Keep in mind that Rick Santorum is the guy the Republican base wants to be President of the United States. Think about that. He just won the primary elections in Mississippi and Alabama, and he's giving Mitt Romney a run for his money - literally! - everywhere.
This is what it means to be faith-based. What's real isn't what's, you know, real, but only what you feel in your heart.
If I had to pick out the one thing that's gone most horribly wrong in the GOP in recent years, it would be this faith-based thinking. Republicans have abandoned science, which is backed up by evidence, in favor of whatever they want to be true.
But it's not just science they've abandoned, but rational thinking altogether. For Republicans - for the Republican base and Republican leaders, at least - the truth is whatever they want it to be.
The Dutch don't really execute the elderly, but that's the Republican truth. There's not really a federal law that requires states to adopt English as their official language, but that's what Republicans feel in their heart.
Republicans still believe that cutting taxes on the rich will "pay for itself," despite the complete and utter failure of that during the Bush administration, because they simply believe what they believe. They don't accept the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming, or even on evolution, because that's not what they feel must be true, despite the evidence.
It was faith-based thinking that got us to invade an innocent country for no reason. But we'd be greeted as liberators, right? And the war would "pay for itself," right? If you really, really believe it, then it must be true.
Only... not for the people who believe differently. Muslims believe in their heart that Islam must be true, but they're just wrong. Christians, though, who believe in their heart that Christianity is true, well, they're obviously right - unless, of course, they belong to some mainstream Protestant denomination, since Satan has gotten his claws into them. (And yes, that's what Santorum has said.)
Faith-based thinking is invalid. Even if you happened to get the right answer, the process is wrong. It's like guessing the answer to a test. You might happen to get the answer right by guessing, but that's not going to help you on the next question, or to understand the real world at all.
There's a reason why science progresses. Science is the purest expression of evidence-based thinking. But it's far from the only place where we can use evidence-based thinking. In fact, we should use it everywhere. We sure as hell should want our president to use it!
Of course, you can still be wrong if you use evidence-based thinking. It's not magic. Evidence-based thinkers can and do make mistakes, just like everyone else. But just because it's not infallible doesn't mean it's not far and away the best method we've ever discovered of determining the truth - and especially of distinguishing the truth from wishful thinking.
Forget that conservative vs liberal divide. Where the Republican Party has gone horribly, horribly wrong in recent years is to adopt faith-based, rather than evidence-based, thinking - for everything. Their ideology, their faith, is everything, and evidence is nothing. Forget about looking at the results of their policies, because their faith is still unshakeable.
And this means that Republicans don't learn from their mistakes. Invading Afghanistan and Iraq were mistakes, but now they're clamoring for war with Iran. Tax cuts for the rich gave us record-breaking budget deficits and a bubble in arcane financial instruments which collapsed our whole economy, but that's still Republican dogma. Regulations were supposed to be unnecessary, because corporations would just naturally do the right thing. Well, the economic collapse showed the opposite of that, but that hasn't changed their faith.
Republicans claimed that Bill Clinton's tax increases would cause a recession, and instead, we got a booming economy and budget surpluses. It doesn't matter. They don't believe in evidence. The scientific consensus about global warming just gets stronger and stronger, but fewer and fewer Republicans believe it. Well, they have faith. And God promised that he wouldn't create another Flood, right? Abstinence-only sex education doesn't work - there's abundant evidence of that - but Republicans still have faith.
I don't mean to imply that there isn't any faith-based thinking on the left, not at all. But faith-based thinking doesn't control the Democratic Party. (Neither does the left, for that matter.)
Reality isn't just what you want it to be. Evidence is the way we find out we've been wrong. Or right, too, but that's not so important. It's not easy for any human being to admit that he was wrong, but it's impossible if you refuse to recognize the evidence - or prefer faith to evidence, anyway.
This is where the Republican Party has gone most wrong. Almost everything else stems from this. The Republicans' notorious "Southern strategy" filled the party with faith-based thinkers. Since they had plenty of them already, faith-based thinking captured the party.
You can be rational and still be a conservative. What you can't be, not today, is rational and a Republican. Today's Republican Party has simply abandoned rational, evidence-based thinking.
And if you think that Mitt Romney isn't as bad as Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, well, he probably doesn't actually believe what he says, true. Then again, it's really hard to know what Romney does believe, except that he clearly believes Mitt Romney should be president. When it comes to everything else, is he lying now, or was he lying as governor of Massachusetts?
And either way, he's a Republican, so he has to kowtow to the Republican base. That won't stop once he wins the nomination, or even if he gets elected, even if he doesn't believe all that stuff. A politician has to keep the base happy. And he has to work with his own party in Congress.
Romney could be perfectly sane and just faking it for all he's worth, but it wouldn't make much difference. He still has to dance with the one that brung him, no matter how crazy they might get.