Rick Santorum: Transcript of ABC/Yahoo News Exclusive Interview

PHOTO: GOP Candidate Rick Santorum gives an exclusive interview to ABC News John Berman, Nov. 8, 2011.
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JOHN BERMAN: Hi, there, I'm John Berman in Manchester, New Hampshire. And we are live for a series on ABCNews.com and Yahoo News. It's an original series called Newsmakers. And I'm here with the former senator from the State of Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum, running for president. Thank you for joining us, and we'll jump right into the questions, Senator.

RICK SANTORUM: Thank you.

JOHN BERMAN: Senator, when did you know you wanted to be president of the United States?

RICK SANTORUM: Hah-- well, know-- I-- I guess I would say-- it was a process. I-- when I was going through this process, people would ask me, "Are you running?" I would say, "No, I'm walking." 'Cause I felt like I was just sort of walking down the path, trying to discern whether this is really something I wanted to-- to do. And-- and just, you know, Karen, my wife and I, the kids, we prayed a lot about it, we thought a lot about it, and-- and really felt that, you know, this was a very critical time in our country's history and that-- as a good father, a good husband, and as someone who is very grateful for the opportunities America gave me, my-- the son of an Italian immigrant.

So I just-- to me, America's still very fresh. And-- and in the sense of my-- of our own experience here as a family. And so I-- I just felt like I had to step forward and-- and try to-- and try to get this country back on the right track. And then I thought I had somethin' to offer to the equation. And-- was not particularly happy with-- with the choices that-- that I was looking at with respect to the other candidates. They're good people, but I felt like I brought something different to the table that-- our country needed, at this time, so I-- I-- I stepped forward.

JOHN BERMAN: Any doubts that you were the right man at the right time?

RICK SANTORUM: No, I-- I really don't have any doubts. I mean, I wouldn't be doin' this. If I thought someone else could do-- the job that-- I believe I can do and-- and be successful in winning this race, which I think-- I'm in the best position to do, I-- I would be very happy to step aside. It's not a lifelong dream of mine. This is not something that I've aspired to. And this is somethin' I feel like I need to do in-- in order to serve our country. And-- and, you know, my family and-- and the future of our-- of our nation.

JOHN BERMAN: I-- I think some people will be surprised to hear you say you think you're in the best position to win this race, because that's not what the polls show today. Why are you in the best position?

RICK SANTORUM: Well, I think I've got the-- the best track record of anybody out there. I'm-- you know, I've been someone who is-- been a strong-- consistent conservative on all the issues. Someone who-- has been unwavering. I mean, I think America's looking for someone that they can trust. Someone who's authentic. Someone who will tell it straight. Lay-- lay it on the line, whether people agree with you or not. And you can say a lot of things about-- about me, but I-- I think I have a pretty strong re-- reputation. And a reputation of taking on Democrat incumbents and being successful. No one else in this race has ever defeated a Democratic incumbent on a nation-- on a big race. And I've done it. And I've won a swing state, which is also important.

JOHN BERMAN: So if all this is true, why aren't you doing better in the polls?

RICK SANTORUM: Well, it's early. I-- I don't-- I don't worry about polls. I-- I-- you know, we're runnin' a very different campaign. You-- I mean, look at our financial reports. I mean, we're-- we're way down at the bottom. We're runnin' a campaign that's grassroots. I wouldn't run a campaign like this if I didn't think that would be the most-- if-- if-- if I didn't think there was a path to success.

JOHN BERMAN: What proof do you have that the message is catching on, though?

RICK SANTORUM: Well, last night, I was in Rochester-- New Hampshire. And we had about 90 people there at-- at a town hall meeting. It was a 912 group that asked me to come and speak to them. And-- after that-- after the hour and a half time I had with them, I would say close to 90 percent of the people in that room signed up to help our campaign.

I'm finding that in a lot of the places. 90's high, but I'm finding well over half. Every time I got to a meeting. Every time I have-- opportunity to be in front of a group, we get a huge number of people signed up and willing to help. That tells me that the people who are paying attention, the people who are actually interested, the activists, those folks who make up a big chunk of the caucus goers in Iowa and primary voters in New Hampshire. Those folks when they now have analyzed the candidates look-- are-- are saying, "Santorum's my guy."

Most of the people in these polls, I-- I think there was a Pew poll out a couple weeks ago that half the people in this country couldn't even name one of the Republican candidates for president. So the idea that somehow or another people are set on-- on who they're gonna vote for, at least we're finding in the polls we're doing and I'm-- I'm talkin' about volunteers calling voters, 75 percent of the people haven't made up their mind yet.

