Lauer to Rick Santorum: Do You Really Think People Care About Social Issues Right Now?

NBC's Matt Lauer didn't exactly throw out the welcome mat for possible presidential GOP contender Rick Santorum as, on Tuesday's Today show, he questioned the former Republican Pennsylvania senator if his "ultra-conservative" stance on social issues is "the message people want to hear right now?"

Throwing the results of the latest NBC News poll at him Lauer pressed: "65 percent of people said they are most likely to vote for a candidate in 2012 who is strong on the economy, on the deficit, on jobs, not social issues. That's really not what they are concerned about. So are you, are you barking up the right tree?"

(video, audio and transcript after the jump)

(MP3 audio)

For his part Santorum did not shirk from the conservative labeling as he proudly asserted: "I'm a conservative. Yeah, I mean I believe life begins at conception and I believe marriage is between a man a woman. And, you know, I think the law should reflect that morality which is pretty much the collective morality of most people in America. I don't know if that makes me ultra-conservative, so be it. It, it makes me stand up for the values that I think built this country and made it strong."

Later on in the interview, a mischievous Lauer tried to stoke a little Republican-on-Republican fight as he asked Santorum about some recent comments he made about former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

LAUER: Sarah Palin is one of the, the potential candidates polling ahead of you right now, although she's not accepting a lot of the traditional invitations that are given out at this time of year for people thinking about running. At one time you said, quote, "I have a feeling she has demands on her time and a lot of them have financial benefit attached to them." What did you mean by that?

Santorum brushed the question aside as he responded: "That she's like, like the rest of us. We have to provide for our family, we have to, you know, care for our family."

The following is a transcript of the segment as it was aired on the March 8 Today show:

MATT LAUER: Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum was among the presidential or potential presidential candidates who spoke at that Iowa forum. Senator, nice to see you. Good morning.

RICK SANTORUM, FORMER PENNSYLVANIA SENATOR-R: Hi, Matt. Good to be with you.

LAUER: I've spent a lot of time in Iowa. It's a beautiful state, but I get a feeling your, your time there in March is not for sightseeing reasons. Are you in the race?

SANTORUM: Well I'm testing the waters and last night was a good, a really good, good little swim to see what the reaction is to, to the message and to the messenger, and what I have, what I have done in my career and what, what I'm looking forward to, to talking about if we end up getting in this race. And the response was good. So I was encouraged by last night.

LAUER: For people who don't remember, Senator, your time in the Senate, how would you describe yourself in terms of the political spectrum? Some have called you an ultra-conservative on social issues. Is that fair?

SANTORUM: Look, I'm a conservative. Yeah, I mean I believe life begins at conception and I believe marriage is between a man a woman. And, you know, I think the law should reflect that morality which is pretty much the collective morality of most people in America. I don't know if that makes me ultra-conservative, so be it. It, it makes me stand up for the values that I think built this country and made it strong.

LAUER: But it seems when you do stand up, you spend a lot of time talking about social issues and I'm curious if you think that is the message people want to hear right now? In a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 65 percent of people said they are most likely to vote for a candidate in 2012 who is strong on the economy, on the deficit, on jobs, not social issues. That's really not what they are concerned about. So are you, are you barking up the right tree?

SANTORUM: Well, I think we can, you know, walk and chew gum at the same time. I mean if you look at, at my record in the Congress I was very, very active and led the charge, for example, on welfare reform which - you know we are talking about entitlement spending and how we have to entitlement spending under control. The only major entitlement that's ever been ended in American history is welfare reform and I was the lead in the United States Senate. I actually have - helped craft that final bill. And actually craft the original bill when I was in the House. So if you look at my record on health care. You know I ran my first race for the United States Senate against the author of the Clinton-care bill and, and was very active on reforming Medicare and Medicaid and was one of the few guys who actually had the courage to go out and talk about reforming the Social Security system. So if you look at my record it's, it's been strong on, on conservative limited government. It's been strong on pro-growth policies-

LAUER: Right.

SANTORUM: -to try to get this economy going. So I've got a record that's comprehensive as well as strong on national security. So we'll talk about all those things.


LAUER: How do you get out there and, and really make, get some attention. I mean if you look at that, again that recent polling has, I think, two percent of respondents said that you would be their first choice as a candidate on the GOP side in 2012-

SANTORUM: Right.

LAUER: -far behind some of the frontrunners. People Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney. How do you go out there and make waves? It's early, I understand that, but you got a lot of ground to make up.

SANTORUM: Yeah. Yeah, look I do it the old-fashioned way. Every time I have run for office - back in 1990 I defeated an incumbent Democrat who, you know, six months before the election I was at six percent in the polls and I ended up winning the election. I got, I defeated another incumbent because he didn't, decided not to run. And two years later then defeated a third incumbent Democrat when I ran for the Senate. All of those races I wasn't supposed to be in it. All of those races I was way behind at the beginning. What I did is I went out and I just worked hard. And that's what I believe in and hopefully that'll play with the people of Iowa if, if we decide to do this thing.

LAUER: Sarah Palin is one of the, the potential candidates polling ahead of you right now, although she's not accepting a lot of the traditional invitations that are given out at this time of year for people thinking about running. At one time you said, quote, "I have a feeling she has demands on her time and a lot of them have financial benefit attached to them." What did you mean by that?

SANTORUM: That she's like, like the rest of us. We have to provide for our family, we have to, you know, care for our family. And that, you know, she has, she has demands. I do, too. I mean, you know, there is a lot of political events I don't take because I've got, I've got to feed my, my, my, my, my family and, and do what I'm supposed to do as a husband and father. So that's all I meant. And she has that responsibility and so do I.

LAUER: Rick Santorum. Senator, it's nice to have you with us. Good luck to you.

SANTORUM: Thanks, Matt. Good to be with you.

LAUER: Alright good seeing you. Thanks.

—Geoffrey Dickens is the Senior News Analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.