Beyond the sweater vest: Santorum eyes 2016, religious freedom

Updated

MT. PLEASANT, IOWA — So long, sweater vests.

Four years after his sartorial choices stole the spotlight, Rick Santorum is debuting a whole new look — and maybe even a new campaign.  

“My daughters … have put fashion rules in place,” Santorum told msnbc dressed in a trim gray suit after an event here. “I have to get approval before I pack whatever I’m going to wear and so far sweater vests have not made the cut.”

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While he may be dressing differently, the former Pennsylvania senator is sticking to some of the firebrand social conservatism that won him the Iowa caucus — and 10 other state primaries — in 2012. In an interview with msnbc, Santorum voiced support for a federal version of the Indiana’s religious freedom law that critics said allows discrimination against gays and lesbians.

“Absolutely,” the possible 2016 Republican presidential hopeful said of nationalizing the legislation. “All of the things that were claimed by those opposing the bill are simply not true.” 

Santorum has previously expressed disappointment at lawmakers’ decision to soften the bill with a legislative “fix,” but he told msnbc that upon fully reviewing the change, “They would have been better off having not passed a law at all.”

Santorum’s remarks came on the heels of news that he had formed a testing-the-waters account to fund travel while he considers a second presidential bid. He and other likely Republican contenders were in Iowa to begin wooing social conservatives.

This time around, Santorum says he’s sharper, more experienced, and already better prepared.

RELATED: Rick Santorum sets up ‘testing the waters’ account for 2016 run

“The biggest difference in message is national security. Four years ago it wasn’t an issue. Now it’s a critical issue,” he said. “ I look at the field and no one has the national security experience that I have and if you’re going to be going up against potentially the secretary of state, it’s one area that you can’t be beat.” Santorum was referring to the eight years he spent on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Still, even Santorum acknowledges that his 2012 weaknesses — such as fundraising skills — will need to be addressed in the event of a presidential bid.

“I don’t need to raise $150 million or $50 million. That’s not the kind of campaign I run,” he said. “I saw a quote today where someone asked Donald Trump the difference between Rick Santorum and him and he said ‘I got a plane!’ And uh, I got Southwest, I got a plane, too.”

The Briefing, 4/10/15, 10:43 AM ET

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Beyond the sweater vest: Santorum eyes 2016, religious freedom

Updated