So what does Rick Santorum know about Honduras?

The Iowa Caucuses are tonight, meaning it's do-or-die time for Rick Santorum, the GOP field's latest flavor of the week. A strong third place finish from Santorum will likely provoke a new round of media attention for the former Pennsylvania senator heading into the New Hampshire primary. 

Buzzfeed's newly revamped political team was on the ground in Iowa this week to ask Santorum supporters why they are enthusiastic about the once-fringe candidate. In addition to unsurprising responses like "Good Christian Man" and "Strong Family Values," a young woman named Nheylin, describes Santorum's appeal as, "He knows about Honduras."

Considering some of the other candidates who have garnered attention in this primary, it's possible that Nheylin is simply giving Santorum credit for being aware of the existence of a small country north of Nicaragua. More likely, she's referring to his surprisingly consistent emphasis on Latin America policy.

Santorum attacked the U.S. handling of the 2009 coup in Honduras right from the start:

[T]he Honduran people had had enough. They sent President Manuel Zelaya, a Chavez wannabe, packing.

Bravo for them? Not according to President Obama, who has insisted on the reinstatement of this democratically elected president. True, Zelaya was democratically elected to the presidency - initially, in 2005. But ever since, he's been trying to copy Chavez's power grab.

That's not quite how most Latin American governments -- including pro-American ones -- or Honduras' own truth and reconciliation commission saw it. Also, the U.S. did eventually establish diplomatic relations with Honduras' new government. But Santorum does seem to have closely followed the issue.

Santorum has also been among the Republicans in the race beating the drum on the threat of Islamist infiltration in Latin America. This also ties in to his stance on Honduras:

Well, I've spent a lot of time and concern -- and Rick mentioned this earlier -- about what's going on in Central and South America. I'm very concerned about the militant socialists and there -- and the radical Islamists joining together, bonding together.

I'm concerned about the spread of socialism and that this administration, with -- time after time, whether it was the delay in moving forward on Colombia's free trade agreement, whether it was turning our back to the Hondurans and standing up for democracy and the -- and the rule of law.

And we took the side with Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro for a corrupt President. We've sent all the wrong signals to Central and South America.  

Again, I'm not quite sure that either side in the Honduras dispute really exemplified the "rule of law," but the argument seems to be that if Chavez and Castro are against something, the United States must, by default, be for it. Santorum even brings up Honduras when he talks about Iran:

If we are in a position where Iran is close to getting a nuclear weapon, then action needs to be taken. It simply can’t be ignored. I mean, Imagine this. Imagine if Honduras has been making noise about trying to destroy the United States and that they were developing a nuclear weapon, and we had a report saying they were in a few months of developing a nuclear weapon. Would we just sit there knowing that they had made comments that they would destroy our country and they were about to get a nuclear weapon? Would we sit there and allow them do that? I don’t think any Americans would let that happen. 

I don't quite follow this, but it's fair to say that if you're the type of Iowa voter for whom a strong stance on Honduras is the top priority, Santorum may be your man.

It makes sense given Santorum's fairly Manichean worldview, which is centered around a global struggle to confront the "cancer" of radical Islam, that he would fixate on Honduras. It's a case where the overall good guys vs. bad guys narrative (a corrupt, populist, anti-American leader is overthrown) can overwhelm the inconvenient facts. (Rather than resigning in the face of a popular uprising, he was dragged out of bed by the military and put on a plane out of the country in the middle of the night.) It's similar to his views on Egypt, where he has attacked Obama for throwing U.S.-ally Hosni Mubarak "under the bus" in favor of anti-Israel extremists. Evidently "democratic" and "rule of law" for Santorum, are synonyms for pro-American and pro-Israel.

Santorum's railing against the dark side get a little sloppy sometimes, such as when he promised to "go to war with China" or called Iran's Green Revolution the "real" Arab Spring. (One that conveniently didn't involve Arabs.) But unlike Romney, his foreign policy views are unflaggingly consistent, and unlike Paul, they're in line with the GOP mainstream. It's probably not enough to win him the nomination, but it's not surprising that he's getting a second look from the party faithful.

