Santorum: Did He Do Nuance, Backtrack Or Spin On Comments Dissing Obama’s Christian Beliefs?

John Cole, The Scranton Times-Tribune

Was it nuance, backtrack — or spin?

Up and coming anti-Romney Republican Presidential nomination candidate former Senator Rick Santorum got into some hot water in the media due to one of his red meat comments this weekend that elicited a satisfied, loud belch from sated conservatives. It was a comment that should win him some votes in GOP primaries but also risks scaring away some independent and non-Christian voters. Had he raised the issue of President Barack Obama’s faith, suggesting that Obama wasn’t enough of a Christian or that he, Santorum, is the one who will define whether those in office are real Christians or not?

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum challenged President Barack Obama’s Christian beliefs on Saturday, saying White House policies were motivated by a “different theology.”

A devout Roman Catholic who has risen to the top of Republican polls in recent days, Santorum said the Obama administration had failed to prevent gas prices rising and was using “political science” in the debate about climate change.

Obama’s agenda is “not about you. It’s not about your quality of life. It’s not about your jobs. It’s about some phony ideal. Some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology,” Santorum told supporters of the conservative Tea Party movement at a Columbus hotel.

When asked about the statement at a news conference later, Santorum said, “If the president says he’s a Christian, he’s a Christian.”

But Santorum did not back down from the assertion that Obama’s values run against those of Christianity.

“He is imposing his values on the Christian church. He can categorize those values anyway he wants. I’m not going to,” Santorum told reporters.

Did that satisfy critics? Not really.

He seemed to give the Obama camp an opening — one that they made clear they could and would immediately use. ABC’s Jake Trapper:

Obama campaign strategist and former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs blasted GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum this morning, saying he was “well over the line” for questioning President Obama’s Christian faith.

“It’s wrong, it’s destructive and it makes it virtually impossible to solve the problems we face together as Americans,” Gibbs told me in an exclusive interview Sunday on “This Week.” “It’s just time to get rid of this mindset in our politics that if we disagree we have to question character and faith.”

Gibbs was responding to comments Santorum made Saturday that Obama is pushing a “phony theology” that is not based on the Bible and “imposing his secular values on the church.”

Although Santorum later insisted he was not suggesting Obama was not a Christian, Gibbs said his comments still went too far.

“I think that if you make comments like that, you make comments that are well over the line,” Gibbs said. “It’s time to have a conversation on political issues, not question each other’s faith.”

Faith-based issues have surged to the forefront of the political debate over the past few weeks, particularly in the GOP primary, as a fierce debate over contraception and gay marriage erupted onto the national scene.

Meanwhile, according to reports, Team Obama is now taking a long, hard look at Santorum. Although they reportedly still believe former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will wind up the nominee, Romney’s chances are looking severely shakier these days: polls suggest Romney’s talk about the terrific trees in Michigan and how much he loves cars are not stemming what seems to be a Santorum surge. And experts believe if Romney loses the Michigan primary his chances could start to crumble.

The problem for Santorum and the GOP is this: Santorum’s comments may help him peel off more votes to win in Michigan and some other states. But it has already surfaced that he made comments years ago about Protestants that could provide useful ammunition for the Democrats if he gets the GOP nomination. Now this weekend he he seemingly questioned whether Obama was a real Christian which could scare away other Christians who don’t believe as he does (not to mention people with names such as Cohen, Jacobson, Gandelman or maybe even Lieberman).

So fast forward now to CBS’ Face the Nation where Santorum had an interview with, Bob Schieffer the person who should have replaced Walter Cronkite as the CBS Evening News’ anchor, a role model for both print and broadcast journalists who believe in the old school of reporting that asks tough questions of all and lots of follow ups.

Here’s his clarification with Schieffer:


Here’s how CBS packaged Santorum’s answer:

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said he takes the president at his word that he’s a Christian, but said Barack Obama’s “world view” is different than that of most Americans.

Santorum commented in Ohio Saturday that the president believes in “some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology.”

Asked to clarify his statements on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” Sunday, Santorum said that he was referring not to the president’s faith but to environmentalism.

“Well, I was talking about the radical environmentalists,” he told Schieffer. “That’s what I was talking about: Energy, this idea that man is here to serve the Earth, as opposed to husband its resources and be good stewards of the Earth. And I think that is a phony ideal…..

….But Schieffer pressed Santorum, saying that by using the term theology it sounded like he was questioning the president’s religion.

“I wasn’t suggesting the president’s not a Christian. I accept the fact that the president is a Christian,” Santorum said, looking agitated. “I just said that when you have a worldview that elevates the Earth above man and says that we can’t take those resources because we’re going to harm the Earth; by things that frankly are just not scientifically proven, for example, the politicization of the whole global warming debate – this is all an attempt to, you know, to centralize power and to give more power to the government.

“It’s not questioning the president’s beliefs in Christianity. I’m talking about the belief that man should be in charge of the Earth and have dominion over it and should be good stewards of it.

“I’ve repeatedly said that I believe the president is a Christian. He says he is a Christian. But I am talking about his worldview or the way he approaches problems in this country and I think they’re different than how most people do in America.”

Nuance?

Spin?

Backtrack?

Trying to have it both ways?

This shows:
–Santorum is nimble and adaptable. He will not be as easy for Romney to defeat and, in that sense, Democrats thinking he’ll be an absolute pushover may be deluding themselves. He has political skills but also if he wants to win a general election seemingly lacks some political smarts.
–Santorum is assuming that clarifications can help him when he makes controversial statements that the Democrats will jump on and use. In fact, many times people only pay attention to the initial news story and don’t tune in on or unanimously accept a clarification.
–Santorum could prove to be a virtual candy shop for a sweet-toothed Democratic Party with so many nice bits of political candy to pick out and use in their ads. Most people won’t bother to probe under the wrapper when they see the candy. They’ll look at the wrapper. Santorum will make some Democratic advertising agencies extremely rich — and busy.