JOHN BERMAN: Senator, changing the subject here, I want to put you on the spot. You are an alum of-- of Penn State, 1980. A big fan of-- of Penn State football. You know, you know the (UNINTEL) theme song-- or fight song. And a big fan of Joe Paterno. What do you make of what's going on at Penn State right now?

RICK SANTORUM: I'm devastated. I mean, I just can't tell you-- how-- how troubling this is. I mean, I know Joe Paterno. I-- Joe's a friend. I mean, Joe's been a supporter of mine. And I mean, he's-- gosh, I mean, you can't find a more decent guy. And-- you know, this is-- this is tragic. And the fact that-- that he-- at some way, at some level had, you know, some-- some touch of this scandal is-- is really disturbing.

And I-- look, I-- I pray and hope that-- that, you know, that he didn't do anything that he shouldn't have done. But it's-- it doesn't-- you know, this-- it certainly looks horrible for the university, horrible for the football program, and-- and obviously, people-- should-- were fired, should be fired. And-- JOHN BERMAN: Is he one of those people? I mean, as an active alum, is-- is he someone you'd like to see pushed out the door now?

RICK SANTORUM: Well, I mean, it's-- again, I don't know all the facts and circumstances. I haven't read the indictment. I have no idea what his side of the story is. I think it's-- for me to-- after someone who's served in such distinction for all those years, to sort of jump to a quick conclusion that he should go or he should stay, I don't think that's fair to him. But it's obviously a very, very serious-- allegation against-- against the university and the people in the football program. And-- and somethin' that needs to be taken care of.

JOHN BERMAN: Will you be comfortable cheering for Penn State football this weekend?

RICK SANTORUM: Yeah, I mean, the-- the players out there and-- and-- and the university, you know, writ large is-- you know, they're my alma mater. That mean-- you know, just because there are people there who did things wrong doesn't mean the whole institution is-- is bad. And-- and certainly these kids out there on the playing field had nothin' to do with this.

So of course I'm gonna-- I'm gonna root for-- for them and-- and wish them the best. And, you know, this is somethin' obviously will be a great challenge to them, to be able to stay focused and-- and-- when all this attention's paid on-- on your program. So I-- you know, I-- I wish them the very best.

JOHN BERMAN: Back to the campaign here. You are on the Faith, Family, and Freedom Tour right now. To a certain extent, you're making these subjects the centerpiece of your campaign, or a centerpiece, why?

RICK SANTORUM: Well, I-- I talk about it in the context of-- of our country, both from the standpoint of our culture, but also the economy in-- of our country, the size and scale of government. I think it's important that we recognize that, you know-- yes, the economy is the number one issue in our country. The economy is hurting. People are out of work-- you know, we're not growing. And the-- what is growing is the size of the government and the-- and the-- and the huge amount of debt.

But and-- and I have-- put forward very clear plans on how to turn that around, b-- both from spending cuts and what we can do with the tax code, what we can do in the regulatory environment, a whole host of things. But I also say that there's an underlying problem here and that is that you can't have limited government unless you have good, strong families. That you can't have a strong economy unless families are strong and pr-- and-- and doing well.

And that means marriage and the institution of the family have to be, you know, encouraged and supported. That means we have to have people rai-- raised up in our society, who are of good character and have virtues. And-- and if we don't, if we don't have any kind of-- if we have a culture and we have an educational establishment, we have a society that does not inculcate virtue, that does not teach truth and honesty and-- and integrity and hard work, we're not gonna have a strong economy for much longer. We're not gonna have a nation for much longer.

So-- I would argue that a lot of the things that we've seen happen in our country, you know, the Wall Street-- situation, what happened on-- in the financial markets. I mean, that's-- you have-- you have a lot of folks there who did a lot of things they shouldn't have been doing. And--

JOHN BERMAN: --faith. I mean, can-- can-- you know, can you have faith and good virtue-- sorry, can you have good virtue and honesty without faith, without being religious?

RICK SANTORUM: Of course. Of course. But it's harder. I mean, no society in the history of the world, that I'm aware of, has-- has been-- a country that has been virtuous as a ma-- en masse without faith as a component. I mean-- are there people who are-- who are not believers, who are virtuous and good people? Absolutely.

