An unusually harsh Jake Tapper on Thursday lashed out at Rick Santorum, mocking the Republican's "horrible" debate performance. The ABC journalist appeared on Good Morning America and suggested that Santorum was so bad he should take himself to court.
Tapper piled on, deriding the former Pennsylvania senator: "You know when you meet somebody and you make a bad impression, you wish you could take it back? That's what Rick Santorum must be feeling like today...A horrible night for him." Although much of the reaction to Santorum's performance was mixed to negative, Tapper was over-the-top. [See video below. MP3 audio here.]
On CBS This Morning, Jan Crawford offered a more nuanced analysis: "For most of the night, Santorum was under siege...Rick Santorum fought back." Crawford added that "Santorum struggl[ed] to get his footing."
Crawford opined that Santorum "didn't have the standout night he needed" and that the race may change "a little" as a result.
In comparison, Tapper hyperventilated, "Rick Santorum last night committed political malpractice on himself and he should possibly take himself to court." The journalist asserted that viewers who weren't paying close attention might think the Republican "defend[ed] the worst things about Washington."
The Daily Beast's Howard Kurtz was also more measured:
Rick Santorum dodged a political bullet on the birth-control controversy at the CNN debate Wednesday night, deflecting criticism from Mitt Romney and batting down the notion that he would discourage contraception.
A transcript of the February 23 segment, which aired at 7:10am EST, follows:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's get a little more analysis on this now from ABC's Jake Tapper down in Washington. Jake, John Berman used the term "Washington speak" describing Santorum. And that was Romney's big goal last night, to paint Rick Santorum as a creature of Washington, the least popular city in America right now.
JAKE TAPPER: Yeah. And he succeeded. Very much so. If you just floated in and out of the debate late night, you would think that Rick Santorum spent two hours defending the worst things about Washington. The thing that conservatives hate. Earmark, deal-making, compromise, putting party before principle. Rick Santorum last night committed political malpractice on himself and he should possibly take himself to court.
STEPHANOPOULOS: [Laughs] Okay. We'll see- I'm not sure he's going to do that. But it really was remarkable also to see this tag team last night between Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, making the same kinds of points against Santorum. And both the candidate and the team came out last night and seemed to suggest there was some kind of deal here between Paul and Romney.
TAPPER: You know, there's no evidence of any deal. But it sure is an interesting relationship. A bromance of some sort. Now, Mitt Romney has been assiduously courting Ron Paul. One thing that is very clear is that Ron Paul is very focused on his son's future political career. His son, Rand Paul, a senator from Kentucky. And while you have Ron Paul saying if he doesn't get the nomination, he's not sure he'll vote Republican, you have Rand Paul saying he would be honored to be considered Mitt Romney's vice president. So, it's a very interesting dynamic. I would like to know what is going on behind the scenes there.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We all would. Bottom line coming out of the debate, Rick Santorum still the national front-runner. But it appears that Mitt Romney has gotten his momentum back in Michigan and doing very well with those early votes in Arizona, Tuesday.
TAPPER: He does. And Rick Santorum- You know when you meet somebody and you make a bad impression, you wish you could take it back? That's what Rick Santorum must be feeling like today. This might be the last Republican debate and he spent the entire debate acting as if he was the personification of Washington, D.C. A horrible night for him.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But, if he wins in Michigan, it's a brand new race.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay, Jake Tapper.