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BLITZER: Right now, it's Rick Santorum's turn to respond to opponents who say he's in panic mode right now losing his discipline. The Republican presidential candidate is under fire for lashing out at a "New York Times" reporter and cursing at him. The dust up stems from a remark Santorum made hammering Mitt Romney on the issue of healthcare.
BLITZER: And joining us now, Republican presidential candidate, Rick Santorum. Senator, thanks very much for coming in.
RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Good to have you here in the SITUATION ROOM.
SANTORUM: It's great to be in the SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: All right. Good to have you in Washington. Let's talk a little bit about this commotion that was generated over the past couple of days, and I want to, obviously, be very clear to you, I'm going to play the clip that generated some of the excitement. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANTORUM: $50 abortion subsidized by Romneycare. And if you're low income, they're free. Why would we put someone up who is uniquely -- pick any other Republican in the country! He is the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama. Why would Wisconsin want to vote for someone like that?
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. That was the clip in context what you were talking about to which Jeff Zeleny of the "New York Times" saw you in the rope line, and he asked you this question, and you had this exchange with him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said that Mitt Romney is the worst Republican in the country. Is that true?
SANTORUM: What speech did you listen to?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right there.
SANTORUM: Stop lying. I said he was the worst Republican to run on the issue of Obamacare, and that's what I was talking about. I have said uniquely -- for every speech I give, I said he is uniquely disqualified to run against Barack Obama on the issue of healthcare. Would you guys quit distorting what I'm saying?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You think he is the worst Republican to run --
SANTORUM: To run against Barack Obama on the issue of healthcare, because he fashioned the blueprint. I've been saying it at every speech. Quit distorting my words. If I see it, it's (EXPLETIVE DELETED). Come on, man. What are you doing?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. The question -- obviously, that was in the context as well. Any regrets how you handle that?
SANTORUM: No, no. I mean, he came on to me -- and first stuff, it's the third time I was asked that question in the matter of four minutes.
BLITZER: By Jeff Zeleny?
SANTORUM: No, by reporters. And there was a whole gaggle of reporters, literally, five feet away and he was standing there. I'm sure -- I mean, I don't know he -- I assume he was standing there. Everyone was sort of standing in the group, there was a large group there. I was asked that question. I was asked it again.
And then, he comes over and he says, so, Mitt Romney is the worst Republican in the country? That's what he said, listen to his words. And I think, what speech did you listen to?
I mean, I was talking about Obamacare and Romneycare and the fact that, as I said, Governor Romney's uniquely disqualified to make the case. Why? Because he wrote the blueprint for Obamacare. And then to say, you know, spin this as Rick Santorum said he's the worst Republican in the country?
This is the kind of stuff that we've been seeing from the Romney spin machine. Their press secretary was back in the back of the room, out there feeding lines to the national press. And you know, I repeatedly battened it down, gave responses.
BLITZER: In fairness, you did say -- and in the context of health care, but you did say that one line he is the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama.
SANTORUM: On this issue.
BLITZER: But you didn't say on this issue, but that was context.
BLITZER: -- to clarify that and you lost it.
SANTORUM: It was the third time I was asked to clarify, it was the third time in a matter of two minutes. And in this case, he just said, do you think -- he said, Mitt Romney is the worst Republican in the country, he stopped there. He didn't say on this issue. And, again, it was first -- he was the worst Republican, and then, there was another one, and then, he took it one step further.
And I just thought, you know what, if this is the kind of spin, and by the way, this is the spin that's been going on out there. Taking comments that I've made completely out of the context which I made them. This is what they make a living on, instead of covering the context, which is what I discussed at the Supreme Court today, which is Mitt Romney cannot run this race on Obamacare.
BLITZER: Because as you saw the Romney folks came out quickly with the statement raising questions about your temperament --
BLITZER: -- because you had this exchange with Zeleny.
SANTORUM: Any good conservative who hasn't had a flare up with "The New York Times" isn't worth their self (ph).
BLITZER: But you know Jeff Zeleny. He's a very solid reporter.
SANTORUM: I don't know Jeff Zeleny.
