherited and unemployment is still higher than the day he took office. Voters still say jobs and the economy is the No. 1 issue of the election. As long as the GOP candidates don’t let Obama off the hook for his unprecedented spending, which has only added to the debt that so burdens our economy, then they should feel free to expand the discussion to social and foreign policy issues, all the while emphasizing exactly what Santorum emphasizes: The difference between Obama’s view and the GOP candidates’ view is the difference between a top-down, statist approach and a bottom-up, personal-freedom-and-responsibility approach. (Note the “responsibility” element of that; advocates for the contraception mandate are apt to say they’re advocates for personal freedom, but they seem to think they don’t have to take any personal responsibility for the decisions they make and the costs they incur by those decisions.) That’s the choice in November 2012 and it doesn’t take an exclusive focus on the economy to sell the second approach.