That establishment streak reared its ugly head again in the wake of the debt ceiling debate as he hammered fellow Republican contenders Michele Bachmann, Thad McCotter, and Ron Paul for a lack of leadership in the debt ceiling debate. While Santorum states he would have voted against the deal -- as Bachmann and Paul eventually did -- he chastised the pair who lead him in the polls on Fox News, saying, “I don't know how if you want to be president and lead the country, and if you can't lead Congress -- it doesn't speak well for your ability to lead the country.
Obviously there's a problem with making such a statement when one is out of office, particularly when Bachmann and Paul have been visible in their fight for smaller government for some time. They didn't become Tea Party darlings overnight, as both have cultivated that base for many months before Santorum decided to seek the highest office in the land. Making such a statement was about the only way that Santorum could fumble being on the right side of the issue insofar as the American people are concerned.
And the controversy comes at a bad time for Santorum, who's already facing an uphill battle in Iowa. Though the Ames Straw Poll comes extremely early in the electoral process, this first test was too much last time around for former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, who withdrew from the 2008 race after a disappointing sixth place finish. While John McCain finished next-to-last in the 2007 edition of the Ames Straw Poll because he skipped the event, the eventual Republican nominee had previously always finished among the top three.
Santorum is one of nine contenders in the straw poll Saturday, with a number of them -- Bachmann, Paul, and Herman Cain -- also counting on support from Tea Party regulars against “establishment” candidates like Mitt Romney (who, like McCain in 2007, is skipping the poll but on the ballot) and Jon Huntsman.
It's apparent that Rick's strategy in this presidential bid is to shuck the “establishment” label placed on him by conservatives when he supported Specter over Toomey in 2004. But his harsh criticism of Tea Party favorites Bachmann and Paul may serve to remind voters who agree that a Republican nominee needs to be a Washington outsider (at least in spirit) of how he came to be known as the “most ambitious” politician from his home state of Pennsylvania.