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Santorum and Gingrich tangle over leadership

January 19, 2012|By Michael A. Memoli
  • Rick Santorum, left, and Mitt Romney participate in the GOP debate in South Carolina.
Rick Santorum, left, and Mitt Romney participate in the GOP debate in South… (Emmanuel Dunand / AFP/Getty…)

Rick Perry's exit from the GOP race allowed for some consolidation of the anti-Mitt Romney vote. But clearly not enough, as evidenced by a debate exchange between Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.

Santorum was asked about Gingrich's subtle suggestions of late that other candidates get out of the race to allow more conservative voters to rally around a single foe.

The former Pennsylvania senator used the question to launch a harsh critique of Gingrich's viability as a potential Republican nominee and, more broadly, his leadership.

PHOTOS: Charleston Republican presidential debate

"Grandiosity has never been a problem with Newt Gingrich. And that's really one of the issues here, folks," Santorum said.

"I don't want a nominee that I have to worry about going out and looking at the paper the next day and ... [worry] about what he's going to say next."

Santorum, for the second time, noted that he had in fact won more votes in Iowa than any other candidate, and narrowly finished ahead of Gingrich in New Hampshire.

"I was 2-0 coming into South Carolina, and I should get out of the race? These are not cogent thoughts. Let's just be honest," he said.

"You're right, I think grandiose thoughts," Gingrich responded. "This is a grandiose country of big people doing big things, and we need leadership prepared to take on big projects."

Santorum, in turn, brought up Gingrich's turbulent tenure as speaker of the House, even raising the two-decade-old House banking scandal that preceded the Republican Revolution.

"I served with him. I was there. I knew what the problems were going on in the House of Representatives," Santorum said.

These were points that Romney's surrogates have made as recently as this week in response to a growing Gingrich threat. And with Santorum having now raised them in a high-profile setting, the GOP front-runner was free to play the outsider card.

"What you've listened to ... is in my view a perfect example of why we need to send to Washington someone who has not lived in Washington," said Romney, who contrasted with his background of having lived "in the real streets of America" and worked in the private sector.

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