Will the typical Iowa caucus-goer be comfortable with the White House hopeful’s explanation? Roll Call asked Santorum why he didn’t reach out to Google to try to remedy the problem. He said he never contacted the search giant directly, and his longtime consultant John Brabender dismissed the problem as a matter of free speech.
“There’s still the First Amendment,” Brabender said.
But Roll Call has learned that former staffers consulted technology experts years ago about their options. Ultimately, they found there was little they could do.
“You can bury anything on the Internet,” said David Urban, a Santorum ally and former chief of staff for former Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.). “But at what financial cost and at what political cost? You can bury a bad story. But how do you bury your own name?”
Well, anyone can buy Google ads tied to unfriendly searches, a tactic President Barack Obama’s campaign used to combat myths about his citizenship and religion. But any skilled Web user could deploy the same method Savage used — getting thousands of bloggers to link to a more complimentary site and take it viral.
Urban suggested that Santorum could use the Google problem to his advantage.
“The site’s completely gross. But I don’t think it’s a problem politically for Rick running for president. Quite the opposite,” he said. “If you’re Rick Santorum and you’re making an argument that there’s certain people that wish you ill, there’s exhibit No. 1. You say: ‘You want to see my battle scars? Google my name. You don’t think I’ve been in the trenches for years? I’ve got the scars to prove it.’”
It’s unclear whether Savage imagined his experiment would live on for nearly a decade. The website hasn’t been updated since July 2004, but it remains a prominent search result in early 2011, just when Santorum is laying the groundwork for capturing the Republican nomination for president.
It’s likely that Savage would be pleased. In a Jan. 15, 2004, column, he said it was “wonderful” that his santorum website “is now the first thing that comes up on Google after Sen. Santorum’s own websites.” In the column, Savage responded to a reader and encouraged the media to pick up the story: “My readers and I work like hell to appropriate Sen. Santorum’s name, we succeed beyond our wildest dreams.”
Savage did not respond to repeated interview requests, but he told Mother Jones last fall that now that Santorum is obviously a White House candidate, “I’m going to have to sic my flying monkeys on him.”
Indeed, Santorum’s views on homosexuality won’t help him with gay voters, according to R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans.
Cooper declined to address the Google issue directly but said that “Sen. Santorum’s messaging when it comes to one’s sexual orientation is wrong and divisive for our nation and our party.”