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ABC "This Week" - Transcript

Interview

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STEPHANOPOULOS: Yesterday's vote wasn't the only loss for Romney this week. On Friday, the Iowa Republican Party took away his eight-vote squeaker in that state's caucuses, announcing after a recount that Rick Santorum was the winner.

And we begin this morning with that candidate, Rick Santorum. He's down in South Carolina this morning. Thanks for coming out this morning, Senator.

Third-place win -- third place in South Carolina, not a win at all. And you're going to be facing right now enormous pressure from many conservatives to get out of this race so they can rally behind one alternative to Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich. Any chance you're going to buckle to that?

SANTORUM: No, in fact, a lot of conservatives are very concerned about the choice between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, because in their opinion and in mine, that's not a choice between a conservative and a moderate. It's a choice between a moderate and an erratic conservative, someone who on a lot of the major issues has been just wrong.

For example, the government-mandated health insurance that is at the core of Obamacare is something Newt Gingrich has supported for 20 years. The big bank Wall Street bailout, something that Newt Gingrich supported. Sitting on the couch with Nancy Pelosi during a very critical time when we were trying to fight off the cap-and-trade bill, immigration and a path to citizenship. I mean, these are core issues of the Republican base where Newt Gingrich is absolutely wrong and, by the way, Mitt Romney is wrong.

And, really, the race is a three-person race, and there's one strong, consistent conservative in this race. There's one candidate that can rally the Republican base, one candidate you don't have to worry about what he's going to say or do. He's going to, you know, criticize Paul Ryan's plan as right-wing social engineering. You know, his campaign staff's going to leave him, you know, en masse. This is not, you know, the old Newt. This is the last six months. So there's a big, big difference between these three candidates.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, Senator, you've been making that case for some time right now. But looking at the exit polls coming out of South Carolina, among the voters who thought that electability, who can beat Obama, was more important -- there were a lot of them, 45 percent -- Newt Gingrich got 51 percent of them, Romney 37 percent. You were way down at 7 percent. And then of candidates looking for a very conservative candidate, a lot of those, as well, 36 percent, but Newt Gingrich gets almost -- more than double what you got.

So if you're not winning among the very conservative and you're not winning among those who want to beat Obama, what's your rationale?

SANTORUM: Well, look, we -- if you look at the numbers in Iowa, they were just the opposite. You look at the numbers in New Hampshire, they were -- they were tilted in a different direction. I mean, Newt put his flag here in South Carolina. It's a state that he knows well. It's a neighboring state for him. He spent all of his time and money down here. I spent a lot -- most of my time and money -- and certainly time, not money -- in Iowa.

And this is -- you know, these three races, in many respects, were -- are baked much more than the races going forward. And now we're going to have an opportunity for folks who haven't had the kind of exposure to the candidates that the three early primary states have, and we're going to see a very, very different dynamic.

George, there's one thing you know, that if you don't like the state of the play of the race right now, just wait until the next race. And we're going to see a completely different story. And that's the dynamism of this race.

So this idea that, because one person did well, Newt finished fourth and fifth. Where was everybody calling him to get out of the race? You know, we finished a very -- you know, we came from single digits in the last week and -- and really had a strong finish, a good debate. You know, we won Iowa, got really no bump from that because it happened the day before the primary.

There's a lot -- there's a lot of races to go. We're going to Florida and beyond.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I think this year you're right, expect the unexpected, every single week. I take your point on that. Senator, you started to make the case against former Speaker Gingrich in your first answer there, talking about him being erratic. At the debate on Thursday night, you said he was grandiose. Let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: I don't want a nominee that I have to worry about going out and looking at the paper the next day and figuring out, what is he -- worrying about what he's going to say next (inaudible) you know, worrisome moment that something that's going to pop, and we can't afford that in a nominee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you saying that Newt Gingrich is too unstable to be the Republican nominee?

SANTORUM: I think if you look at -- look, Newt's a good friend of mine, and I'm -- period. He's a good friend of mine, and I like Newt, and he's -- he's a brilliant guy who has tons of ideas. The issue is discipline. The issue is leadership.

If you look at his leadership, when he was in the House of Representatives, there was a conservative coup within three years of him becoming the speaker and eventually was forced out because of, well, you know, issues of being able to focus, execute, discipline, order, not taking -- you know, not doing things that -- that are coming out of left field. You see this repeatedly. This is not the kind of leadership we need to take on Barack Obama.

