NBC's Curry: Santorum About to Go Through 'Meat Grinder;' Does He Have to 'Change His Conservative Message'?

On Thursday's NBC Today, co-host Ann Curry predicted that following his strong finish in Iowa, Rick Santorum was "about to face the meat grinder of tough scrutiny for the first time." Turning to Meet the Press host David Gregory, she wondered: "So is he going to have to change his conservative message as he's looking...into New Hampshire, which is a much less conservative state, David?"

Gregory suggested some lines of attack: "Well, he's going to be under a very intense scrutiny by the other candidates....you could go back about apparent contradictions between small government conservativism and some of his activism. Some of his attempts to moderate his positions...when he was running for re-election in Pennsylvania in 2006."

Gregory concluded: "So all of this is going to be on the table and Santorum has not gotten a hard look, not by the media, and certainly not by the other candidates." Curry added: "That certainly is about to begin."

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On ABC's Good Morning America, correspondent John Berman noted how Santorum was under "new scrutiny" and being, "Asked about past statements comparing same-sex relationships to bestiality."

On CBS's The Early Show, fill-in co-host Nancy Cordes proclaimed that Santorum's success in Iowa "is getting him a lot of attention, a lot of money and questions about his political past." In the report that followed, Correspondent Bill Whitaker declared: "In Iowa, his social conservatism had strong appeal to born-again Christians, 56% of caucus-goers. In the last New Hampshire primary, only 21% of GOP voters were born-again Christians. To win here he must broaden his appeal..."


Here is a full transcript of Curry's January 5 discussion with Gregory and Chuck Todd:

7:07AM ET

ANN CURRY: Let's bring in now NBC's David Gregory, who's the moderator, of course, of Meet the Press, and Chuck Todd, who's NBC's political director and chief White House correspondent, he's in Manchester, New Hampshire this morning. Good morning to both of you.

DAVID GREGORY: Good morning, Ann.

CHUCK TODD: Good morning, Ann.

CURRY: So four years ago Rick Santorum endorses Mitt Romney over John McCain and we all know what they say about payback. But does a McCain endorsement really help Mitt Romney in the race for the conservative vote? David, you want to take that?

DAVID GREGORY: Well, look, he is an establishment favorite in New Hampshire. He's won it twice. This is Mitt Romney, who's already got a lead, trying to spike the football a little bit early here and build some momentum. He is a frontrunner but comes out of Iowa still pretty fragile. Santorum's doing well. Perry's still in the race. Gingrich is at least trying to build that resurgency in New Hampshire. So he's actually got to demonstrate that he can win and that he can win big, and New Hampshire's got to be that place.

CURRY: And he's dealing with, of course, the accusation that is still lingering, that's haunting him, that he's a flip flopper. And in fact that was something that McCain called him when he was running up against him. And there's an interesting take on this by Nick Kristof in The New York Times this morning. He writes, "Until the Republican primary sucked him into its vortex, he was a pragmatist and a policy wonk rather similar to Bill Clinton and President Obama, but more conservative." So Chuck, what do you think about this idea that the more interesting battle may be Romney versus Romney?

TODD: Well, I mean, that's obviously what the conservatives in this race are trying to create. And the Obama campaign is hoping that a Newt Gingrich or a Rick Santorum uses this line of attack against Mitt Romney because they believe it's his biggest vulnerability. The Republicans trying to make the case he's not really conservative and the Obama campaign trying to make the case that he doesn't have a core, that he's not a center politician. So it is ultimately, we're going to find out if Mitt Romney does come under a sustained attack.

And remember, while he's been the frontrunner for a year there has not been a sustained attack on him. For the last six months all of these other candidates have been attacking each other. They've all been fighting inside this conservative primary. This is the first week where you're really seeing the entire field that's left focusing all their fire on Mitt Romney and it'll be interesting to see, what does he look like? What kind of shape is he in? And I think we'll know after South Carolina, because in the next, I'd say two weeks, it'll be pretty sustained. What does he look like after that? And we'll know if he's got what it takes to go all the way.

CURRY: Well, one of the candidates who perhaps has not faced as much attack as the others is Rick Santorum because he kind of escaped under the radar there from it. But now after a strong second-place showing in Iowa, he's about to face the meat grinder of tough scrutiny for the first time. So is he going to have to change his conservative message as he's looking into north – looking into New Hampshire, which is a much less conservative state, David?

GREGORY: Well, he's going to be under a very intense scrutiny by the other candidates. We'll see what Mitt Romney does and how much of a threat he feels that Santorum really is. But I think it's significant that Texas Governor Perry has decided to stay in the race. He'll go and debate in New Hampshire but he really wants to set up shop in South Carolina and he's going to target Santorum. He already did that in Iowa over pork barrel spending, you could go back about apparent contradictions between small government conservativism and some of his activism. Some of his attempts to moderate his positions, I'm talking about Santorum here, when he was running for re-election in Pennsylvania in 2006. So all of this is going to be on the table and Santorum has not gotten a hard look, not by the media, and certainly not by the other candidates.

CURRY: That certainly is about to begin. And boy, what a story this has been already so far. David Gregory, Chuck Todd, thanks so much for bringing us your perspective.

GREGORY: Thanks, Ann.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC