Rick Santorum: The Courage to Say "Bullshit"

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 26 2012 9:26 AM

Rick Santorum: The Courage to Say "Bullshit"

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FOND DU LAC, WI - MARCH 25: Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum holds up an Etch-A-Sketch as he speaks to supporters at a 'Rally for Rick,' at Ledgeview Bowling Lanes on March 25, 2012 in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Santorum is back on the campaign trail following a decisive victory in Louisiana's GOP primary election. (Photo by Mark Hirsch/Getty Images)

Photo by Mark Hirsch/Getty Images

Rick Santorum's no-notes speeches often include a riff about "Obamacare" -- he was never for it, Mitt Romney might as well have been. The Massachusetts health care bill and negotiated and signed into law by Romney included a mandate; Obamacare's currently in the hands of nine people in robes, because conservatives are arguing that the mandate is unconstitutional. Santorum's argument: Mitt Romney can't possibly debate Barack Obama on health care. Neither can Newt Gingrich. Here was how he put it in a March 9 speech.

Why would the Republican Party — on the issue that won us the 2010 election, on the issue that’s at the heart of government robbing you of your freedom . . . nominate either of them, who are uniquely unqualified to make the case to the American public?

In Racine, Wis., Santorum made the same point, but -- as with last week's "don't care about the unemployment rate" line -- left out a key word. (You try and give a speech a bunch of times without doing this. A common mistake I heard over the weekend; a Tea Party activist saying "we'll repeal health care!" instead of "repeal health care reform.")

Maggie Haberman reports on what happened.

Romney is “the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama," he said - although the speech was on health care.
But when [New York Times reporter Jeff] Zeleny asked him about it later, per his Twitter feed, Santorum replied, "Quit distorting my words. It's bullshit."

I wasn't there, but doesn't it sound like Santorum had a point? Here's the Zeleny tweet:

Screen shot 2012-03-26 at 9.15.33 AM

He "says" he was? He was! Maybe it's just karmic justice for all of the dopey teleprompter jokes Republicans have been making, but for the second time in a week Santorum was making a familiar point, changing one phrasing, and getting punished for it. (That said, it was fair to ask if Santorum was expanding his critique -- that Romney was not just the worst candidate on health care, but the worst candidate ever.) The candidate's response: A flash of temper. The campaign's response, understandably, is to stroke the conservative id. This is Santorum's CM on Twitter:

Screen shot 2012-03-26 at 9.03.17 AM

That tweet went out before a fundraising email from Santorum himself, which recast the Zeleny tiff as a St. George/dragon moment. "I didn't back down, and I didn't let him bully me," said Santorum in the email. "I think it is high time that conservatives find the courage to expose the liberal press for what they are, a defender and enabler of Romney's and Obama's liberal agendas." Sometime within the next four weeks, the New York Times will probably endorse Romney, so Santorum can take another whack.  Santorum really does say things that are provably wrong, but they don't get as much attention as this. Instead of fighting the NYT over something like, say, his stories of changing senators' minds with the power of his intellect, or his insistence that Ruth Bader Ginsburg wants us to adopt the South African constitution, Santorum gets to call them out on something he's arguably right about.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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