Santorum on the Stump, and on His Reality Show

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 6 2011 1:23 PM

Santorum on the Stump, and on His Reality Show

AIKEN, SC -- For the first time this cycle, I got to watch former senator Rick Santorum work his magic on a room of Republican primary voters. Santorum actually arrived a bit early for a luncheon at the West Side Bowery Restaurant, paying for food for around 25 people. (He personally pulled the saran wrap off of the complimentary sandwiches.) The crowd was friendly, and staunchly conservative; most of the people I talked to had voted for Fred Thompson in 2008; all had only reluctantly voted for McCain. They gravitated to Santorum for the reason he's believed to have lost so badly in 2006.

"When you don't get criticism, you don't retract and you don't back down," said Brad Barnes, a local Parks and Recreation employee. "it's really discouraging when I hear someone that represents us say something I agree with, and once they get criticism they back down.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.

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"Yeah, Chris Wallace tried to do that to me last night," said Santorum, "taking a little piece out of a book, in my opinion taking it out of context, and saying I was against working women."

Santorum was combative (not with questioners, but with the subjects of the questions) and comprehensive -- his average answer to a question was around four minutes. (The only question he dismissed was a joke one about whether he'd be for abortion if testing determined that the baby would grow up to be like Nancy Pelosi or Barbara Boxer. "I have faith in all children," Santorum joked, which was probably the only possible answer.) One woman, warning him that she had a "stupid question," re-asked the question posed to Gary Johnson on Thursday, about what reality show Santorum would like. His answer? A show about his family, which would be compelling because his youngest daughter was born with Trisomy 18, a birth defect, and it would be good for Americans to learn more about it.

I'll write up more about Santorum's campaign later, but for now: How long did it take him to take a whack at fellow Republicans in the field? Not long. Chatting with Darlene Duhon and Nancy Boykin before the Q&A, he challenged the idea that Herman Cain had suddenly become credible.

"He's never won an election!" said Santorum. "And it's not that he hasn't tried. He's run twice, and lost."

Taking a question about social issues, which he turned into a short speech about the Constitution and American exceptionalism, Santorum mocked Ron Paul and Gary Johnson's libertarian views.

"They say oh, do whatever you want!" said Santorum, waving his hands in a manner similar to the way Ron Paul raised them while joking about whether legal heroin would turn everyone into a heroin addict.

After the luncheon, Santorum told me he was more confident about the race, post-debate, having seen some of the opposition.

"I certainly didn't feel like I didn't belong there," he said. "I certainly handled the questions and the issues and had the experience to take on these issues as well as anybody. I argue better than anybody else out there. That's why I'm out there."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.