Mitt Romney found it relatively easy to take down Newt Gingrich, targeting the disgraced former House Speaker's controversial past. Going after Rick Santorum isn't quite as easy.
Here's what Romney's come up with so far.
Romney spoke for about 10 minutes with Sen. Rob Portman, R-[Ohio], at his side, the highest-ranking Republican in the state to endorse his candidacy.Romney took a brief shot at his principal opponent in the March 6 Ohio primary, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, saying that while Santorum was in the Senate, "he voted five times to raise the debt ceiling."
There were a few other criticisms, but it's the debt-ceiling votes that have apparently become a favorite of the Romney campaign.
This is, to put it mildly, bizarre. Romney apparently hopes to prove that Santorum's routine votes to raise the federal debt limit will make the former senator look like a less-than-reliable conservative. As Jon Chait recently noted, "I continue to enjoy Romney's sheer contempt for the electorate. Raising the debt ceiling and voting for earmarks are things that everybody does in Congress, including Republicans. Whereas supporting abortion rights, establishing universal health care, and calling yourself progressive are not things that Republican governors normally do."
Yesterday's remarks in Ohio were especially jarring -- Romney was standing alongside Sen. Rob Portman (R), who not only repeatedly voted to raise the debt ceiling himself as a member of Congress, but also served as George W. Bush's budget director when the Bush/Cheney administration repeatedly raised the debt ceiling.
In other words, Romney was condemning Santorum for taking the same position his closest Ohio ally also took.
What's more, there's no evidence whatsoever that Romney has ever been bothered by these debt-limit increases before. Under Reagan, the U.S. raised the debt ceiling 18 times, and under Bush/Cheney, it was raised seven times. I can't find any record of Romney ever complaining at the time about any of these increases.
Now, however, Romney apparently considers this policy deeply troubling. So, here's the follow-up question for the former governor: if elected, you'll have to raise the debt ceiling several times, just as every modern president from both parties has done. Will you balk, pursue default, and trash the full faith and credit of the United States, or will you do what Santorum and Portman did?
This really isn't a hypothetical issue, and if Romney is serious about debt-ceiling demagoguery, he has a responsibility to explain how he'll handle the issue in office.