BLITZER: He's a very serious political reporter. He's not like a hacker --
SANTORUM: Well, hold on. So, what he said was not anywhere consistent with what I said. I mean, he went out and said, so Mitt Romney is the worst Republican. That's what he --
BLITZER: Because another Romney folks are saying temperamentally, you're not suited to be president, because you lost it in this exchange with the reporter. Here's the statement they put out. "In the final stages of his campaign, Rick Santorum is lashing out withes desperate and flailing attacks, and now, he is in full panic. His behavior sad is sad to watch." That's from the Romney campaign.
SANTORUM: After I won Louisiana by 23 points. Look, if this is all the Romney campaign can do is send people to my speeches, take comments out of context --
BLITZER: They didn't send Jeff Zeleny to your speech.
SANTORUM: No, but they --
BLITZER: He's been covering you for a long time.
SANTORUM: I understand, but just so you understand, they sent a Romney person to our speech. He fed the line to all the reporters. We saw it happening. And every man in that room, even reporters, yes, we understand what you meant. But, you know, the Romney people said this to us, so we had asked about. That's what happened.
And so, you know, look, I understand the game, but you talk about desperate and pathetic, Mitt Romney can't run on his record. He can't run on -- here we have the whole world watching, what's going on here in Washington, the Supreme Court argument. Mitt Romney is 3,000 miles away. He should be here. This is an issue that Barack Obama is running -- he's 7,000 miles away.
He doesn't want anything to do with Obamacare. He celebrated the anniversary last week, no comment. Nothing. And he's running away from it.
And unfortunately, if you want Obamacare repealed as a conservative, as -- 75 percent of Americans want it revealed because of the individual mandate, then you're going to have to have a campaign about repealing it and why it should be repealed and the person who passing the blueprint and advocated for that blueprint to be adopted to the federal level, which Mitt Romney did, is, in fact, uniquely disqualified to make that argument.
BLITZER: So, what do you say to a Jeb Bush or an Eric Cantor or a Nikki Haley or Chris Christie who say you know what? He's the best qualified person to challenge the president of the United States in his bid for re-election. SANTORUM: I have a lot of supporters who would say that I'm the best person. I mean, there are supporters of his. Fine with that. But look, I'm talking about what is objectively the case. What is objectively the case is that he had a government mandated healthcare program in Massachusetts. It required everybody to have it. He fined if you didn't.
They put limits on the kind of policies you could have. They put up insurance exchanges managed by the government. They have subsidies given by the government. They employed Medicaid that covered most of the people who come on to the program (ph). This is exactly the model of Obamacare.
BLITZER: Having said all that, if he is the Republican nominee, you'll vote for him.
SANTORUM: Absolute -- look, I start every speech, Wolf, by saying, this is the most important election of our lifetime, and though, we have to defeat Barack Obama, but the reason I said I'm in this race and I believe that that's the case is Obamacare.
And if we don't have a candidate who's 3,000 miles away because he doesn't want to talk about the issue, because he can't on substance disagree with the policies of this administration, other than the fact that it's the federal level as opposed to the state level.
We are in desperate shape to run a campaign to convince the American public to not only elect a Republican, but elect a Republican with the mandate to make the changes that are necessary.
BLITZER: If the Supreme Court appalls the law, what's your strategy?
SANTORUM: Full force. You know, this is bad for our country. It will rob us of our freedom.
BLITZER: What would you do?
SANTORUM: Well, I'll continue to make the case of the American public that Barack Obama has to be defeated, otherwise, this bill is going to be implemented. And if it's implemented, it's going to take our freedom away, it's going to destroy the economy of this country, it's going to raise unemployment rates, it's going to balloon the size of the government, and it's going to dramatically increase our deficit. This is a loser on every single front.
BLITZER: Let's talk about your strategy for a moment, because all of the math that we've done suggests that you don't have a realistic chance of getting to 1,144. Romney does, but you might be able to prevent him from reaching that. Is it your goal just to have a debate on the convention floor?
SANTORUM: With all due respect, we don't agree with your numbers. We think they're wrong.
BLITZER: Do you think you can realistically get to 1,144 before the convention?
