Michael A. Memoli, LA Times
Rick Santorum on Monday wore his angry tirade against the media Sunday as a badge of honor, joking that his use of a curse word in an exchange with a New York Times reporter showed he’s “a real Republican.”
Speaking on Fox News Channel this morning, Santorum claimed he was being harassed when he said it was “bull—-” how Times reporter Jeff Zeleny was, in his view, distorting his comments during a campaign rally in Wisconsin while discussing healthcare reform.
At a campaign rally in Wisconsin, which holds the next big GOP primary a week from Tuesday, the former Pennsylvania senator had said that Mitt Romney “is the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama” on the issue.
As Santorum was greeting supporters after, Zeleny put this question to him: “You said that Mitt Romney is the worst Republican in the country. Is that true?
“What speech did you listen to?” an incredulous Santorum fired back.
After Zeleny him again, Santorum jabbed his finger in Zeleny’s direction as he urged him to “stop lying.” Romney is the “worst” on healthcare reform “because he fashioned the blueprint.”
“I’ve been saying it in every speech. Quit distorting my words. If I see it, it’s bull—-. C’mon man, what are you doing?” he said.
Clearly riled, Santorum continued to shake his head and glare at Zeleny even as he interacted with voters along the rope-line.
“What are you guys in the business of doing, reporting the truth? Or are you here to try and spin and make news? Stop it,” he said.
This morning, a more jovial Santorum laughed the incident off while speaking with the crew on “Fox and Friends” on Fox News Channel.
“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.
“It was just one of these harassing moments. After having answered the question a few times, he sort of comes back with the same old question, the same old spin, I just said, I’ve had enough of this you-know-what.”
The Romney campaign, one week after the “Etch-A-Sketch” storyline blotted out what should have been a favorable news cycle for them, has now seized on the Santorum tirade. One Romney aide called it “angry” and flailing” — a “Tantorum.”
Romney’s team certainly has an incentive to push the idea that Santorum is feeling the heat, as it seeks to rally the party behind the former Massachusetts governor in hopes of bringing the internecine battle to an end.
And more leading conservatives are coming around to Romney. Al Cardenas, the chair of the American Conservative Union, writes in an op-ed for the Daily Caller that “it’s time to unite behind a worthy presidential candidate, build our organization and raise the resources necessary to defeat the liberal electoral machine.”
The endorsement from Cardenas, who also supported Romney in 2008, is as much about the reality of the GOP race as it is about Romney’s credentials. Cardenas writes that it’s clear that neither Santorum, Newt Gingrich nor Ron Paul could win enough delegates to claim the nomination, so their only path is a “contested, anarchic floor fight just weeks before Americans vote.”
Romney, he adds, is an “honorable, worthy, competent, conservative candidate.”
Also endorsing Romney today are California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the third-ranking Republican in Congress, and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, a tea party favorite who unseated fellow Republican Robert Bennett in 2010.
Lee said Romney is the one candidate who will be able to win in November and implement policies that “conservatives like me have been fighting for.”
Here’s the CBS video of Santorum’s exchange with Zeleny, followed by a transcript, and Santorum’s comments this morning on Fox News Channel.