Rick Santorum to John Heilemann [and by extension to MSM at large] on today's Morning Joe: "it's your responsibility to defend the president, not mine." Ouch! If Newt's deft dicing of John King and Juan Williams paid huge electoral dividends, Santorum might anticipate a much-needed bump after running roughshod over the New York mag reporter.
Heilemann had called on Santorum to explain his failure to correct a woman at a town hall meeting in Florida yesterday who said President Obama was an "avowed Muslim" and legally unqualified to be president. After noting that he has repeatedly been on the record saying that he doesn't believe PBO is a Muslim and recognizes that he is legally qualified to be president, Santorum said that he chose not to chastise an elderly and infirm lady. Then came Santorum's grand slam, as set forth above. Heilemann only dug himself deeper when he responded by saying that prez candidate McCain had always defended Obama on the campaign trail. Video after the jump.
Watch and decide if this could be the kind of game-changer Santorum so needs.
JOHN HEILEMANN: I actually want to ask him, Senator Santorum, a question about something that happened yesterday in Florida. You were, did a town hall meeting down in, at an American Legion hall in Lady Lake, senator, and there was a questioner who asked you about, about, who started by, the premise was that President Obama is not legally qualified to be president and called him an avowed Muslim. You didn't respond to that. You're taking some criticism for that. I'm wondering whether you want to, whether you want to speak to that here today.
RICK SANTORUM: Guys, I've spoken to that repeatedly throughout the course of this campaign. Everybody else has too. I've said repeatedly that I don't believe President Obama is a Muslim and that he's qualified. This was an elderly lady. She was there leaning on a cane; she was quite wobbly. And I'm not going to sit there and slam an older lady because she has some way-out, some bizarre beliefs. I mean, that's just, that's your responsibility to defend the president, not mine. I've made my position clear on this issue and I don't why you guys are so fixated on making sure Republicans, at every time someone says something that the media doesn't believe is true and I don't believe is true, that it's my responsibility. But when the media and others say lies about me and call me names and do things, that it's OK and that in fact it's promoted and encouraged and made fun of when we do it. Stop it! We're not here, I'm not here to defend the president against scurrilous attacks. It's not my job, anymore than you're saying it's not your job to defend me against scurrilous attacks.
JOE SCARBOROUGH: Hold on, I've just got to know. Playing the role of John King this morning, John Heilemann, you've got a [inaudible] here.
HEILEMANN: I would point out that the previous presidential candidate, nominee, from the Republican party, John McCain, felt like it was his duty in 2008 to make clear when he was questioned by someone on these issues that he should point out that President Obama was not a Muslim and was not, was perfectly legally qualified. So Senator Santorum can say those things, but he's not aligned with the previous nominee of his own party.
SANTORUM: I would just say this. It's very clear. I am not John McCain. And I've never been like John McCain. And I'm not running as a candidate who's anything like John McCain.