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The Election 2012 Weekly Report: Countdown to Iowa

The "dangerous" Ron Paul

With the latest polls showing him neck-and-neck with Mitt Romney in Iowa leading up to next week's caucuses, Ron Paul hasn't been toning down his non-traditional foreign policy rhetoric. Paul described sanctions against Iran as an "act of war" in front of a crowd in Iowa, and said Iran would be justified in blocking the Straits of Hormuz if they had no other recourse to respond.

Paul's unexpected poll surge has made him a target. In addition to the ongoing controversy over newsletters published under Paul's name during the 1990s, many of the attacks focus on his isolationist national security views. "One of the people running for president thinks it's O.K. for Iran to have a nuclear weapon. I don't," Romney told a crowd this week. Michele Bachman, whose own campaign seems to be fading fast, called Paul's foreign policy beliefs "dangerous." Influential Iowa Representative Steve King also attacked his congressional colleague, saying  "I don't think that the Paul supporters have really stepped back and thought about what would happen if Ron Paul were operating out of the Oval Office and the commander-in-chief of our armed forces." New Hampshire's influential Union Leader newspaper, in endorsing Newt Gingrich this week, blasted Paul for spouting "nonsense" on national security.

Paul's campaign has brushed off the charges of national security naiveté, touting his popularity among veterans and claiming that he has "raised more funds from active military personnel than all other GOP competitors combined."

A late Santorum surge

All but written off just a few weeks ago, the conservative standard-bearer Rick Santorum is enjoying a late surge heading into the caucuses, with one recent poll putting him in third place. "I expect him to have a significantly better caucus night than predictors, the pundits, and the polls, have said over the last month," said Steve King. Santorum's rise is fueled mainly by Iowa's evangelical voters and is significant enough that Rick Perry has begun running ads attacking the former Pennsylvania senator's past support for earmarks.

In a recent radio interview, conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt asked Santorum if President Barack Obama intended for an Islamist front to take power in Egypt. Santorum wouldn't go quite that far but said that "this is a president who doesn't believe the Muslim Brotherhood is an Islamist front" and "does not understand what radical Islam is and its threat to the West." He also suggested the possibility of taking action against Iran to "show that we are not going to allow radicals to gain power and to use that power for purposes of spreading their radical jihadist ideology." 

Condi for Veep?

The Gingrich campaign's sagging fortunes don't seem to have discouraged the candidate from daydreaming of filling Cabinet posts and officials in his administration. At a speech in Columbia, South Carolina, Gingrich said he'd love to see former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a vice presidential debate with Joe Biden. "That would be about as great a mismatch of knowledge versus ignorance as we've seen," Gingrich said. Gingrich quickly denied that he was endorsing Rice for vice president, just praising her as a "terrifically smart" person. Gingrich had previously suggested he could nominate John Bolton as his secretary of state.

Gingrich wasn't the only one looking to start the veepstakes early this week. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich suggested that Biden should switch places with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the 2012 race, in order to "stir the passions and enthusiasms of a Democratic base."

Obama on a roll

Still benefiting from this month's fight with Republicans over extending the payroll tax cut, the president's approval ratings (47 percent) are now above his disapproval ratings (45 percent) for the first time since July 2010. But, since World War II, only Harry Truman won reelection with an approval rating below 48 percent.

What to watch for

Iowans will caucus on Tuesday, Jan. 3, in the country's first major primary contest. RealClearPolitics' current poll average for the state has Romney at 21.6 percent, Paul at 21.2 percent, and Santorum and Gingrich tied at 14 percent. The New Hampshire primary -- which Jon Huntsman has chosen to focus on exclusively -- follows just a week later.

The latest from FP

Scott Clement looks at why Republican candidates are still failing to connect with Hispanic voters. 

Uri Friedman surveys the GOP field's selective approach to American exceptionalism, which makes room for Swiss healthcare, Chilean retirement schemes, and a Chinese-style (lack of) welfare state.  

The contributors to FP's Shadow Government blog, are weighing in this week with their assessments of how president Obama has handled foreign policy and national security this year.

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