| Jocelyn Augustino, American Media Institute

Rick Santorum chides GOP for abandoning social issues

Republicans have only themselves to blame for the rise of Donald Trump, former presidential candidate Rick Santorum told conservative activists Thursday.

"Conservatives are scared about what's happening in the presidential race," Santorum said in a morning address at the annual convention of the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland. "Now you know how the American people have been feeling for the last 10 or 30 years." 

Santorum, who ended his 2016 nomination bid after finishing in 11th place in February's Iowa caucuses, said voters who have been flocking to Trump's campaign "put their faith in the conservative movement. But they don't see anything happening."

The Republican Party has compounded the problem, he said, by lacking a response to the country's leftward lurch on social issues and by failing to show "any unanimity in the conservative movement."

Santorum chided conservatives and Republican officials for favoring businesses over individuals. "We're all in for business," he said, "but divided on workers."

Both need to confront the "huge, transformational changes" affecting American families, he said, particularly those whose bread winners lack a college degree.

The former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania also criticized the Republican and conservative establishments for pushing social issues, such as traditional marriage and abortion, to the political sidelines. "We have to have a passion for these issues. It's easy to say you're for cutting taxes and smaller government."

Santorum's own political fortunes have dwindled as social conservatives have continued to lose ground. His performance this year contrasts sharply with his 2012 presidential campaign, when he won 11 states and came close to besting eventual winner Mitt Romney, who went on to lose handily to President Obama. 

On Thursday, he called on conservatives to rediscover their voices on matters like gay marriage and Obamacare mandates on insurance coverage for abortion and birth control. 

"Tax cuts aren't enough," he said for people who lack an education or feel themselves at the mercy of global economic forces.

Ignoring social issues, and the plight of the poor and working classes, he said, allows "someone [like Trump] who sounds like they are on their side," to earn their support.

"They have every right to be upset," Santorum said, adding that "we can learn from this earthquake going on right now."