Spin Cycle

08.22.12

Rick Santorum: Here Are the Reasons That Romney Might Lose

The former senator is heading to Tampa to speak on behalf of his former rival. He tells Howard Kurtz what Romney must avoid if he is to beat Obama.

Rick Santorum has a simple formulation for how the 2012 election will turn out.

“If the campaign is about issues, we win,” he tells me. “If it’s about Mitt Romney’s record as a businessman, then we don’t win. If it’s about Mitt Romney’s tax returns, then we don’t win. If it’s about whether people like Mitt Romney more than Barack Obama, then we don’t win.”

Despite his bruising primary battle with Romney, Santorum is heading to the Tampa convention next week as a loyal Republican lieutenant on behalf of the party’s ticket. He is energized by Romney’s pick of a fellow Catholic conservative, Paul Ryan—there “couldn’t have been a better choice."

The former Pennsylvania senator knows full well that every time he attempts to defend Romney, journalists will recycle the stinging criticisms they hurled at each other during an unusually personal contest. Santorum’s ragtag, underfunded campaign managed to win 11 states and he was the last man standing against Romney. He also derided his rival’s conservative credentials and said that because of Romney’s Massachusetts record, he was the worst possible nominee to make the case against Obamacare.

“I don’t think that’s a big deal,” Santorum insists. “It was a primary. We were competing against each other. We had differences. Those differences pale in comparison to Obama.

“Did he mischaracterize my record? They can probably make the case that I mischaracterized his record.”

It’s standard fare for losing candidates to try to paper over past attacks, but Santorum did not immediately embrace Romney after dropping out the way that, say, Tim Pawlenty did. The wounds were just too raw. But now Santorum says he’s willing to be an ambassador to the constituencies that never warmed to Romney, in “blue collar” and “rural” areas.

“To the extent I can go to places and get people fired up, I will,” he says.

‘Obama is not really out there defending his record. He’s just attacking Romney and playing the class-warfare game.’

Santorum has a blunt, plainspoken style that served him well when he was pulling off an upset victory in the Iowa caucuses, but also got him into trouble when he strayed into such areas as contraception and separation of church and state. (Remember when he said JFK’s speech on religion “makes me want to throw up”?) These days, as might be expected, he is aiming his rhetoric squarely at the president.

“Obama is not really out there defending his record,” Santorum says. “He’s just attacking Romney and playing the class-warfare game. The wealthy, the rich—every other word is middle class. He says we want to unchain the banks; no one wants to unchain the banks. The idea that you’re trying to pit the money people, banks, business people against the little guy—it’s just disgusting.”

He also accuses Obama of relentless negativity. “What do you expect? He’s got nothing to talk about. He’s got to go out and destroy.”

But Santorum isn’t a rah-rah, my-guy’s-a-lock kind of pol. He concedes that in going up against an incumbent, Romney has yet to establish himself as a fully credible alternative.

“There’s a threshold you have to cross,” Santorum tells me. “People are not going to vote for someone new unless you give them a reason not to keep what they have.”