The #26 Ford, sponsored by Rick Santorum, is pushed Saturday during practice for the Daytona 500.

Editor’s Note: Gloria Borger is CNN’s chief political analyst, appearing regularly on shows such as “AC360˚,” “The Situation Room,” “John King USA” and “State of the Union.”

Story highlights

Gloria Borger says now it's the Republicans who are playing class warfare

She notes that the GOP criticized President Obama for "class warfare" on taxes

Rick Santorum is trying to make the case that he represents middle class, she says

Borger: Santorum trying to differentiate himself from Romney, who is much richer

Washington CNN  — 

For months now, the GOP has been complaining about Barack Obama’s class warfare: He’s pitting the wealthy against the middle class. He’s unfairly asking the rich to pay more taxes. He’s dividing the country along economic lines for his own political agenda.

But wait. Has anybody looked at what’s going on in the GOP lately? Can it be that class warfare is alive and thriving among Republicans?

Sure looks that way. How else to explain Rick Santorum calling the president a “snob” for emphasizing the importance of a college education? And when Santorum says that John F. Kennedy’s speech about the absolute separation between church and state made him want to “throw up,” he’s not exactly aiming for the academic theologians.

Gloria Borger

In the meantime, Mitt Romney – that establishment fellow – is out there on the trail talking about his wife driving “a couple” of Cadillacs. Not to mention the fact that he knows the owners, not the drivers, of NASCAR teams. Contrast that to Santorum’s venture into the Daytona 500: His campaign is sponsoring a car, not hobnobbing with team owners.

Looks like the GOP is driving around some circular tracks of its own, wouldn’t you say?

In many ways, this detour into class distinctions isn’t surprising; it’s actually been percolating for years. Remember when Republicans first spoke about the “Sam’s Club” members of their party – that is, their working-class, socially conservative demographic? They were onto something. In fact, the less-educated, white voters have been shifting toward the GOP for some time – and have given the party much of its grass-roots energy.

So in scurries Rick Santorum, trying to differentiate himself from Romney and fill the populist void. As it turns out, it’s pretty easy: He’s the guy from blue-collar Pennsylvania, the grandson of a coal miner. And Romney is a member of the business elite, a platinum card-carrying member of the GOP establishment, son of a scion of the party. Better yet, Romney keeps reminding voters (inadvertently) that he’s not like them, each time he tries to connect with the Average Joe. “It may be important for a voter to be able to relate to a president,” a senior Santorum adviser told me. “But it’s more important for a president to be able to relate to that voter.”

So Santorum is trying to relate to every anti-Romney voter. In Michigan, for instance, evangelicals could account for as much as half of the GOP primary electorate. And Santorum figures he’s getting them pretty well locked up with his church-and-state talk. As for those who self-identify as strongly conservative, he figures he’s handing them red meat with his chatter about Barack Obama’s snobbery – and Romney’s flip-flopping on conservative issues. “We have a long and storied track record of fighting for conservative causes compared to the other candidate who is running here in Michigan at the top of the polls,” said Santorum. “We have a clear difference between someone who has fought in the trenches of the country for conservative causes.”

Santorum’s attacks on Romney just expose the huge chasm within the GOP between the old elite and the new insurgents. And no matter who becomes the nominee, one faction will be disappointed, and disaffected. The question that remains: whether their dislike of Obama can bring the unity that has so far eluded them.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gloria Borger.