Video of the Day: Santorum Cusses Out New York Times Reporter

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The candidate says Romney is "the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama," then gets upset when he's asked about it.

As Rick Santorum's chances at the Republican nomination fade, he's taking out his anger on the media.

Sunday afternoon, campaigning in Wisconsin ahead of its April 3 primary, he had this to say: "Why would we put someone up who is uniquely -- pick any other Republican in the country -- he is the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama. Why would Wisconsin want to vote for someone like that?" It's a variation on a point he's made before, which is that Obama's health-care reform plan, which ought to be a powerful target for the GOP in 2012, is tough for Romney to attack, since his Massachusetts health plan is the template for it. But Santorum's phrasing -- that Romney is "the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama" -- is more strident than in the past.

So New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny asked Santorum about it after the speech, and the former Pennsylvania senator wasn't happy. He went on a rant against Zeleny, wagging his finger:

What speech did you listen to? Stop lying. I said he was the worst Republican to run on the issue of Obamacare .... Quit distorting my words. If I see it, it's bullshit.

Except that's not what Santorum said, even if it's what he meant. Clearly piqued, he kept berating Zeleny even as he walked away from him. "C'mon man. What are you doing? I'm upset when the media distorts what I say. You knew exactly what I was saying and you misrepresented it. What are you guys in the business of doing? Reporting the truth? Or are you here to try to spin and make news? Stop it."

Santorum's throwing some red meat to his media-hating base here, but he doesn't do righteous indignation quite as stylishly as Newt Gingrich, and he's also made his comments a much bigger story than they otherwise would have been. His campaign manager defended the comment, quipping on Twitter:

This is becoming a dangerous pattern for Santorum: mutate a standard stump line into an inflammatory quote, walk it back, repeat. Last week, he said this:

You win by giving people a choice. You win by giving people the opportunity to see a different vision for our country, not someone who's just going to be a little different than the person in there .... If they're going to be a little different, we might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk of what may be the Etch A Sketch candidate for the future.

The comments created a furor: Was Santorum saying voters might as well vote for Obama if Romney is the GOP nominee? His campaign was forced to issue a statement insisting he'd vote for nominee Romney, and clarifying the remarks. Now, few people think that Santorum really thinks of Romney as being as bad as the president, and attacks on rivals are obviously fair game. But in both cases, Santorum has been edging into dangerous territory by suggesting his party's near-certain nominee is no better than the other guy, or saying he's simply the worst candidate to run against the other guy. It seems to cross the line from positioning one's self as the better nominee into hurting the party's chances in November. (Even if is true that some Republican voters will be less than enthused about the more moderate Romney, is it really Santorum's job to play pundit or political scientist?)

Santorum has long had an irritable streak, and as he sees the end of his road in sight, he seems to be becoming punchier and less verbally precise. Remarks like this will only make party leaders cringe and coalesce around Romney faster.

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Presented by

David A. Graham

David Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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