But as a society-- it doesn't exist as-- as-- as a rule. And that-- the main way that people li-- learn virtue and morality is through faith. And-- and so, that's-- that is a very important component-- for-- for our society. I-- John Adams said, "Our constitution," which-- allows for enormous-- I mean, grants and recognizes enormous freedom for-- for people. He said, "Our-- our constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It's wholly inadequate for the governance of any other."

Why he said that was that if people are not living virtuous lives, guess what happens? Governments gets bigger. I mean, they-- you know, you go into any neighborhood where people are not behaving well and you will see police presence. You'll see-- you know, government agencies trying to support and prop up-- you know, people and families and communities. You can't have limited government and not have people who are living good lives.

JOHN BERMAN: On the subject of virtue-- one of your competitors, Herman Cain, has come under fire this last week, week and a half now, on the subject of women who have claimed some degree of sexual harassment. Four different women now, at least reports of four different women, in-- including one who's now come out publicly, name, face, everything. Herman Cain will be talking today. What do you need to hear from Herman Cain?

RICK SANTORUM: I-- you know, I think that's-- that's a decision the public has to make. It's not a decision I'm making. I-- I know who I'm for, for president. And so I-- I-- I'm gonna go out and-- and communicate a message as to, you know, why I should be president of the United States. And every other presidential candidate has that burden, whether it's-- whether it's on the issues or whether it's your past record, whether it's your-- what-- what character, your family, whatever. All those things are-- are issues that I talk about and that I answer questions on all the time. And all the other candidates are gonna be held to account for-- for their positions and-- and what they've done in their life.

JOHN BERMAN: Troubled by them at all? I mean, Mitt Romney called the allegations, the recent ones, particularly disturbing.

RICK SANTORUM: Look, obviously, they're-- they're very troubling. But-- these are things that-- I mean-- they're allegations. Herman has his opportunity to sell-- tell his side of the story. And the American public can make a decision. I've already made my decision. I'm for Rick Santorum. And-- that's-- that's where I am.

JOHN BERMAN: We've had-- thousands of people writing into ABCNews.com and Yahoo News with questions for the candidates. I'm gonna let you choose your own adventure here. (LAUGH) They-- they've written in questions on many different subjects. Choose tax policy or partisanship.

RICK SANTORUM: Tax policy.

JOHN BERMAN: Tax policy. One voter wanted to know, they said, "With the majority of Americans in favor of additional taxes for the rich, why does the Republican Party defend-- or why is the p-- Republican Party so against this idea?"

RICK SANTORUM: Yeah, I think everybody wants to see-- you know, folks who are the upper brackets pay-- as well as, you know, the country, we-- we need more revenues in the federal government to o-- the fact that we're at 14 or 15 percent of G.D.P. in revenues, when the historic average is about 18 or 19. I think most people would say that, you know, we need some revenues to make up the difference.

But why are we at 14? We're-- we're pretty much at the same tax rates as we were when we were collecting 19 or 20 percent. But now we're collecting 14 or 15. Rates haven't changed, nothing's changed with respect to rates. What's changed the-- is the economy. And so the answer is not what-- what-- what we need to do with rates, what we need to do with revenue. How are we gonna get more revenue? And-- and one of the things that I've put forward is a plan that I believe will get the economy going, so we'll create more revenues.

If we can get back to the historical norms of 18-19 percent of-- of federal rev-- of-- of-- of taxes-- making up the economy. And we can take that 25 percent, which is now what we're spending with respect to the percentage of the economy in government and get that back down, those two things come together, we'll have-- we'll have a balanced budget. But you're not gonna get there by-- by raising rates and slowing the economy down even further. You're not gonna get-- the-- the benefit of-- of-- of tax raises in an economy that's sick by making the economy sicker.

JOHN BERMAN: So you're not anti-revenue.

RICK SANTORUM: I'm not anti-revenue, in fact, you know-- I-- I hope that we can get those revenues back to the historical norms, by getting the economy growing. I don't think anyone would suggest that-- that-- that, you know, we need to-- to-- cut taxes to the point-- well, actually, it's interesting. If you look at-- the-- historical normal since World War II, we had rates of 90 percent. And then we had rates as low as 28 percent. But the take during most of that time was about 18-19 percent.

So what happens is-- is that rates are not really the issue as much as it is how well the economy's doing. And, of course, this is the other thing. We had 90 percent rates but nobody paid them. And so you had all these exemptions, exclusions, shelters, all this kind of stuff. And that's why most Americans are saying, "Look, let's just be honest. Let's have lower rates, but everybody pays them. Instead of-- instead of having these artificially high rates and then giving all these deductions and exclusions-- for people to-- to play games with. And that's the plan that I've advocated.

