Rick Santorum Rips Rick Perry: ‘He Wasn’t For Reagan And He Wasn’t For The Conservative Movement’

Sep 7, 2011 7:48am

ABC News’ Michael Falcone and Gregory Simmons report:

COLUMBIA, S.C. — With polls showing presidential candidate Rick Santorum drawing about two percent support nationally and running behind some of his rivals in key early primary states it would be easy for him to sound pessimistic about the road ahead.

But not Santorum.

“It’s like an episode of ‘Survivor’ is what it is,” Santorum told ABC News in an interview in South Carolina this week, reflecting on how he views the race.

And, when it comes to his fellow GOP presidential contenders, Santorum’s survival strategy is clear: attack early and often. The former Pennsylvania senator, for example, was one of the first candidates to assail Texas Gov. Rick Perry for saying that it was acceptable for individual states to pass laws allowing gay marriage.

And Santorum didn’t stop there. Lately he has been raising questions about Perry’s record as governor of Texas (he calls it a “mixed bag”) his conservative credentials (“I’m still waiting to hear,” Santorum said) and his past.

When asked about Perry’s endorsement of Al Gore in the 1988 presidential race back when Perry was a Democrat, Santorum didn’t skip a beat.

“I just don’t understand how someone can call themselves a Reagan conservative when he wasn’t for Reagan and he wasn’t for the conservative movement at the time Reagan was there,” he said.

Santorum and his fellow GOP presidential hopefuls will be tested with three presidential debates in three weeks. The first takes place Wednesday night at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.

“My belief is through these debates when people start to see the depth of knowledge I have, the experience I have, the accomplishments I have and compare that to the other candidates,” they will react favorably, Santorum said. “What I keep hearing every debate we have, people keep coming up to me going, ‘boy, I don’t know much about you, but I really like you in the debates.’”

“I think this month will be a big month for us,” he said.

Here’s more of presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s conversation with ABC News:

Q: Do you consider Rick Perry to be a true conservative?

Santorum: “I’m still waiting to hear. This is one of these candidates that’s come out of the block and been recognized as a top-tier candidate really having done very little explaining his record and we’ll see in these debates if his record on a whole variety of issues is going to bode well for people in a Republican primary. The reason his numbers are great is because everybody is talking about him. Well, he was governor of Texas and he can certainly take credit for the record of job creation in Texas. But he also has to take responsibility for the decisions he’s made as Governor and so far that hasn’t been talked about. Let’s see what his positions are and what he’d do when he comes to Washington as opposed to the fact that Texas — even before he was governor — was pretty attractive to jobs and has done well as a result of that.”

Q: Can you pinpoint any one aspect of Gov. Perry’s record that voters need to turn a more skeptical eye on?

Santorum: “I’ll leave it up to the debates. There are a lot of issues that I have a lot of concerns about. Everything from his immigration policy to his social policy to some of his health care pronouncements — a lot of things — raising taxes. He’s got a record as ten years as governor that’s a very mixed bag. Plus his political endorsements. Having a guy running for president who says he’s a conservative who supported Al Gore for President in 1988 — this was after Ronald Reagan so he was at least a little slow on the uptick when it came to the conservative movement.”

Q: What about Perry’s reversal on the wisdom of mandatory HPV vaccinations for young girls in Texas? Is it enough for him to say, “oops, I made a mistake”?

Santorum: “It’s enough to say oops if when fully briefed on what he did that after being fully briefed he made a mistake. But he kept this position for years and in fact was hostile towards those that opposed him. It’s only in recent months that he has decided it’s an oops. That is an election day flip flop for no other reason except that his position is an untenable one. And having the government step in and require this type of vaccination for 12 year old girls without, with parents not having the right but to object. I mean it was forced other than parent’s objecting.”

Q: What’s the outlook for your campaign heading into the fall?

Santorum: “We’re going to do very well. We did very well in Iowa. We’re doing well here in South Carolina. We feel very good about the momentum we picked up here as a result of the Ames Straw poll. And every race I’ve ever run I wasn’t supposed to win. I’ve never had the power brokers support me. I’ve just gone out and talked to people. We’ve run a very grassroots campaign every race I’ve ever won.”

Q: What do you hope to accomplish by the end of this series of three consecutive presidential debates in three weeks? What do you want voters to know about Rick Santorum they didn’t know before?

Santorum: “That I’m the most qualified candidate right now in the race. I’m someone who has been successful in getting things done in Washington DC. I’m someone who has a track record of winning elections in a tough state and if you’re looking for someone to defeat a Democratic incumbent, I’m the only person on that stage who has ever defeated a Democratic incumbent. So, if you’re looking for someone to get things done, someone who can win a tough state and that’s going to be a swing state to win the election and someone with a good track record on doing what needs to be done — defeating a Democratic incumbent – then I think I’m the best candidate out there. Look, time will tell. … If we can win Ohio and win Michigan and Pennsylvania, I’m going to be the next President of the United States. I don’t know if any other candidate on the dais who has that appeal to that region of the country that I do. ”

Q: Do you consider yourself the most conservative candidate in the race?

Santorum: “I think I’m the most electable conservative out there and I’ve proven it. I have track record that’s a great track record.”

Q: At the end of a long week of campaigning, what’s the criteria you use to decide whether it’s been a good week or a bad one?

Santorum: “I just keep trying to feed off the events and if we’re continuing to get good crowds at the events. If people continue to sign up at those events and we get activists who are paying attention to this race, energized and involved, that means we’ve got the right message and the right messenger. We’ve got 6 months before the first primary and we’ve got an opportunity to build that team over that period of time. We’ve seen a lot of candidates considered to be top tier all of sudden become bottom tier or get out of the race and I’m not going to worry about who’s the top tier candidate in the first week of September. What matters if you’re a top tier candidate in the first week of February and that’s what we plan on being.”

Q: Why have you been so willing to attack your fellow candidates?

Santorum: “I don’t have a track record of being unwilling to his my opponents on issues. I don’t level personal attacks but if I think someone’s public policy is wrong and it’s hurtful to the country, I’m not hesitant about drawing those contrasts.”

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