In what might be the last gasp for Rick Santorum 2012, the GOP candidate on Sunday laid into New York Times
reporter Jeff Zeleny for his wording of a question.
At a rally in Wisconsin, Santorum unleashed fiery rhetoric—perhaps his most vitriolic to date—in an attack on Mitt Romney, calling him “the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama.”
Later, as Santorum signed autographs for members of the crowd, Zeleny questioned the candidate: “You said that Mitt Romney is the worst Republican in the country. Is that true?”
An angry Santorum clarified that he meant Romney was the worst Republican to run against Obama on the issue of health care. Beyond offering a clarification, Santorum ranted against Zeleny in a screed that culminated with this attention-grabber: “Quit distorting our words. If I see it [in print], it's bullshit. C'mon man, what are you doing?”
You can watch the video here:
Santorum is campaigning in Wisconsin after a victory against Romney in Louisiana over the weekend. Despite the win, most political observers agree that Santorum has little hope of defeating Romney for the Republican presidential nomination.
Cursing at the Times
might seem like a desperate ploy to rally GOP voters, but for Santorum it’s not a terribly risky move, says media trainer Brad Phillips.
"Although swearing at the press is usually a risky game, much of the risk is removed when the person swearing is a Republican presidential candidate and the person being sweared at is a reporter from the ‘liberal’ New York Times
,” he explained.
Phillips mentioned that this sort of Republican verbal lashing against the Times
has precedent. In 2000, an open mic caught candidate George W. Bush calling a Times
reporters a “major league asshole.”
And look what it did for him.
So, stealing a page from the GOP playbook, how can you advise your client to swear at the media? Here’s a brief guide, based on Santorum’s outburst:
Ignore the facts.
Santorum called Zeleny a bully. Based on the interaction alone, Santorum seems to be the one doing the bullying. The stare-down from the candidate is somewhere between angry dad and schoolyard ruffian. Who cares? It's a great sound bite for Santorum.
Speaking of the facts, Santorum seemed to forget that some of his campaign’s biggest victories are a result of twisting Romney’s words.
Of course, had Santorum said: “Listen, Jeff. The answer to your question is a nuanced one, in which many gray areas exist. Let me explain why …” Well, then he’d be President Obama—and that’s the last thing he needs in trying to secure the GOP nomination.
Stick with a mild obscenity.
He didn’t say the
word. “The big one,” as the narrator from “A Christmas Story” says. “The queen mother of dirty words. The F dash dash dash word.”
Instead, Santorum opted for more of a mild obscenity, bullshit. The abbreviation—B.S.—is something your grandmother or your pastor might say. Bush took it a step further with “asshole.” Chances are your pastor’s not saying that (in public, at least). But he tempered it with “major league,” proving that if you’re going to bump your obscenity up the inappropriate scale you need a funny descriptor to precede it.
Helpful hint: Don’t drop “the queen mother of dirty words” thinking it’ll give your campaign a little sizzle. You’ll end up scorched.
Make sure it’s measured.
Don’t start spewing obscenities. Use one, easily recognizable swear word. Make sure it doesn’t seem planned, but that it also doesn’t suggest you’ve become unhinged—which is a potential problem, said Phillips.
“The bigger risk for Rick Santorum is that he looks like a man who’s reacting to the stress of a campaign that’s running out of time, which could confirm for some voters that his chances for earning the nomination are diminishing fast,” he explained.
Make sure the cameras are rolling.
What good is an obscenity in print? Check for cameras—cell phones will do—and let loose. Santorum, as Zeleny later said, “knew the cameras were rolling.”
You do not apologize.
Instead, you issue a statement celebrating the incident. Santorum’s camp released this statement:
“Earlier today, while campaigning in Wisconsin, I criticized Romney and Obama for their outrageous health care legislation. Predictably, I was aggressively attacked by a New York Times reporter all too ready to defend the two of them, and all too ready to distort my words. Let me assure you, I didn’t back down, and I didn’t let him bully me. I think it is high time that conservatives find the courage to expose the liberal press for what they are, a defender and enabler of Romney’s and Obama’s liberal agendas.”
Santorum also went on Fox News and said: “If you haven’t cursed out a New York Times
reporter during the course of a campaign, you’re not really a real Republican, is the way I look at it.”
Boom! Romney hasn’t cursed out a Times
reporter, which means: He’s the worst Republican in the country.
Unless you’re advising an underdog GOP presidential candidate in the waning days of his campaign, don’t suggest to your boss that he or she swear at the media.