Santorum's "Gotcha" Moment

Perhaps former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum should take a couple aspirin and get some rest. It appears the pressure of being the front-runner in the Republican presidential sweepstakes is getting to him.

As most successful candidates know, almost nothing can be more frustrating than having a prominent supporter say something stupid that embarrasses your campaign. Take the comments about contraception by Santorum supporter Foster Friess on MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell program Thursday. Friess actually said, "Back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn't that costly."

This left Mitchell stunned. "Excuse me, I'm just trying to catch my breath from that, Mr. Friess, frankly," she said incredulously. Friess most certainly thought he was being funny, no doubt thinking that the "gals" and the boys at the country club would get a big kick out of his comment.

But even Rick Santorum knew that this was a terrible blunder on Friess's part. Of course, Santorum needs Friess's money but he doesn't need the controversy. However, rather then simply asking for Friess to apologize, Santorum decided to go on the attack.

In an interview with CBS This Morning's Charlie Rose Friday, Santorum said, "This is someone who is a supporter of mine, and I'm not responsible for every comment that a supporter of mine makes." Then Santorum began sounding defensive, "It was a bad joke, it was a stupid joke, and it is not reflective of me or my record on this issue [of contraception]."

He then noted, "It's funny that I've been criticized by Governor Romney and Ron Paul for actually having voted for something called Title 10, which is actually federal funding of contraception." As Rose pressed the candidate on his views about contraception Santorum pushed back, "This is the same gotcha politics that you get from the media, and I'm just not going to play that game."

When Rose said he was not playing a "gotcha" game, Santorum countered, "Charlie, when you quote a supporter of mine who tells a bad, off-color joke and somehow I'm responsible for that, that's 'gotcha.'" (Interestingly, Santorum answered similar questions on the Fox News Channel Thursday night and did not raise the "gotcha" issue.)

Then Santorum played the Obama card on Rose: "You don't do this with President Obama. In fact, with President Obama, what you did was you went out and defended him against someone who sat in a church for 20 years, and defended him, that he can't possibly believe what he listened to for 20 years." In full dudgeon, Santorum concluded his point, "That's a double-standard, this is what you're pulling off, and I'm going to call you on it."

Charlie Rose, an exceptional interviewer and a true southern gentleman from Henderson, North Carolina, politely listened to Santorum's rant and then moved on to discuss the Michigan primary. So Santorum's well thought out strategy for dealing with Friess's remark was to attack Rose and reference President Obama's former minister, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who made controversial statements from his pulpit.

Santorum's handling of the Rose interview may appeal to the anti-mainstream media segment of the population, but it did not come close to looking presidential. And his performance raises questions about whether front-runner Rick Santorum has the temperament and skill to handle the difficult road ahead to secure his party's nomination.