On Sunday, NBC's David Gregory spent much of Meet the Press blasting Rick Santorum for criticizing President Obama's "phony theology" of liberalism. Earlier that morning, he appeared on the Today show to wonder if the GOP was "comfortable" with that line of criticism and warned: "Does it want to reignite culture wars in America over these kinds of issues?"
On Monday's Today, fill-in co-host Savannah Guthrie followed Gregory's lead as she lead the top of the show with this proclamation: "Culture wars. Rick Santorum is trying to explain his comment that appeared to question President Obama's faith." NBC did not dare accuse the Obama administration of trying to "reignite" a "culture war" over the ObamaCare contraception mandate controversy.
Correspondent Peter Alexander announced that Santorum was now "Facing a surge of scrutiny to go with his surging poll numbers," and how "The Obama campaign blasted the remarks as well over the line."
On Sunday's Nightly News, correspondent Ron Mott couldn't help but mock Santorum's effort to push back at the supposed controversy surrounding his remarks: "After saying the President's energy philosophy was based on a 'phony theology' Saturday, Rick Santorum had a real challenge, separating religion from theology, no less on a Sunday."
Mott later observed: "Each of the Republican candidates has voiced disapproval of the President's stance on energy and the environment. Only Santorum...has linked them to theology."
On Saturday's Nightly News, after playing a sound bite of Santorum's comment, Mott read a response from Obama campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt: "The Obama re-election campaign quickly fired back, calling it, quote, 'Just the latest low in a Republican campaign that has been fueled by distortions, ugliness and searing pessimism and negativity.'"
On Monday's Today, Alexander included a sound bite of former Obama press secretary and current campaign advisor Robert Gibbs: "It's just time to get rid of this mind set in our politics that if we disagree we have to question character and faith."
Here is a portion of Alexander's February 20 report:
7:00AM ET TEASE:
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Culture wars. Rick Santorum is trying to explain his comment that appeared to question President Obama's faith. As Mitt Romney deals with fallout over the sudden resignation of his campaign co-chair in a key battleground state.
7:07AM ET SEGMENT:
CARL QUINTANILLA: Now to the presidential race and the comment by GOP hopeful Rick Santorum that's drawing heat from President Obama's campaign. NBC's Peter Alexander is in Salt Lake City, Utah, with details. Peter, good morning.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Decision 2012; Santorum Clarifies Remarks on President Obama's Faith]
PETER ALEXANDER: Hey Carl, good morning to you. President Obama's re-election team has largely focused its attention during the course of this race on Mitt Romney. But increasingly, it's turning it's eye to Rick Santorum, the latest example, a sharp back and forth after Santorum appeared to question the President's faith. Facing a surge of scrutiny to go with his surging poll numbers, Rick Santorum is trying to define himself before his opponents can make their attacks stick.
RICK SANTORUM: Someone who can clearly go after President Obama on issue after issue, draw a clear bright contrast, make him accountable.
ALEXANDER: But first, Santorum is trying to clarify this comment, questioning the values behind President Obama's energy policy.
SANTORUM: It's about some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology. But no less a theology.
ALEXANDER: The Obama campaign blasted the remarks as well over the line.
ROBERT GIBBS: It's just time to get rid of this mind set in our politics that if we disagree we have to question character and faith.
ALEXANDER: On Sunday, Santorum argued he wasn't criticizing the President's faith, but his world view.
SANTORUM: As I've repeatedly said, I don't question the President's faith. I've repeatedly said that I believe the President's Christian, he says he's a Christian. But I am talking about his world view or his – the way he approaches problems in this country. And I think they're different than how most people do in America.
ALEXANDER: Santorum is also renewing the debate on another hot-button social issue, arguing that the President's health care overhaul requiring insurers to pay for prenatal testing promotes abortion.
SANTORUM: The bottom line is that a lot of prenatal tests are done to identify deformities in utero and the customary procedure is to encourage abortions.