We have to have a stark contrast. We have to have someone who makes Obama the issue in this race, not the Republican nominee. If -- if the Republican nominee is someone that the Obama -- can -- can drop $1 billion on ads on top of and make him the issue, then we're going to be in tough shape to be able to win this election.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you like Newt, but you don't think he can be trusted with the nomination or trusted with the White House?

SANTORUM: Yeah, I think he's -- he's -- he's a high -- a very high-risk candidate. That's -- I mean, I've said that from the very beginning. Again, a lot of ideas, brilliant in that respect, but as far as focus, as far as being able to rely on him to come out and -- and deliver that consistent, strong message and not undermine our -- our folks in the House and Senate, not undermine some of the basic things -- look, sitting on a couch with Nancy Pelosi is not a particularly -- not a particularly solid conservative thing when you're out there, as I was, fighting this -- this -- this junk science of manmade global warming and cap-and-trade, and Newt was on the other side. This is -- this is the kind of behavior that we cannot have out of a nominee.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What about Mitt Romney? He may not have the momentum right now, but he does have the money, and his super PAC is already spending it in the big state of Florida, taking aim at you. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(UNKNOWN): Barack Obama knows four facts about Rick Santorum that you don't. Santorum pushed for billions in wasteful pork, voting for the Bridge to Nowhere, a teapot museum, even an indoor rain forest. Santorum voted to raise the debt limit five times, increasing spending and debt by $3 trillion. And he even voted to let convicted felons vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And I know your campaign says you like to live off the land, but how are you going to compete with those kind of resources in the huge state of Florida?

SANTORUM: Well, I mean, we're going to -- we're going to run everywhere. This race isn't going to be over next week in Florida. It's not going to be over the week after when we go to Colorado and Minnesota and Missouri. Look, this is going to be a long race. There's going to be a lot of opportunities for the rest of the country -- I hear this all the time -- why should three states decide who our nominee is? Well, in this race, it's not going to happen. In this race, we're going to have a long campaign, Florida will have its say, you know, Nevada will have its say, and we keep going from state to state.

And I feel very, very comfortable that as people continue to focus in and examine the candidates, who's the best person to win -- you know, that campaign ad, first off, the felon part -- Mitt Romney even admitted that that was wrong. The second part, the spending -- there's been nobody better that -- in cutting entitlements and reforming spending -- those projects he mentioned, none of them were ever built. The reason that -- that we go through this process is to propose things that -- here in the federal level. And the states have a say as to whether they're built or not, and then none of them were.

So this is -- you know, this is the best he has. Why don't we talk about my record on Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, what I've done on welfare reform and transforming the system? We've got the strongest record on spending, and I'm anxious to match that up against Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Where do you plant your flag? You mentioned Nevada. Mitt Romney is pretty strong right there. We know that Ron Paul is going to go play in all of those big caucus states. Your own home state of Pennsylvania doesn't even come up until late April. Where do you get your next win?

SANTORUM: You know, I -- to be honest with you, people asked me that before. Where do you get your first win? And we were able to pull off a big upset. Our feeling is that, you know, we go out and compete. This is a long haul. We picked up delegates today -- excuse me, yesterday. We're going to pick up delegates in the coming weeks. And we're going to have an opportunity, as states in this race evolves, we're going to have opportunities to win states. That's what we believe. We believe that our message is the best and that conservatives have and are starting and will increasingly start rallying around us when they look at the choices.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How big a blow was yesterday to Mitt Romney?

SANTORUM: Oh, huge. I mean, four days ago, George, he was 2-0, about to become 3-0, and this nomination in his and the minds of the media, anyway, was over. He's now -- I've beaten Mitt Romney. Newt Gingrich has beaten Mitt Romney. The idea that conservatives have to coalesce in order to beat Mitt Romney, well, that's just not true anymore. Conservatives actually can have a choice. We can't -- we don't have to rush to judgment. We can actually look at the candidates.

The longer this campaign goes on, George, the better it is for conservatives, the better it is for our party. We stay focused on the issues, which is going out and taking on Barack Obama. The Republicans are the focus. I know why the media would love to have this race over, because they'd like to -- and the Obama administration, because they'd like to take aim on whoever the nominee as quickly as they can and start carpet-bombing them. I don't think that's going to happen, and I don't think it's a good thing that it does happen.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, it looks like it's going to be a long one. Senator Santorum, thanks for your time this morning.

SANTORUM: Thank you very much, George. Appreciate it.

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