JOHN BERMAN: Senator, this is-- as you know, is a different type of interview and a different type of format, going out on the-- on the internet, live right now. In our last two minutes-- with all the candidates, what we're trying to do is-- a bit of a lightning round. So-- so quick short answers to-- to some of the-- I would say most pressing questions that are out there.

RICK SANTORUM: Oh, short questions-- short answers to pressing questions, all right.

JOHN BERMAN: So let's jump right in.

RICK SANTORUM: All right.

JOHN BERMAN: What's the worst job you ever had?

RICK SANTORUM: I cleaned toilets and shined shoes.

JOHN BERMAN: I think Jon Huntsman said he cleaned toilets also.

RICK SANTORUM: Yeah, I cleaned toilets, yeah.

JOHN BERMAN: What is your-- your biggest guilty pleasure on television viewing?

RICK SANTORUM: Oh-- I-- I guess I would say-- "guilty pleasure." I watch the Food Network with my kids. We-- yeah, I-- I-- I generally don't admit that, but I love cooking. And so-- my kids are-- and I are really into sort of into watching-- you know-- what's it called? Chopped-- the--

JOHN BERMAN: Top Chef?

RICK SANTORUM: Topped. Top Chef, yeah, Chopped and-- I'm trying to think. There's a couple other ones, too. Iron Chef.

JOHN BERMAN: On the subject of food, your favorite junk food.

RICK SANTORUM: Wow, that's a hard one, because I'm pretty much a junk food addict.

JOHN BERMAN: All-- all of the above?

RICK SANTORUM: Yeah, I mean-- yeah, you'd have to pi-- most everyone would say milkshakes, ice cream, that-- that-- yeah, that's probably bad. Chocolate. As deep a chocolate as you can get.

JOHN BERMAN: Who would play you in the movie?

RICK SANTORUM: Oh my gosh. Who would play me in a movie? Let me see-- I don't know. I mean, I--

JOHN BERMAN: Andy Sandberg on Saturday Night Live?

RICK SANTORUM: Well, no, I don't-- I don't--

JOHN BERMAN: Anyone but him?

RICK SANTORUM: No-- that's fine. I don't-- I don't want much of Saturday Night Live. So I-- I apologize for that. But I understand he does play me on Saturday Night Live. I'm tryin' to think of someone I know that-- well, I'll tell you a guy that I know-- and I got to meet is Jim Caviezel. I'd like him to play me on-- he's much better looking than I am, but that-- that would be a good thing.

JOHN BERMAN: Happiest you've been other than-- happiest moment in your life other than wedding or birth of a child.

RICK SANTORUM: Happiest other than wedding or bir-- well, well-- wow, other than wedding and the birth of the child. Wow, those are sort of the happy moments. Let me see--

JOHN BERMAN: Joining us for this digital interview, (UNINTEL) live--

RICK SANTORUM: No.

JOHN BERMAN: No?

RICK SANTORUM: No, no.

JOHN BERMAN: That was a softball right there.

RICK SANTORUM: Close. Close. I don't know, I mean, most of them are fam-- are sort of family things. You know, just-- I don't know. I mean, some-- I don't know, it's hard for me to say. Maybe-- maybe winning the-- my-- I-- it was pretty fun, winning my-- the league championship, when I was the coach of my kid's (TAPE SKIPS) little league team was a pretty big deal for me. I mean, I had both of my kids on the team and I was the coach and-- we had a great season. And it was pretty exciting for the boys. So that was-- that was a lot of fun. That-- that's something recent, maybe not the happiest, but something recent.

JOHN BERMAN: Congratulations on that.

RICK SANTORUM: Thank you.

JOHN BERMAN: And thank you so much--

RICK SANTORUM: We lost our first two games and won 17 straight, I want you to know. So it was a pretty big year.

JOHN BERMAN: And-- you're hoping for some kind of metaphor perhaps (UNINTEL)?

RICK SANTORUM: No, I just thought I'd mention, you know, that-- you know, startin' out l-- slow and gettin'-- pickin' up steam is a good way to go.

JOHN BERMAN: All right, thank you, Senator, so much-- for joining us for this. And I should tell everyone out there-- if you missed any part of this interview, you can always come back and watch it again on ABC News or on Yahoo. I'm John Berman with Senator Rick Santorum. Thanks so much for joining us.

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