No more nice guy as Santorum lashes out

Wed, Mar 28, 2012, 01:00

The former US senator’s behaviour in recent days has raised questions about his character

EVERY DAY, more Republican establishment figures come out in favour of Mitt Romney, urging other candidates to bow out gracefully and spare the party further months of discord.

Rick Santorum is in second place, with 273 delegates to Romney’s 568. He has won 11 of 32 primary contests so far.

The geography of next month’s primaries favours Romney, though Santorum has hopes of winning his home state of Pennsylvania on April 24th, and Texas on May 29th. If he can prevent Romney from reaching the 1,144 delegates needed to secure the nomination, the two will slug it out on the convention floor in August.

But Santorum’s behaviour in recent days is raising questions about the former US senator’s character.

“There would be much more patience for Rick Santorum if Rick Santorum were remaining in the race to advocate for the positions he believes in,” Steve Schmidt, an adviser to John McCain during the 2008 campaign, told the Wall Street Journal. “But what Rick Santorum is doing is tearing down Mitt Romney, tearing down the person who’s going to be the nominee of the party.”

Santorum railed against Romney in a speech on Sunday, repeatedly calling him “the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama”.

Later, New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny asked Santorum: “You said Mitt Romney is the worst Republican in the country. Is that true?”

Santorum lashed out at Zeleny: “Stop lying!” he said, raising his voice in a video captured by CBS and broadcast repeatedly this week. “Quit distorting my words.”

Santorum claimed he had referred only to the issue of healthcare, though the speech was vague. If it was misconstrued in the newspaper, it would be “bullshit”, the devoutly Catholic father of seven cursed, visibly shocking his teenage daughter Sarah Maria, who stood beside him.

The following day, Santorum joked that “any good conservative who hasn’t had a flare-up with the New York Times isn’t worth their salt”. But the outburst led to speculation that Santorum, outgunned and outspent by Romney, is tired and losing his composure. Romney’s “super pac”, Restore Our Future, has spent $35 million (€26 million) on attack advertisements against Santorum and Newt Gingrich, according to the Washington- based Center for Responsive Politics.

Another theory is that after several months of mostly polished behaviour, Santorum is reverting to type. Few of their former colleagues on Capitol Hill have supported either Santorum or Gingrich, a former speaker of the House, evidence of both men’s unpopularity in Congress.

“No more nice guy,” the Washington Post titled an article yesterday that catalogued Santorum’s “once-ornery persona”. During his 12 years in Congress, Santorum was nearly as sarcastic and nasty as the notoriously sharp-tongued Gingrich. He once castigated AmeriCorps – which he later voted for – as a programme “for hippie kids to stand around a campfire to hold hands and sing Kumbaya at taxpayers’ expense”.

Earlier in the campaign, Santorum showed his acerbic side by calling Obama a “snob” for wanting kids to go to college, and by saying a speech by John F Kennedy on the separation of church and state made him “want to throw up”.

Obama’s March 23rd remarks on the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old African-American youth, in Florida brought out the worst in Santorum and Gingrich, both of whom accused the president of exploiting racial tensions when he said, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon”.

“It’s clear the president has been not a uniting figure on an issue that I think many Americans thought he would be,” Santorum said.

If race was a factor in Martin’s death, Santorum continued, “it’s obviously one sick man and to use that instead of just saying, as a healing president would do, to try to bring people together, but instead try to divide people is really a sad, tragic legacy of this president”.

Gingrich called Obama’s words “disgraceful”, saying: “It’s not a question of who that young man looked like . . . Is the president suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot that would be okay because it didn’t look like him? . . . It is sad for all Americans. Trying to turn it into a racial issue is fundamentally wrong. I really find it appalling.”

Gingrich said he took Obama “at his word” when the president said he was a Christian. But he added that it was understandable that many Americans persisted in believing Obama was a Muslim, because he was over-solicitous to Muslims while “going to war” with the Catholic Church.

“Why does the president behave the way that people would think that [he is a Muslim]?” Gingrich asked.