Michael Tomasky on Santorum’s Gay Love in the Jan. 8 Debate

It’s unclear whether anyone believed Rick Santorum when he said he’d love his son even if he were gay, says Michael Tomasky.

General observation: lots of heat, especially between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. Gingrich may have landed a blow on the career politician charge, but Romney is so far ahead right now. It seems difficult to imagine his support collapsing in two days. On other arrows fired his way, I thought he deflected them pretty effectively.

As the guy who called Santorum’s rise, I still find him interesting and am very curious about whether he’ll get 10 percent of the vote on Tuesday or 25, because either or anything in between seems possible. He had a good moment, I thought, with his answer to the question about how he’d react if one of his sons were to announce that he’s gay. Santorum: “I’d love him just as much as I did the second before he told me.” General applause to this. I’m not 100 percent persuaded that this is really and fully and completely true, in either Santorum’s case or the audience’s, but everyone knows it’s what you have to say, and he managed to say it with seeming conviction. And it probably helped him appear to be far less extreme on these matters than he actually is (he might love that son as much, but he is on record as saying he does not believe that son ought to be able to do what he chooses in his bedroom). Romney got off a good line during the gay questioning when David Gregory asked him when was the last time he’d done something to support the gay community, and he said, “Right now.” It was clever, but not true. Worked in a primary debate, won’t in a general.

Santorum didn’t get much in on the economy, and that may hurt him. As radical as he is, he’s the only one of the bunch who even uses words like “middle class” and “manufacturing,” but he did not manage to get that part of his package across. I’d guess he didn’t manage to help himself that much, but if Romney was in fact hurt, that vote has to go somewhere. And since Santorum’s still on the upswing, he’s a more plausible candidate for it than Gingrich or Ron Paul—although perhaps not more than Jon Huntsman, who had his moments this morning but still probably can't be competitive in South Carolina or Florida.