SANTORUM: We think we can get there, and we think the likelihood, I would agree with that, I think the likelihood that neither of us can get there, but I think we can still get there. Our numbers are very different than yours. You have some calculations with Florida, Idaho, Arizona, for example, winner take all. As, you know, the RNC rules, so you can't have a winner take all.
So, those will be apportioned at the convention, and you give Romney all those delegates, you know, Newt Gingrich or any of them. So, you're going to see a lot of changes when the reality sets in that this race is all likelihood going to go to the convention.
And, there may be someone with what they say are enough delegates, but as you also know, Wolf, a huge number of delegates are uncommitted. They may be for me or they may be for Mitt, but they're technically uncommitted, and therefore, you can't put them in your column.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the president of the United States. You used some pretty harsh rhetoric in going after him. I'll play a little clip of something you've said repeatedly. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANTORUM: I'm going to ask each and every one of you to act over the next 24 hours. Your freedom is at stake, because it is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Your freedom is at stake.
BLITZER: That makes it sound like people are going to go (INAUDIBLE) or there's going to be a totalitarian regime here or our freedom is going to be taken away from us.
SANTORUM: As I just talked about, our freedom is going to be at stake, because you now have the government telling you that you will buy what the government says you have to buy, whether it's what you want or not, whether it's how much you want to pay or not, a private citizen on a condition of living in America is going to be forced to do something that never before a government has imposed upon.
And, as we've seen with these regulations, even if it violates your deeply held religious convictions, the federal government is going to force you to do something that violate your tenants and teachings of your faith. That is First Amendment freedoms, economic freedoms, religious freedoms being taken away by a government who believes they know better how to run your life --
BLITZER: You also have a brand-new web ad that paints an apocalyptic image of what could happen in the country if President Obama is re-elected. I'll play you a little clip of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Imagine a small American town two years from now if Obama is re-elected. Small businesses are struggling and families are worried about their jobs and their future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Just to be fair to the president of the United States, when he took office, the country was near a recession, a great recession. Losing 700,000 jobs a month, now over the past few months, gaining 200,000 jobs a month. The stock market was, what, around 7,000 something like that. Now, it's over 13,000.
It doesn't look like -- and the economic indicators are moving in the right direction as opposed to the wrong direction.
SANTORUM: Well, first off, this has been the most anemic recovery in the history of our country.
BLITZER: It's been a recovery.
SANTORUM: Well, but it's anemic. And the rates of growth that are sustainable at increasing jobs. This president has exploded, exploded the credit card. $5 trillion added to the national debt. That's going to come a cropper (ph) at some point for the American people, and we know it.
We'll either do it by having huge amounts of debt payments that we're going to have to pay, which of course will further balloon the deficit or huge tax increases are going to put in effect. You see as energy policy is driving up the cost of energy, which of course will slow down the economy.
BLITZER: But in terms of the right track, we're on check (ph). The country was clearly on the wrong track in 2008.
SANTORUM: Three and a half years, Wolf, and we're still talking about a pathetic economy.
BLITZER: A lot of workers, auto workers, auto suppliers, they have jobs now because of some of the steps he took.
SANTORUM: There may be one or two places where the president can point to, but the fact of the matter is for almost four years, this president has -- governed an economy that is suffering, struggling, and blowing holes through our deficit.
BLITZER: We're out of time, but people in Pennsylvania, your home state, are they better of today than they were four years ago?
SANTORUM: I'm happy to ask that question, and I guarantee --
BLITZER: What do you say?
SANTORUM: I don't think by any stretch --
BLITZER: -- on the verge of a great recession?
SANTORUM: What we've seen is a great recession over the past four years. We've seen unemployment rates above eight percent for the longest time since the great depression. Yes, we have a president who has destroyed our fiscal picture (ph). When I left the Senate in 2006, the 64 percent was the percentage of debt to the overall economy.
It's now 110 percent. I mean, we are in hack (ph). And for all that in hack (ph), we have an economy that's listless. Unemployment rate is over eight percent. Energy prices skyrocketing, a consumer confidence just in the dump. This is a disastrous four years under this president, and it would be even worse if he gets reelected.
BLITZER: Senator Santorum, thanks for coming in.
SANTORUM: My pleasure, Wolf. Thank you.
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