After Debate, Santorum Finds Himself on the Defensive
Former Senator Rick Santorum found himself on the defensive on Thursday after a testy presidential debate on Wednesday night, forced to explain an admission that he had voted for the No Child Left Behind education law even though “it was against the principles I believed in.”
The candid acknowledgement — Mr. Santorum said he had “taken one for the team” — threatened to undercut a central message of his campaign: that he is the unimpeachable conservative in the Republican nominating contest, guided by deep-seated values, not the political currents of the moment.
Mitt Romney and his supporters, sensing a new political opening just days before crucial primaries in Arizona and Michigan, repeatedly assailed the remarks on Thursday, suggesting that they had reflected a lack of personal and political conviction, a charge typically leveled against Mr. Romney.
“I don’t know if I have ever seen a politician explain, in so many ways, why he voted against his principles,” Mr. Romney said during a speech to a trade group in Phoenix. “He talked about this being ‘taking one for the team’. I wonder which team he was taking it for. Our team is the American people, not the insiders in Washington.”
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who has endorsed Mr. Romney, reinforced that line of attack during an appearance on MSNBC. “You can’t compromise your principles because people won’t know who you are,” he said. He called Mr. Santorum’s debate performance “awful.”
Mr. Santorum, under questioning from reporters after the debate Wednesday night, stood by his explanation for his vote, saying that “politics is a team sport.”
“I mean, you’ve got to be able to pull together to get things done,” he said. “We have a long record of getting conservative things done by being — by going out there and making things happen and pulling things together as part of a team.”