Romney Pounces on Santorum’s “Team Player” Blunder

Rick Santorum has made some foolish remarks recently, but until last night none of them really undermined his Tea Party credibility. His “taking one for the team” comment at the debate is finally giving Mitt Romney an attack line that will resonate with the conservative base:

“When you’re part of the team, sometimes you take one for the team for the leader, and I made a mistake,” Santorum said in what was dubbed by most analysts as the gaffe of the night. “You know, politics is a team sport, folks. Sometimes you’ve got to rally together and do something.”

Santorum’s comment revealed a candidate who is still getting used to his frontrunner position, and who’s still unseasoned when it comes to defending his own weaknesses. At this point, he seems unprepared to face President Obama, and because last night’s debate may be the last, he may not have time for improvement.

Then there’s the damage Santorum may have done to his image with Tea Party voters. Phil Klein notes that Santorum’s comment was revealing:

This gets at the heart of the problem with Santorum, which I wrote about the day he announced he was running for president — he was the quintessential Bush era Republican. As the number three Republican in the Senate, he was a loyal soldier and went along with Bush’s big government policies, from NCLB to the Medicare prescription drug law. The very problem with the Bush era was precisely that too many Republicans decided to be team players rather than push back against the president when he was violating conservative principles. It’s this very “team player” mentality that the Tea Party movement, in part, was created to combat. Santorum spent the early part of his debate touting his opposition to the Wall Street bailout, but his argument tonight about taking one for the team leaves little doubt that he would have voted for the bailout had he still been in the Senate in 2008.

Santorum handed Romney a bludgeon last night. The question now is whether it’ll be enough to make a difference in Michigan between now and next Tuesday’s primary.