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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript


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Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

Why are you more qualified to be president of the United States than Herman Cain?

FORMER SEN. RICK SANTORUM, R-PA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Since you just heard Herman talk about Wall Street versus main street, both of them as, quote, "business people" supported the Wall Street bailout, supported the TARP program, supported a huge government intrusion into the private sector, something that is antithetical to most conservatives and certainly most people I'm talking to out on the campaign trail.

So you really need to look at someone who understands the consequences of our actions in Washington. I've been in Washington a long time. I was there 16 years. But you'll learn a lot from that experience. And one thing you learn is you don't give that kind of power to Washington and set a precedent that future presidents in fact did drive a truck through.

BLITZER: You know both Mitt Romney and Herman Cain, Herman Cain a former governor of the Federal Reserve out in Kansas City, they both say in support of that TARP money, millions of Americans would have lost their entire savings if the U.S. would have let the banking industry down.

SANTORUM: And look at what's happening now. Look at the housing market. Look at this economy. It has been on life support for over three years because we didn't let the marketplace work. These are guys who say they believe in the marketplace and yet they were for the biggest government intervention in the history of our country

And what's happened is now government has more control over the private sector. They complain about that, but they were one of the folks who opted that in and encouraged that to be done. I knew enough having the experience I had that the last thing we would do is let the government micro manage the sector. Let the markets do it. Would it have been more severe? Possibly. But what you wouldn't have had is government managing the economy as dramatically as it is now as a result.

BLITZER: So, these two front-runners, Mitt Romney and Herman Cain, who's more qualified to be president of the United States as the true conservative?

SANTORUM: Well, look, I don't think either of them have great conservative credentials. BLITZER: Either of them?

SANTORUM: You look at Herman Cain. He's putting forward a brand new tax for the American public, a national sales tax at the same time that we're going to have an income tax and value added tax, which he calls a corporate tax. That's not a conservative proposal in my opinion. That's giving more tools for Washington to take more money from the American public.

BLITZER: He says most Americans would wind up paying less.

SANTORUM: Most American will wind up paying more. You have half of Americans who don't play any kind of federal income taxes.

BLITZER: So, he's not a true conservative.

SANTORUM: The reason I've been as you know, Wolf, I've been sort of somebody who's been out there and interacting with the candidates because I have the most consistent conservative record on whatever issue it is, whether it's moral, cultural issues, whether it's economic issues, or whether it's national security issues, I've got a strong conservative record, a good background in all of them and can be very aggressive.

BLITZER: You're not sure that Mitt Romney's a true conservative either. Is that what you're saying?

SANTORUM: I think Mitt Romney is someone who raised taxes, someone who instituted gay marriage in the state of Massachusetts when he didn't have to. You look at Romneycare, which is a huge government takeover. It's and just interesting that Duval Patrick, the governor who succeeded him, says now we're going to get to the real job in Massachusetts, and that is cutting costs. So he even admitted that Romneycare was about increasing access to care, which of course is a function of higher costs. And they didn't deal with the cost issue. That's the problem with Obamacare.

BLITZER: So I'll be precise. Is Mitt Romney a true conservative?

SANTORUM: I would say I'm the most conservative, the most electable conservative in this race, and neither Romney nor Cain is conservative as I am.

BLITZER: I'll ask you the same question I asked Herman Cain. Is Mitt Romney a Christian?

SANTORUM: I think this whole idea that Mormonism is a cult -- look, every Mormon I know with the exception of Harry Reid is a good solid, conservative and has great values. And I don't second guess anybody's religion. There's no religious test in this country. They're good people. They made great contributions to this country, and that is not a disqualifier for Mitt Romney.

BLITZER: Why has Rick Perry's campaign sort of collapsed the way it has?

SANTORUM: Well, you got to be ready for the job. You have to have someone, again --

BLITZER: He was governor of Texas for 10 years.

SANTORUM: Like I said, you have to be ready for the job in Washington, D.C. A lot of folks out there who think they can come out and tackle these very, very tough issues without the experience necessary, without having been through interviews with Wolf Blitzer, which isn't an easy thing to do. I've been doing this for a long time, and I think you need someone you can trust, someone who's been through the crucible, who's been beat up, as you know I have for a long time in this town for being a conservative, is the kind of mettle you need to have tested for someone who is going to take on Barack Obama.

BLITZER: Let's talk about your campaign. You have, what, $200,000 of cash on hand. He's got like $15 million or $18 million. Your poll numbers not very impressive, right down there at two percent. How you going to change that?

SANTORUM: I would say if you looked at a month ago, you would have probably made the same comment to Herman Cain. This is a very fluid election. We're doing it the old fashioned way. When we're spending time in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, I've done 150 town hall meetings in Iowa, been to 70 counts. We're building our base on the activists.

And as you know, those are the folks who show up at the caucuses. They're going to be the ones who are going to call this field. We're working really hard in New Hampshire. Those are the first two primaries. And polls right now don't matter. Governor -- told me when I first went to New Hampshire, he said work hard, pay no attention to the polls. New Hampshire breaks late. It's the last two or three weeks, then you'll see what will happen.

BLITZER: What are you doing to get ready for tonight's debate?

SANTORUM: I'm doing Wolf Blitzer's show.

BLITZER: Rehearsing and practicing?

SANTORUM: This is my rehearsal. How am I doing?

BLITZER: You're doing all right. Thanks, Senator, good luck tonight.

SANTORUM: You bet.

BLITZER: I'll see you up on stage.


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