Santorum: ‘If you haven’t cursed out a New York Times reporter … you’re not really a real Republican’
Rick Santorum has been working to soften his image in recent days, allowing reporters to follow him on bowling and shuffleboard excursions as he campaigned in Wisconsin over the weekend.
But a heated exchange with a New York Times reporter after a speech Sunday night in which Santorum loudly cursed is giving Mitt Romney’s campaign new ammunition as it seeks to define the former Pennsylvania senator as a hothead.
During a campaign appearance in Racine, Wis., Sunday, Santorum urged attendees to carefully judge Romney’s record, on a series of issues including health care.
“He is the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama,” Santorum declared.
But asked to expand on his comment by Times reporter Jeff Zeleny after the event, Santorum quickly lost his cool. “What speech did you listen to? Stop lying!” Santorum snapped at Zeleny. “I said he was the worst Republican to run on the issue of Obamacare. That’s what I was talking about.”
The incident, which was captured on video by CBS News, shows Santorum angrily accusing Zeleny of twisting his words. “Quit distorting my words. If I see it, it’s bullshit,” Santorum said, wagging his finger at Zeleny.
Romney aides immediately seized on Santorum’s exchange, forwarding Zeleny’s tweet about the incident and including the hashtag “Tantorum.” (The subsequent Times piece did not include Santorum’s curse word, but rather said that he had used an “expletive.”)
“If he can’t deal now, how will he this fall?” Romney adviser Jim Merrill said on Twitter.
Meanwhile Romney strategist Eric Fehrnstrom, whose analogy about a general election reset being like shaking an Etch A Sketch got Romney into trouble last week, also pounced. “Mad Men, for real,” he wrote in one of several messages on Twitter about Santorum’s exchange with Zeleny.
But Michael Biundo, Santorum’s campaign manager, took to Twitter to defend his boss. “You’re not conservative till you call out the New York Times at least once,” he wrote.
And hours later, Santorum’s campaign sent out a fundraising email to supporters based on the incident.
“Earlier today, while campaigning in Wisconsin, I criticized Romney and Obama for their outrageous healthcare legislation. Predictably, I was aggressively attacked by a New York Times reporter all too ready to defend the two of them, and all too ready to distort my words,” the message sent under Santorum’s name read. “Let me assure you, I didn’t back down, and I didn’t let him bully me. 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.”
It was a message Santorum repeated during an appearance on Fox News Monday morning.
“If you haven’t cursed out a New York Times reporter during the course of a campaign, you’re not really a real Republican, is the way I look at it,” Santorum said.