Rick Santorum has been angry for days over an ad from Mitt Romney's SuperPAC claiming Santorum supports letting criminals vote. Unfortunately, Santorum's position is a bit more nuanced than Romney claims, and if there's anything Republicans don't fully understand, it's nuance.
We begin with Juan Williams asking the question:
Senator Santorum, today you said Governor Romney is guilty of distorting your record as well as of "lies and hypocrisy". You said this behavior is classic Romney and no one's holding him accountable. So, the same question that Kelly asked, this time to you.
Should these barbed personal attacks against fellow Republicans be abandoned by the candidates?
This launched a snowball of -- you guessed it -- personal attacks. Personal attacks launched while claiming to be above the fray. Personally, I was gratified to see them take aim at Romney. Until now, they've avoided it at all costs and it's probably too late now to make any difference, but it's still something worth doing.
After the obligatory self-congratulations from Santorum, he lays out his objection to Romney's SuperPAC attack.
SANTORUM: Governor Romney's SuperPAC has put an ad out there suggesting that I voted to allow felons to be able to vote from prison because they said I allowed felons to vote and they put up a prisoner - uh, a person in a prison jumpsuit.
I would ask Governor Romney, do you believe people who are felons who have served their time, who have exhausted their parole and probation, should they be given the right to vote?
Romney then exercises his right as the frontrunner to filibuster, going on about how he doesn't know what his SuperPAC does, blah blah blah. Santorum interrupts, requesting an answer to his question. It was kind of a nice contentious moment, actually. The audience agreed. As an aside, the audience reaction at this debate was really weird. It was like watching a football game, or lions eating centurions or something.
This was also the first of many interludes where Mr. Romney let his arrogance hang out all over the stage. He was determined to be the frontrunner and to swagger around letting everyone know that, too. Honestly, Santorum's question was a good one, but Mr. Romney tried very hard to filibuster it to his advantage.
Santorum used the moment to pander a bit to the African-American community as he reminded Mr. Romney that this was a big deal to them, and it was, after all Martin Luther King day. There was also a lot of this kind of condescension all night. Between Newt telling black women they could marry their way out of poverty to Rick Perry just whistling Dixie all night long to his faithful dogs in the audience, it was laden with classic Republican patrician disdain for those who aren't white or fortunate. At any rate, Santorum pointed out that there are disproportionately high incarceration rates among African-Americans, particularly on drug charges. This is true, though he neglected to point out that the Obama administration has sought to find a balance on drug policy and incarceration rates.